The Department for Education (DfE) has published its response to the recent consultation on improving Parental Internet Controls. The report found only minimal support for the enforced approach that would require ISPs to block access to adult websites by default, although the UK government still intends to toughen the existing Active Choice system.
Last year saw BT, Virgin Media, Sky Broadband and TalkTalk agree to help protect children online via a special Code of Practice (Active Choice), which promised to provide customers (e.g. parents) with an “enforced” option to block adult web content at the point of purchase.
But many politicians felt that this didn’t go far enough, with some even calling for the mandatory censorship of all adult websites by default. Others accused several ISPs of allegedly shirking their responsibilities by, for example, only offering parental control software to download instead of imposing network-level filtering.
The government eventually launched a June 2012 consultation that proposed several options for improving the existing Active Choice system and also asked respondents for their thoughts in a related survey. Today’s response to that consultation reveals that “respondents very clearly said that children’s online safety is the responsibility of parents or a shared responsibility between parents and businesses“.
In particular it found that a “large majority of respondents, including parents” said they “did not like any of the three options” for enhancing parental controls, although they did wish to be “made more aware of parental controls” and how to use them.
Separately there was “no great appetite among parents” for the introduction of default filtering of the internet by their ISP and only 35% of the parents who responded favoured that approach, there were even smaller proportions of parents who favoured an approach which simply asked them what they would like their children to access on the internet, with no default settings (13%) or a system that combines the latter approach with default filtering (15%).
In conclusion the government said that it would ask “all” ISPs to “actively encourage people to switch on parental controls if children are in the household and will be using the internet“, which would also need to cover both new and existing internet access subscribers.
The Government’s Final Recommendation
“Internet service providers have made great progress to date in implementing “active choice” controls where all new customers are asked if they want to switch on parental controls. The Government is urging providers to go one step further and configure their systems to actively encourage parents, whether they are new or existing customers, to switch on parental controls.
The Government believes providers should automatically prompt parents to tailor filters to suit their child’s needs e.g. by preventing access to harmful and inappropriate content. We also expect ISPs to put in place appropriate measures to check that the person setting up the parental controls is over the age of 18.
[Plus] all of the information and communication industries, including retailers and device manufacturers, should work to develop universally-available family-friendly internet access which is easy to use. The Government wants to see all internet-enabled devices supplied with the tools to keep children safe as a standard feature.”
The government has pledged not to “prescribe detailed solutions” but does still expect the industry to adapt to its recommendations and added that ministers will now work with industry, charities and experts in relevant fields through UKCCIS to bring about the desired approach.
Ministers will also seek to “establish clear, simple benchmarks and classifications for parental control solutions“, so that parents can more easily understand what those tools will help them with and how various products compare.
In other words the prospect of new legislation and default filtering appear to be firmly off the table, although it remains to be seen how effective the updated code will actually be.
DfE Parental Controls Consultation Response