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Posted on May 14th, 2012 by Nicole Kobie

Why is TalkTalk’s year-old porn filter suddenly big news?

Good parenting

If you’ve been reading the newspaper headlines yesterday and today, you could be forgiven for thinking that TalkTalk has suddenly taken strident measures to block online pornography from children’s sensitive eyes.

The Sunday Times dramatically describes the ISP as having “broken ranks” with its fellow ISPs by offering “all its 4m subscribers a blanket opt-out for pornography sites” and forcing all existing users — rather than only new customers — to say whether or not they want the service (I’ll leave it to you whether that’s opting in or opting out). “TalkTalk is offering parents protection for every computer, games console or e-reader accessing the internet via the family broadband connection.”

Following the Times’ lead, Channel 4 proclaims: “TalkTalk now plans to question all of its 4.2m customers, forcing them to choose whether to use settings that would block information on computers, mobile phones, games consoles and e-readers.”

The Metro crows that TalkTalk is “becoming the first provider to offer the service at server level”, while The Mirror reveals that TalkTalk has “introduced a filter called HomeSafe”. The Sun also seems to think HomeSafe is new technology, saying “TalkTalk’s move will put pressure on other internet providers to offer the same service”.

Everyone’s welcome to an opinion — and we certainly have ours — but the stumbling blind coverage of the Sunday Times story shows just how little anyone seems to know about the technology in question

Those of you who are TalkTalk customers or who follow broadband — hey, everyone needs a hobby — may be wondering if you’ve stepped back in time to last year, when TalkTalk first started offering the HomeSafe filter. It’s not a new service; it’s been around for a full year. Guess that “pressure” hasn’t had much of an effect on rival ISPs, eh, Sun writers?

TalkTalk’s plans to ask all existing customers whether they want the filter on or off is slightly fresher, but it’s hardly news. The ISP revealed the plans a month ago: “TalkTalk has long welcomed Parliamentary and Government interest in this area and is demonstrating its commitment by announcing that it will begin testing new ways of prompting existing customers to make a choice about blocking pornography and other categories of internet content.” That’s from a press release dated 17 April, but in case anyone missed that, TalkTalk repeated the news in a blog post on 4 May, and referenced it in another post last week, tellingly titled “Happy Birthday HomeSafe”.

Why, then, are so many writing as though TalkTalk’s announced something new today? Why is a month-old press release suddenly worth a front page splash? TalkTalk’s own press office admitted nothing was new in the Sunday Times‘ story, but said that the paper wanted something to kick off its campaign on the topic. In other words, the Sunday Times is so keen on keeping people talking about the issue that it’s willing to pretend something is new news when it’s not.

Everyone’s welcome to an opinion — and we certainly have ours — but the stumbling blind coverage of the Sunday Times story shows just how little anyone seems to know about the technology in question; a quick glance at the TalkTalk blog would have made it clear to the Mirror, Sun and Metro that this filter isn’t new. While PC Pro readers know enough to notice the flaws in newspaper claims, imagine how confusing these mixed messages are to less tech-savvy people — the very people these automated systems are designed to help out.

To be fair, few people covered the 17 April announcement (ourselves included), possibly down to timing: it’s also — rather intriguingly — the day a report into online pornography was released by MP Claire Perry, reigniting the debate by again calling for ISPs to block  such content at the network level, and force customers to say whether or not they want such a filter. Fancy that.

Maybe that’s why everyone missed TalkTalk’s announcement the first time around: everyone was too busy demanding the Government block porn/worrying the Government would block porn, that no-one noticed TalkTalk had already done what everyone wanted/feared.

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24 Responses to “ Why is TalkTalk’s year-old porn filter suddenly big news? ”

  1. renew Says:
    May 14th, 2012 at 8:05 pm

    As if to demonstrate the blunt nature of these tools the webfilter i am behind decided it was ok to see the news pages of pcpro but not click the link to read the full article as it had the word porn …….My response was to vpn around it. Those that think this which children would not figure this out fairly quickly and then share the info with friends in the playground are foolish.

     
  2. Chris Says:
    May 14th, 2012 at 9:50 pm

    I’m not even sure this is about kids, it’s about morality. If ISPs offer a ‘child-safe’ filter, those without children will be happy to say ‘No thanks’. Claire Perry wants to slant this as ‘Do you want to opt-in to porn’ because it will make some people too embarrassed to say yes, or not want to have to have that conversation with their partners. It’s basically a conservative morality drive. Frankly the country has enough real problems for MPs to worry about, please don’t let the UK follow the American model where leaders feel it’s their job to tell us what we can do in the bedroom, or with whom.

