Government won't force ISPs to block porn

14 Dec 2012
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Consultation finds parents see online child safety as their own responsibility

The government says it won't force ISPs to filter adult content, despite fervent calls to do so from MPs and pressure from the media.

Last year, the government created a "code of practice" for ISPs, asking them to offer free parental controls to customers. Conservative MP Claire Perry didn't think those measures went far enough and started a campaign to make broadband customers "opt in" to adult content online.

The government ran a consultation into that idea, receiving 3,509 responses - including PC Pro's submission - with two-thirds saying keeping children safe online was entirely the responsibility of parents. The default filtering system was the most popular of the the three mooted blocking solutions, but still only won the support of 14% of respondents.

This combination of parental tools and education will be needed in order to deal with the twin problems of harmful content and harmful online behaviour

Rather than attempt to force ISPs to block adult content, the government said it would ask providers to not only offer parental controls but to "actively encourage" parents to use them.

"The government believes providers should automatically prompt parents to tailor filters to suit their child's needs," the report said, adding it would ask ISPs to ensure the person setting up the controls was actually over 18.

Device controls

The report also calls for parental controls to be extended to all internet-connected devices, calling for industry - including retailers and device makers - to "work to develop universally-available family-friendly internet access which is easy to use".

It added: "The government wants to see all internet enabled devices supplied with the tools to keep children safe as a standard feature." We've asked for clarification about what exactly that will entail.

The government said it "will not prescribe detailed solutions" but expects industry to act upon the report, and to improve education on online security issues. "This combination of parental tools and education will be needed in order to deal with the twin problems of harmful content and harmful online behaviour."

Parents' responses

The report revealed respondents were against all forms of default network-level controls, with more than two-thirds of parents against automatically blocking content on computers or smartphones.

Across all respondents - which included businesses, academics and people who didn't identify themselves - more than 80% disagreed with that plan, and it only won backing from voluntary and community organisations.

Parents did see value in using blocking tools and software, ranking them alongside "active parenting" as the two most useful ways to keep children safe.

While bullying was ranked as the online activity that was most likely to worry children, parents were most worried about controlling access to pornography. Not a single respondent was concerned by gambling, alcohol/drug sites, or online radicalisation - access to which are blocked automatically on smartphones.

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