ISPs dismiss calls for default porn blocks

Web children

Proposals for content block "premature" and not "proportionate"

ISPs have come out against default internet filtering of adult content, telling a government consultation that proposals to block content are neither necessary nor effective.

The comments come as the Department for Education released copies of papers submitted by the ISPs in response to a consultation on protecting children online through better parental controls or default blocking.

The documents were released under a Freedom of Information request and highlight that although ISPs agree with protecting children under an "active choice" model, where parents are given an option of turning on parental controls at point of sale, they were not in favour of routine blocking.

PC Pro has covered the issue at length, and argued that default blocking is heavy handed and almost technically impossible.

There is strong evidence to suggest that over reliance on a technical solution could give parents a false sense of how secure their children are online

Among the submissions to the proposals was a 100,000-signature petition calling for tighter controls, but according to the ISPs there's no evidence that a default block would help.

"We recognise that there is a concern about children who are particularly vulnerable to the risk of harm on the internet however, we think that this needs to be considered in terms of wider policy work and interventions around vulnerable children as opposed to looking at internet issues in isolation," TalkTalk said in its response.

"We are also unsure that offering a default block would actually mean these children were less at risk nor are we sure that this is proportionate."

TalkTalk's position is significant as it has been cited by anti-porn campaigners as an example of how ISPs can make a difference, despite the fact that its HomeSafe network level filter suffers from serious flaws.

The company cited research from YouGov which found that 78% of people were against default blocking, and claimed the government risked implementing new controls before existing policies had even been put into practice.

"Research has consistently found that the majority of adults do not support default filtering," TalkTalk said. "It is also worth saying that active choice as a policy has not yet been given sufficient time to bed in across other providers and have their success measured... it is premature to be looking at other policy options."

Policy confusion

Virgin Media said the confusion sparked by the debate over whether active choice or default blocks should be implemented was at least partly responsible for the lack of progress in the industry.

"The recent uncertainty surrounding ministerial support for 'active choice' has been unhelpful as regards enabling businesses to plan for the long term delivery of solutions for new and existing customers," the ISP said.

BT, too, questioned the wisdom of the proposals, claiming in its response that default blocking would lead to parents becoming over-confident in their children's browsing safety, and that technical solution would never be able to block all adult content.

"Parental interaction and engagement is vital, not least because no technical solution is 100% effective," the company said. "In fact, there is strong evidence to suggest that over-reliance on a technical solution could give parents a false sense of how secure their children are online."

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