Government asks public Wi-Fi networks to ban porn

17 Dec 2012
Porn

Pornography banned from public Wi-Fi by next year under government plans

The government won't be filtering home broadband connections, but it will ask companies to block adult content from public Wi-Fi.

Last week, the government confirmed in a report it would not try to implement a UK-wide, network-level filter of porn that would require adults to opt-in to view such content. Instead, ISPs will be asked to encourage parents to install a parental control filter, and to ensure the person setting it up is over 18.

That report made little mention of Wi-Fi, but the Department for Education (DfE) has said the government will push providers to filter out adult material on public networks, via the UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS), a government and industry agency.

"UKCCIS is working with all the major public Wi-Fi providers towards a commitment in early 2013 to filter adult content by default on the services they provide directly to the public," the DfE said. "We expect this will be followed later in the year by further commitments from third-party providers of these services, such as restaurants, coffee shops and trains."

Mobile phone networks already have a similar ban, designed to prevent children from viewing inappropriate content when away from home. However, adults can opt out of that filter by providing age verification to their mobile operator. It wasn't clear if the Wi-Fi plans would allow people to opt out of the new filter.

The mobile phone filter doesn't only block pornography, but any content deemed inappropriate - that includes information about gambling, drugs and alcohol. If the Wi-Fi filter blocks similar content, that could lead to situations where a pub's free Wi-Fi for customers blocks the pub's own website, for example.

Existing filters

Such filters already exist on some public Wi-Fi networks. The Cloud, one of the largest Wi-Fi providers in the UK, has been filtering out such content by default since September.

"Having spoken to our own venue partners, we know this is a subject that their customers are concerned about and want to see action on," the company said, adding it made the decision to roll out a default filter after feedback from customers, not government. "Our filter is applied as default to all our hotspots but venues can choose to opt out from it if they wish."

The DfE noted Virgin Media's London underground Wi-Fi network blocks adult content, as does that of McDonald's - the latter after working with the Mumsnet Family Friendly Wi-Fi Accreditation scheme.

BT's Openzone Wi-Fi offers a filter as an option. "Some retailers who provide free Wi-Fi access for customers want pornographic sites blocked in their stores," a spokesman said. "BT is ensuring they have this option."

"As normal, BT shall take a full part in whatever discussions UKCCIS members choose to hold," the spokesman added. "We shan't prejudice any such discussions by making public comments now, other than to say we continue to take seriously the need to protect children online."

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