     
  3. Yumbala Says:
    May 15th, 2012 at 8:54 am

    LOL renew, you go to the trouble, performance loss and expense of a VPN servcie instead of simply opting in?? How many noses will you cut off to spite your face?

    Chris: A simple question for you then, about this apparently non-existent “morality”: Is it then morally OK to allow kids to watch porn> Not asking anyone if they do, just the question of whether a moral exists on this question, quite apart from all the outrage that some people seem to need on a daily basis… Is it morally OK for kids to watch porn? Just amnswer that one question if you can, no additional red herrings please, I have seen and heard them all like broken records. Thanks

     
  4. Just reading Says:
    May 15th, 2012 at 9:18 am

    Yumbala, no-one is saying it is morally acceptable for children to read or watch porn. It’s not (there you go – your stupid monosylabic question answered).

    The issue that people have against this government initiative is that it is fundamentaly flawed; it simply won’t work. Add to that kids are way smarter than their parents when it comes to computer use and will circumvent this kind of “protection” in about… oh I don’t know… five minutes and you have censorship that has no function, use or sense. The issue is erally about parenting; my children do NOT have a smartphone and do NOT have access to the internet at any time unless I am supervising – this is a concept that I would like to introduce to you that is called “responsible parenting”. Please take note.

    Filters no matter how complex won’t do that.

    Stop your moralistic moaning and stop censoring people that don’t need to be censored; start parenting responsibly.

     
  5. Cyteck Says:
    May 15th, 2012 at 10:08 am

    Frankly, I definitely DONT want or need the government nor my ISP to tell me what I can and cannot view over the internet. I don’t want those kinds of moral judgements made for me i.e. censorship. As a grown up I am quite capable of making those decisions for myself.

    I use OpenDNS name resolution service and if I wanted to block “all porn” I can easily do so for free at the internet server level in a few mouse clicks.

     
  6. John Says:
    May 15th, 2012 at 10:46 am

    I had nothing but trouble with Talktalk. I changed providers and I get left alone to enjoy the internet, so don’t worry about porn filter. Worry about getting service that doesn’t rip you off.

     
  7. Peterb Says:
    May 15th, 2012 at 10:54 am

    The issue which cannot be talked around is that SSL traffic cannot be viewed by a man in the middle (like the ISP’s filter) so they have no idea what the request or the content returned was.
    The only solution which would be even remotely acceptable would be for home routers to function in a similar way to enterprise firewalls, where they decrypt the SSL traffic, check it on route, and then re-encrypt it for the rest of the journey. This would require all devices to have the router’s certificate installed, which whilst not great, is certainly better (as an optional feature) than what’s being proposed which simply can’t work.

     
  8. fussyjoe Says:
    May 15th, 2012 at 11:39 am

    I use opendns at home to prevent my children accessing things I deem inappropriate for them (including Facebook). Dont know why it requires government intervention….concerned parents should either supervise or invest their time in finding adequate IT based solutions.

     
  9. Jon Says:
    May 15th, 2012 at 1:09 pm

    Another vote for openDNS, blocks all items accessing our wired and wireless network (PC, Wii, iPods etc). Has multiple levels of filtering and is FREE.

     
  10. D Bates Says:
    May 15th, 2012 at 3:00 pm

    A fragment of balance? http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-18071119

     
  11. renew Says:
    May 15th, 2012 at 3:11 pm

    Yumbala – not exactly my ISP heavily filters but then i am in Saudi.

     
  12. MikeW Says:
    May 15th, 2012 at 3:17 pm

    What’s unclear to me is why you have a photograph of ex Chess world champion and current Russian dissident, Gari Kasparov, illustrating this piece.
    Explanation please!

     
  13. JohnW Says:
    May 15th, 2012 at 3:59 pm

    “Strident” measures? “Strident” as in “(of a voice) loud and grating”? Perhaps you meant “stringent”, as in “tight; binding; rigorous; demanding close attention to detail, set procedure etc”.

     
  14. Allan Says:
    May 16th, 2012 at 9:36 am

    This is just the ‘greedy willing to cheat Talktalk’ trying to look good to gain customers. As an ex customer I can offer one piece of advice.
    Avoid Talktalk like the plague.

