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Big UK ISPs Clarify the Confusion over Network Level Internet Filters

Monday, June 17th, 2013 (2:36 pm) - Score 3,983

A few remarks made by the Conservative MP for Devizes, Claire Perry, to the Westminster eForum on 14th June last week have generated a significant quantity of often misleading reports suggesting that default internet filtering of adult website by UK ISPs will be introduced by early 2014. But this isn’t entirely correct.

According to Perry, “We will have filters where if you do nothing, the parental filters will come pre-ticked” and “We will have automatic put on, so if you turn the filter off at 9pm, it turns on again at 7am“. Many have interpreted this to mean that UK ISPs will enable internet censorship by default.

ISPreview.co.uk, in an effort to clear up some of the confusion, has been busy contacting all four of the country’s largest fixed line home broadband ISPs to find out precisely what will really be happening. Suffice to say that some concerns remain unresolved but the reality isn’t as strict as Perry might have suggested.

A quick recap

Back in October 2011 BT, Sky Broadband, TalkTalk and Virgin Media all agreed to help protect children online via a new Code of Practice called Active Choice (here) that, among other things, would give customers (e.g. parents) an “enforced” option to block adult web content at the point of purchase.

In reality most ISPs, except TalkTalk’s HomeSafe service, simply used this to offer Parental Control software and that apparently wasn’t good enough for the government which began a consultation on the subject (here). The result was that only 35% of parents supported the introduction of default filtering of the internet by their ISP and a legislated approach was deemed unfavourable (here).

Never the less the government did want ISPs to do more and one of the proposals was an enhanced version of Active Choice, imaginatively nicknamed Active Choice Plus. This essentially proposed to give customers an option to opt-out of network level adult content filtering (i.e. it would come pre-ticked as enabled), which would be followed by a choice of content types (e.g. porn, social networking etc.) that could be blocked.

Is it really default internet censorship?

In essence what Claire Perry has proposed and what ISPs are adopting appears to be Active Choice Plus but the devil is in the detail and it’s important to understand the subtleties involved before drawing any conclusions.

Firstly we already know (since May 2013) that all of the major ISPs either have or will soon launch network level filtering by the end of 2013 (here). A “network level” solution means that the ISP controls the filtering at its end of the service and this allows the restrictions to be imposed across all your connected devices.

But will it be enabled by default? Well not quite. According to the ISPs, all customers (both new and existing) will at some point be presented with an OPTION to enable or disable the related Parental Controls. Customers that agree to this will then be presented with a list of categories or genres that they can choose to block/unblock (as above).

homesafe talktalk block categories

Virgin Media said this makes Perry’s suggestion that the filtering could be automatically enabled if you do nothing somewhat moot since the option will be presented to everybody and you won’t be able to avoid it. Virgin Media also advised that the question of whether or not “Do you want to enable filtering?” (that’s just our wording for this example) would come pre-ticked with a “Yes“, which is what Sky Broadband already intends to do (here), is “still being worked through” (Perry clearly wants it).

By contrast TalkTalk told us that the default setting for HomeSafe is currently set to be switched off until the customer chooses to enable it.

Extra filtering options

Virgin Media also noted that customers whom agree to the filtering will be presented with an additional prompt that explains what the choice means, although they remain concerned that adopting a pre-ticked “Yes” approach might encourage some people to “skip through without being engaged” (sleepwalking their way into censorship).

Unfortunately none of the ISPs was able to give us a clear answer about whether any of the listed categories for blocking would also come pre-ticked (it’s assumed porn would be pre-ticked). Likewise BT ducked our question entirely and told us to contact Claire Perry’s office “for clarification” if we wanted to know about their filtering system (Eh?). We asked again but have so far had no reply.

We also note that time controls will be offered by the ISPs. What this means is that you can select when the filters are switched on and when they are off (e.g. disable them at night and put them on in the daytime etc.).


So to summarise. The biggest four ISPs have all voluntarily agreed to adopt network level filtering and will present all customers with an option about whether or not to enable it and which categories’ it should block. This effectively mirrors what TalkTalk’s HomeSafe service has been doing for awhile.

