Virgin Media has today become the last of the big broadband ISPs to launch free Parental Controls (Web Safe), which support the Government demanded network-level filtering technology to help censor “potentially age-inappropriate websites“. Virgin’s site is also being updated to reflect their new headline speeds of up to 152Mbps.
The advantage of an ISP-side network-level filter is its ability to automatically apply to any device that connects to the Internet via your home broadband connection, which means that you control everything via your ISP and not on individual devices. BT, Sky Broadband and TalkTalk have already introduced a similar service.
As expected Web Safe will automatically be offered as an “enforced” (Government language) option for all of Virgin Media’s new broadband subscribers. The operator also intends to “proactively” inform all of their existing customers about the service by the end of 2014. Users whom enable it should eventually be able to select from a list of categories that they can block.
But at present Web Safe actually “blocks access to all categories“, so it’s a total block (yes or no). Later phases will introduce greater personalisation, allowing the account holder to block access to some categories while enabling access to others. This seems like an unusual approach to take at launch for such a sensitive issue.
The Web Safe solution will similarly work in conjunction with Virgin’s F-Secure SAFE software, which protects consumer devices when outside of the home (e.g. computers, tablets, smartphones etc.). A new online guide called Switched on Families will also help to educate parents about staying safe online.
Tom Mockridge, Virgin Media’s CEO, said:
“With the power of Virgin Media’s network, we can ensure digital really does makes good things happen for our customers, the communities around us and the country. Technology can help but we want every family to feel confident, informed and able to choose what online experience is right for them.”
As usual it’s important to mention that network-level filtering like this is by no means perfect and can result in perfectly safe websites being censored due to errors or incorrect categorisation, which once applied is usually very difficult to get removed. Similarly many children aren’t stupid and will find ways around the blocking if that’s what they want.
Separately Virgin’s announcement concerning their new broadband speed boosts up to 152Mbps doesn’t add anything to what we posted at the start of this month (here), thus there’s little point in us repeating what has already been written. The only difference now is that their packages will begin to publicly reflect the headline speed changes.