David Cameron has called for the UK’s biggest ISPs, that’s BT, Sky, Virgin Media and TalkTalk to block access to pornography sites by default.
Customers who want to access pornography will be able to opt out of this filtering process by unchecking a tick box somewhere in a control panel accessed by whoever sets up the internet account.
Previously referred to as ‘active choice’ the government now wants this option to be ‘pre-ticked’ and referred to as ‘default on.’ This conveniently doesn’t give people a choice in the first instance and ignores the valid point that children might not be present in a subscriber’s home. How resilient this filtering software will be is also another matter…
We knew that something like this was on the cards since the launch of the Online Safety Bill, but what do the UK’s four biggest ISPs make of today’s announcement? Will they agree to the Prime Minister’s demands and when will they act?
We’ve got in touch with BT, Sky, Virgin Media and TalkTalk and this is what they’ve had to say.
BT has announced plans to bring network level filtering to its customers, something we exclusively revealed back in June.
Speaking at Intellect’s Consumer Electronics Conference, Godfrey Nunes, general manager of strategy and portfolio for BT Group said that when new customers set up the BT Home Hub 4 for the first time customers will be asked whether they want to enable the software during the set-up process.
Nunes said: “At the moment the only thing that we block is the Internet Watch Foundation’s list of illegal sites, but apart from that our view is that it will be the responsibility of the adult who is in charge of the connection.
“Technology is moving so fast that parents tell us they cannot keep up, but they want a system that is effective and simple to control.”
Update: BT will opt to pre-tick pornography filters from 2014 onwards, meaning that if customers just clic ‘next’ or hit Enter, then the filters will be automatically installed. Both new and existing customers will be forecd to make a choice.
A BT spokesperson said: “Constructive talks between industry and Government focused on how and when to put customers through an unavoidable choice on whether they should have parental controls installed for their home internet.
“By the end of next year, our internet customers will have been asked whether they want to switch on parental controls to block things like porn. They’ll be asked by on-screen messages that cannot be bypassed until a choice has been made.”
By the end of 2014, BT aims to have asked every customer whether they want to use filters or not.
Sky is opting for a pre-ticked, default-on option. Back in February on Safer Internet Day, Sky revealed plans to launch a whole home solution, meaning any device sharing the same connection would be subject to the same filters.
Lyssa McGowan, Director of Sky Broadband, said:
“Protecting children from inappropriate content in the digital world has always been a high priority for Sky. It’s what our customers expect of us and it’s a responsibility we take very seriously.
“In February, we announced we were going one step further by offering ‘whole home’ content filtering to all our broadband customers. Our family-friendly settings will provide peace of mind to parents that their children can’t accidentally access content that is suitable only for adults.
“The filters will be pre-ticked and supported by customer controls that are simple and easy to use. Combined with a large-scale customer awareness campaign, we will make sure all our customers have the tools and information they need to protect their children online.”
Virgin Media’s proposition is interesting. The cable-based ISP is in the process of launching a whole home filtering solution for a range of subjects, one of which will be pornography.
New customers will be asked to configure these settings to suit them during the install process. By default, the filter for adult content will be switched on.
Existing Virgin Media customers will eventually be redirected to a similar page where they’ll be asked to configure the same settings. Connections for existing customers will however be unfiltered by default.
A Virgin Media spokesperson said: “Virgin Media takes the protection of families very seriously and we’re committed to ensuring every customer makes a clear, informed choice about using the high-quality parental controls we make available for free.
“Our forthcoming whole-home solution will apply to all devices and gadgets connected to the household’s internet and all our customers, new and existing, will choose the level of parental controls that’s right for them.”
Virgin Media so far is the only ISP that’s not explicitly opted for a pre-ticked, default-on solution.
TalkTalk with its HomeSafe product is the poster child for family friendly filtering. Right now TalkTalk remains the only major UK ISP to have launched network level filtering. As well as giving parents the power to block access to pornographic sites, HomeSafe can also filter out access to gambling sites and social networks.
Right now, HomeSafe is offered to new customers who sign up but TalkTalk says that by the end of the year, existing customers who haven’t enabled the software will be forced to make a decision.
A TalkTalk spokesperson said: “We take our responsibility very seriously and that is why we are now contacting our existing customers to ask them if they want to use HomeSafe, and we will be pre-ticking HomeSafe as on for new customers from the end of the year.
“We have already contacted half a million of our existing customers. 1 in 3 customers are choosing to turn on parental controls when offered the chance to, and currently this equates to 30,000 more homes a week keeping their families safer online as a result.
“We have also invested millions of pounds in developing and marketing our family friendly solution HomeSafe and are committed to continuing our investment in education and awareness. We thank the Prime Minister for his recognition of our efforts to date and we’re committed to continuing to work hand in hand with Government, experts and the rest of industry to keep the UK at the forefront of protecting children online.”