The only real bone of contention is whether or not any of these options will come pre-ticked with a “Yes” to enable them, though you’d still be able to select “No” provided you don’t deliberately skip past it. In other words ISPs won’t switch on filtering automatically and then give you the choice later; instead NOTHING will happen until you make the choice and select which aspects it will block.

Not that any of this will do any good as these days most children can easily find out how to beat such filters within the space of just a few minutes. It’s not hard and many of the circumvention methods require practically zero technical knowledge.

It should also be said that some of the categories risk blocking far more than you might anticipate. For example, blocking “self-harm” sites could just as easily end up blocking sites that are designed to help those whom have suffered from related problems. ISPs need to be very careful here but history shows that they don’t always make the correct judgements.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
Leave a Comment
5 Responses
  1. Roberto says:

    Looking at part of Ms Perry’s statement it appears that she has issues with the English language. Let us hope she does not block on-line educational content by mistake, it seems she needs some in more than one manner.

  2. Timeless says:

    this is a very slippery slope indeed, today they want to block porn.. tomorrow they will want to block sites that contradict them, then shortly after they will want to block everything they dont want us to see.

    still the jokes on them because there is no real way to block stuff without completely disconnecting the internet from everyone.

  3. Daivd Fenton says:

    I suppose we should be grateful that the plans are not as severe as previously thought. However, no government should be implementing default censorship of legal content. If you don’t want children viewing porn then don’t leave them to access the web without guidance and put some filters on their or change your DNA address. You wouldn’t let a child cross the road by themselves so why with the net? Doesn’t this come down to lazy parenting, where there is a belief that children can be parked in front of screens?

  4. Corrado MellaBodincus says:

    As David said, we’re progressively alienating ourselves from the concept of individual responsibility. Orwell would have drooled over things like these.

    The penetration of internet enabled digital devices is only going to grow, and with IPv6 addresses every minuscule device in our life will be permanently connected with its own specific identity. Talk about privacy, or the loss of.

    I’m a Darwinian, and I strongly believe that if you are not fit to fend for yourself you will succumb, one way or another. A charitable society can defend you from most harm, but not all of it. You will not survive, and won’t have offsprings.

    That’s how E.V.O.L.U.T.I.O.N. works. Survival of the fittest. That’s how all species on the planet evolved and reached their current state, including us humans. Some mutations were successful, others not.

    We’re different from other animals, because we have a higher understanding of society, and we build protection for our weakest members, but it can’t be stronger than our strongest members can afford. Sometimes the harm is too big, and some of us succumb. That includes virus and bacteria, Mother Nature always gets its way.

    While we can try to protect our society on a larger, massive scale with overarching policies, if the underlying strata doesn’t take some individual responsibility we’re pissing against the wind.

    Repeating myself here: why do we need a license to drive a vehicle, that can be a weapon capable of killing people in their dozens, and we can buy and use an internet connected device, that can make incalculable harm and enormous damages if used improperly, without a sodding clue on how to use it P.R.O.P.E.R.L.Y.?

    I don’t care if some minus habens get their life wrecked by 419 scammers, or their offspring get emotionally scarred for life: I have invested time and effort to have an effing clue, and I’m relatively happy I have done what was required by a conscientious parent. Do the same, get a clue, you nitwits.

    And before you spit your bile at me, I warn you: just don’t bother, it’s only going to harm yourself.

  5. Harry says:

    With regard to internet censorship, please note that ISPs like O2 block hundreds of sites deealing with men’s issues, calling them “hate sites”. For example, check out …


    … a site that tries to help men who are the victims of domestic violence.

    It is labelled a “hate site” by O2.

    See here …


    Hundreds of men’s sites are blocked – many of which are to do with helping men who are feeling suicidal.

    Please note that these sites are blocked via Symantec – an American company dominated by feminist-inspired misandry.

    These sites are, of course, also blocked by the “parental control” filters. Fair enough. But they are also ALL blocked at a higher level by fraudulently calling them “hate sites.”

    This is not an error by O2 and Symantec.

    They know that we have been annoyed by this for almost a year. And they have stated that they do not intend to change their policy.

    Also, please see this to see why we should be taking a stand against Page 3 and the tabloids.

    How The Tabloids Promote Child Abuse –



    Thank you for your time.

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