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Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Industry sources: ISP porn filter plans have been blown out of all proportion, ISP bosses "livid"

The massive web porn filter story is not what it appears, multiple industry sources tell me.

News broke late last night of a government-sponsored plan to block pornography by the country's four largest ISPs.  The Daily Mail ran a story that bore no relation to the position sources close to discussions with government had kept me abreast of over the last few months.

A report in the Guardian was at odds with a BBC story over whether the national porn filter will be opt-in (switched off by default) or opt-out (blocking porn by default).

Now I can reveal that ISP bosses are livid.  None want to speak on the record, but all confirm the same basic facts; that discussions between ISPs and the Department for Education in light of the Bailey Review of the Commercialisation and Sexualisation of Childhood had to date focussed on consumer education and choice.

That is, providing better awareness to customers of the online threats to children, advertising the benefits of blocking software, and making such software easier to enable and configure.

"Discussions to date have focussed on education and clear choices," said a highly-placed contact in one of the four ISPs involved.  "We all want to make the internet as safe as possible, but we can't completely eliminate all risk - at least not without seriously affecting the vibrant and beneficial nature of the internet.  The primary responsibility lies with the parents, who have a responsibility to supervise how their children use the internet."

A second contact echoed this sentiment, adding "Grabbing headlines like today - in some ways it's useful, as it raises awareness of the issues, but it could backfire."

"Customers might be left with the impression they can phone up their ISP tomorrow and delegate their online parenting responsibilities."

I pressed one contact for its plans regarding child protection. "It's unhelpful to talk in terms of opt-in and opt-out, as this isn't how the customer sees things.  They want to know 'what can I do to protect my family?'  They want clarity of choice, honesty over how effective our technical solutions are, and they want it to be as easy as possible to switch protection on, and prevent their children switching it off."

"ISPs didn't sign up to a specific plan to introduce network-level filters [filters that work inside the ISP rather than filters running on the customer's WiFi router or PC].  We didn't sign up to opt-in or opt-out.  We signed up to increase education and awareness of solutions, to make filters as effective as possible and easier to access."

Sources tell me discussions to date have been led by the Department for Education, with input from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.  I believe today's planned meeting with the PM is the first official contact between ISPs and the PM or Cabinet Office on this issue.

"It's not that Claire Perry has won the day and the UK is about to get a fully-moderated internet."

I contacted ISPs for official comment and they sent me this joint press statement:
"BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media are pleased to have developed and agreed a code of practice, including measures to ensure that customers are provided with an active choice as to whether to activate parental controls in the home.

The four internet service providers have worked closely with Government and a range of stakeholders to swiftly introduce measures which address the recommendations set out in the Bailey Report.

The ISPs have committed to improve the way we communicate to customers enabling parents to make simple and well-informed choices about installing and activating parental controls and other measures to protect their children online.

The four ISPs are working with parents' groups and children's charities on this important initiative and will continue to do so."


@JamesFirth

1 comment:

  1. ISPs may well be furious, and I don’t doubt for a second that what’s agreed and what’s being represented to and by the media differ by some margin.

    However, what I’m concerned about the reality of it. Were people offered an all-singing all-dancing network-level filtering system, but were told explicitly at every turn “this won’t really protect children, it just reduces the risk of them accidentally running into inappropriate material. it may well block things that you want to see, even if you’re not expecting it to. no system is perfect. it’s no pancea, and in reality many people find it more trouble than it’s worth. would you like to switch it on?” then I’d have no real issue with it. It strikes me as unlikely that this will be the case, especially considering at least one ISP is considering it a selling point. Thus, we are back to square one, and the law of unintended consequences.

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