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Do most British families really not give a f*%k about parental controls?

Most folks don’t use or don’t know about parental filters, according to Ofcom. 

The telecoms regulator’s latest survey of British parents attitudes to the net show that the network level content filters baked in by BT, Sky, Virgin Media and TalkTalk, at the behest of this government, are used in just 21 per cent of homes. 

The controls let parents restrict access to things like porn sites, pro-self harm forums and sites that have been blacklisted for malware, amongst others.  

As they’re network-level solutions, they apply to every device in the home that uses the same connection – so phones and tablets connected to the WiFi router are subject to the same content locks as desktop and laptop PCs. 

This is an easy and convenient way to ensure that all devices in the home are secured, but it’s apparently not an approach that every parent feels comfortable with.

The survey conducted between April and June 2014, found that overall, parents with children ages 5-15 were almost as likely to use software like NetNanny to filter and monitor children’s online use (20 per cent) or set up password-protected block lists (31 per cent) to regulate surfing. Half of these parents surveyed had never even heard of network level filtering. 

Four in 10 parents didn’t use any technical solutions in particular, preferring to talk to their kids, sit in the same room as they go online and check browser history. 

Most parents with kids aged 5-15 have rules in place use of the Internet (82 per cent) as well as phones (71 per cent) and gaming (78 per cent) with around 12 and 13 per cent making use of safety/safe search modes on YouTube and Google. 

Generally speaking, the need for supervision decreases as kids get older and parents become more confident of their ability to navigate the web safely, as this graph shows. 

Baby steps: Figures suggest that parents are more confident in their kids the older they get

The survey found that nearly a quarter (24 per cent) of parents thought that their kids were smart enough to bypass ISP-provided content filters, Safe Search and other software solutions, like the built-in controls of Windows 8 and Mac OS X machines

Of 54 children aged 8-17 interviewed, just 11 per cent claimed to have disabled online filters with 3 per cent admitting to have done this in the past year. 33 per cent of 12-15 year olds know how to delete their browsing history and 22 per cent of kids knew how to make use of private web browsing modes. 

So what does this mean for the government bods that requested Ofcom carry out these surveys?

Without 100 per cent availability of network-level filters, it’s impossible to say how popular they really are

First of all, it’s important to note that when the survey took place, rollout of network-level filters by the main ISPs was not complete. It’s therefore not representative of how every UK parent feels about network level filtering right now – given that 50 per cent of surveyed parents didn’t even know about it as an option, it’s fair to assume (Ofcom’s survey doesn’t make this clear) that it wasn’t an option available to them. 

Even Ofcom admits that the timing of the report means it hasn’t been able to paint a picture of  how existing customers feel about network-level filtering.

All UK ISPs were, throughout 2014, presenting all new customers with the option to turn off parental controls. Politicians insisted the ‘on’ box be pre-ticked by default. Existing customers were contacted and offered use of control suites including BT’s Parental Controls, Sky’s Broadband Shield, TalkTalk’s HomeSafe and Virgin Media’s Web Safe throughout the year. 

With that done and dusted now, future reports should give us a clear picture on how successful network-level filtering has been for the politicians who pushed for it – there’s that General Election thing in May – and more importantly, for parents. 


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