     
  15. Journo Says:
    May 16th, 2012 at 3:56 pm

    TalkTalk, otherwise known, I believe, as the UK’s most complained-about ISP.

     
  16. Kevin Blumer Says:
    May 17th, 2012 at 2:00 am

    But it can’t beat parents been with there kids when they are on there laptop or computer. We will probably see the headline shortly 8 year old finds porn with talk talk. there will be a kid who beats it and that will be a much more interesting headline.

     
  17. Joe Says:
    May 17th, 2012 at 9:17 am

    The ISP’s should have given us the choice without media or political pressure. The real shame is that 1st World Society think they should have freedom beyond decency or reproach. The truth is most parents would opt for protecting their children, but please get rid of the “PC” cotton wool approach. Make decisions, don’t wait for a half informed Political discussion to make it law!

     
  18. Pete CB Says:
    May 17th, 2012 at 12:29 pm

    My content filter blocks my access to my TalkTalk Account web pages!!!

     
  19. Tom Parish Says:
    May 17th, 2012 at 2:36 pm

    What could possibly be shameful about telling your ISP that you are a grown up human being and are quite happy to opt out of their porn block? And for that matter, what could be so shameful about telling your wife about your decision? Does she have a problem with you utilising unimaginably unrealistic visual stimuli such as black men with huge appendages having very rough yet unnervingly enjoyable sounding sex with pliant, beautiful, surgically enhanced Hungarian ladies? If so, she can always make you opt in, and therefore revert to fantasising about the middle-aged women at work. (I’m unashamedly paraphrasing from John Smiths / Peter Kay there.)

     
  20. Aurelian Says:
    May 17th, 2012 at 2:56 pm

    Discussions of technical feasibility are beside the point.
    An ambitious politician has found a horse to ride.
    The opt-in/out question is of the “Have you stopped beating your wife?” variety.
    I’d like politicians here in the UK to mind their own business.
    I do not want them erecting censorship systems which can be used to constrain thought for their own purposes.
    If I want my access to the internet to be filtered, I’ll move to China.

     
  21. Paul Ockenden Says:
    May 17th, 2012 at 3:31 pm

    @Aurelian – “Have you stopped beating your wife”??? Surely it’s more of a “have you started beating something else” question?

     
  22. Andy Says:
    May 17th, 2012 at 4:33 pm

    Obviously, the only way to get this to work is to have us all safely ensconced behind Hadrian’s Firewall and allowed access only to a white list of approved web sites:
    -the impenetrable forms we have to fill in for the government
    -the Conservative party official web site
    -the more hagiographic parts of the lapdog press

     
  23. Aurelian Says:
    May 18th, 2012 at 7:27 am

    @Paul Ockenden
    Saucy :-)
    The political technique is to manufacture an issue and silence opponents through political correctness.
    This frees politicians to insert themselves into private family matters and impose their views upon those whom they purport to serve.
    If we are to take moral instruction from Westminster, which we are not, the time to do so will be when it has become squeaky clean.

     
  24. akira kain Says:
    May 23rd, 2012 at 1:49 pm

    It’s ridculous!! It’s tantermount to sayin gwe should STOp all BBFC 18 rated films being broadcast to our TV’s and we can OPT out or not, where as it should be the decision as it is now for a parent to decide Hmm you are allowed to watch this 15 rated film or not. the problem as always lys with the parents. i stood in the queue for GT4 when it was released 5years ago @ midnight (yes im sad but i had day off next day and didnt want to go down in the morning) however as always there’s 7 year old kids and 10 year old standing inline waiting to buy this BBFC 18 rated game, and their parents are there with (so the shop will sell it) the kids are telling mums to go away while they chat to their mates and only to come to stand next to them at the moment of purchase. NOW who’s to blame for kids doing what they want, it’sa ll too easy and lazy now for parents to just give up or expect a Gov to intervene, why should they bother to educate their c hildren when there will be a nice Gov advertisement on the issue warning children of the dangers.. it makes me sick! People should be vetted before they are allowed to have spawns! as there are a great many waste of space parents in this world, im not saying china has it right but there’s something to eb said about selective breeding! ;-) if parents are too dumb to figure out a PC and parental controls (which is quite adequate in my eyes with a restricted login) then they need to be schooled by a Goiv funded intitative, called “are you too thick to manage your own children”!

     

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