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Internet providers offer parents bar on porn

The BBC's Rory Cellan-Jones: "It's a fairly blanket blocking of all sites that may be unsuitable"

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Four leading web providers are to offer customers the option to block adult content at the point of subscription.

BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin will offer the protection for smartphones, laptops and PCs.
It comes as David Cameron is set to meet industry representatives amid concern over sexualisation of children.

The prime minister will also launch Parentport - a website to help parents complain about inappropriate content.

And he will back a ban on billboards displaying risque images near schools.
The new measures, aimed at helping parents protect their children from internet porn and other explicit sites, follow a report earlier this year by the Mothers' Union Christian charity known as the Bailey Report.

The four ISPs said in a statement that they: "have worked closely with government and a range of stakeholders to swiftly introduce measures addressing recommendations set out in the Bailey Report."

They said they would talk to parents about how to activate and administer parental controls. The tools to limit what children can see and do online are already available but, before now, have not been offered to customers as they sign up.

The BBC's technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones said the industry was a bit wary of these plans as it did not want to be seen as censors.


Parents will welcome the new controls on pornography although, with children accessing the internet from a variety of devices, including mobiles, it will not entirely solve the problem.
Kids are also very smart and have proved themselves more than capable of getting around the filters set up in schools so it won't be long until there is widely-available "advice" online about how to avoid the home versions.

From the ISPs point of view there is a fine line between providing customers with the filters they need to feel safe and policing the internet.

The latter is something they have vehemently backed away from when it comes to requests from the content industry to block access to illegal music and films.

Blocking porn, they will argue, is just responding to customer demand but those opposed to filtering net content are likely to see it veering towards censorship.

He added web providers currently offer packages which enable certain websites to be filtered out however this was an "imprecise art". 

TalkTalk offers users network-level filtering software, which means it protects all devices used on the home internet connection.

This is seen as important as more families surf from a variety of laptops, tablets and smartphones.

Some 150,000 TalkTalk customers have so far opted in to the HomeSafe service, according to the firm.

It blocks a variety of websites, including suicide and self harm, violence and weapons, dating sites, gambling sites and filesharing. Parents decide what sites they want to include on a blacklist.

Increasingly ISPs are offering more sophisticated filters for customers.

"The major service providers are accepting that their customers expect them to play their part in helping to ensure children are able to use the internet in a safe way," said Sebastien Lahtinen from Think Broadband.

"It's worth noting that those determined to get around a filter will find a way of doing so, often quite trivially," said Mr Lahtinen.

Some critics are concerned that such filters represent the thin end of the wedge when it comes to censoring the web.

Nick Pickles, director of privacy and civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch, said: "We should tread very carefully when developing state-sanctioned censorship of the internet.
"Let alone the quagmire of deciding what should be censored, it is a dangerous path to go down to expect technology to replace parental oversight and responsibility," he added.
Critics of filters argue they often block access to innocent sites and never shield people from all inappropriate destinations.

Age restrictions
Mothers' Union's head, Reg Bailey, warned that childhood was being wrecked by the "commercialisation and sexualisation" of children on TV, amongst advertisers and on the web.

Mr Cameron is due to meet Mr Bailey at the Downing Street summit later, at which he will also urge companies not to use children to market goods to other children.

The changes proposed in Mr Bailey's review include restricting steamy pop videos to older teenagers and later television slots and covering up magazines on shelves that feature sexualised images.

In a letter to Mr Bailey in June, the prime minister wrote: "As you say, we should not to try and wrap children up in cotton wool or simply throw our hands up and accept the world as it is.

"Instead, we should look to put 'the brakes on an unthinking drift towards ever greater commercialisation and sexualisation'."

Organisations behind Parentport

  • Advertising Standards Authority
  • Authority for Television On Demand
  • BBC Trust
  • British Board of Film Classification
  • Office of Communications
  • Press Complaints Commission
  • Video Standards Council/Pan-European Game Information
Source: Ofcom
Mr Cameron added that he welcomed recommendations to make it easier for parents to block "adult and age-restricted material" across all media. 

He also said he supported banning the use of children to market goods to other children.
Telecoms watchdog Ofcom said the launch of Parentport would make it easier for parents to complain about material they had seen across the media, communications and in retail.
It said the website had a "have your say" section where parents could give informal feedback and comments and also offered advice on keeping children safe online.

Chief executive Ed Richards, said: "Seven UK media regulators have come together to develop a single website, with a single aim - to help protect children from inappropriate material.

"Each regulator shares this common purpose and is committed to helping parents make their views and concerns known."


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