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UK ISPs Start Hijacking Website Browsing to Push Censorship Filters

Saturday, December 20th, 2014 (8:56 am) - Score 2,064

As expected all of the United Kingdom’s largest broadband ISPs are now starting to interrupt the website browsing sessions of their existing customers in order to offer them an enforce option about whether or not to enable their network-level filtering (Parental Control) services, which block websites that are deemed to contain “adult content” and is a Government requirement.

The filtering system, which is still incredibly easy for a child to circumvent (there’s nothing ISPs can do about that), was first introduced to new customers during the ordering process at the end of last year and allows parents to enable blocking of “adult websites” at the network level (i.e. it applies to any computers or devices that connect to your home broadband service).

At the time ISPs also pledged to the Government that their existing customers would be presented with a similar choice by the end of 2014 and thus those who have yet to make a decision about the filtering must now decide via way of having their website browsing session automatically hijacked, which could easily cause confusion. Indeed malware (malicious software) sometimes uses a similar approach and the URL’s used might thus appear suspicious (e.g. websafe.virginmedia.com as opposed to the greater credibility of just using virginmedia.com).

The “enforced” nature of the choice also means that subscribers are sometimes unable to continue browsing unless they pick from one of the options. However Sky Broadband has taken a different approach with Sky Shield and said that they wouldn’t stop customers from browsing, although they also warned that those who didn’t decide when prompted might find the filtering enabled by default “from some point next year“.

A spokesperson for BT told Wired:

If customers do not make a decision, they are unable to continue browsing. The message will remain until the customer makes a decision.”

Customers who pick “No” should not see the message again, although there will always be the option to enable the service directly if required. Meanwhile those who choose “Yes” are then likely to be faced with a list of blocking categories, which can include everything from Pornography to the more questionable and generic areas like ‘Social Networking’ (e.g. Facebook, Twitter.. you know, because freedom of speech, we can’t have any of that ‘adult’ stuff), ‘Games’, ‘Media Streaming’ and ‘Fashion and Beauty’ etc.

But consumers should be careful because making the filtering too broad can also disrupt normal Internet access to websites that do not break any laws and which will often also contain useful content. Many examples exist of poor categorisation resulting in websites for health care services, child support, help for victims of self-harm and sex education also being restricted.

It’s worth pointing out that this will be less of an issue for TalkTalk, which has been operating a similar HomeSafe filtering service for many years longer than their rivals. Instead of hijacking the browsing session TalkTalk offers the option via their My Accounts page and thus nearly all of their customers have already made the decision, with the majority choosing not to filter.

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Mark Jackson
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.
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10 Responses
  1. Avatar Bob2002 says:

    The TalkTalk system, HomeSafe®, allows content filtering, setting “homework time” to keep kids off the net, and virus filtering – I’m not comfortable with the pro-filtering camp but those are some fairly useful options, and they can be turned off or on from the control panel as needed.

    1. Avatar Bob says:

      It’s a poor substitute for proper parenting.

    2. Avatar timeless says:

      well said bob, too many parents use the internet as some kinda daycare service then complain its too easy to access adult content then expect someone else to keep their kids safe..

      in all honesty l call than lazy.. if they cant be bothered to install their own software or keep an eye on their childrens usage then they shouldnt own a computer or any other device that can access the web.

  2. Avatar Bob says:

    Just another reason to use a VPN…

  3. Avatar Kman says:

    And will they be warning customers about the endless false positives, political and educational censorship. Remember folks, all criticism of Israel is antisemitism, discussion of breast cancer or the danger of drug addiction is for adults only.

  4. Avatar dragoneast says:

    Most parents do manage their children’s web use, and do everything else, jolly well. But good ole UK has always “suffered” from those (noisy) few who “know” what everyone else ought to be doing, and who see their main purpose in life in letting us all know. The only thing they succeed with is hijacking the modern politician, who in an increasingly desperate search for attention will lend an ear to any nutter. The rest of us know better, and get on with our lives. If you don’t work round the rules in the UK, you don’t get anywhere. And never have. It never stopped us moaning, though.

    1. Avatar Kevin says:

      Well said 😀

    2. Avatar Web Dude says:

      Indeed. Very well said!

      It’s the nutters outside of Parliament we also need to be worried about, though, such as the SaferMedia organisation… (which presumably helped push Claire Perry MP towards the “protect the children” line).

    3. Avatar timeless says:

      l disagree, if “most” parents did a good job at keeping an eye on their childrens usage then there wouldnt be a need for this system.

      most kids these days have computers in their bedrooms, laptops, tablets and smartphones all provide a gateway to the internet and the latter three arent static meaning they can be easily moved to an area out of the parents line of sight, not to mention being a kid myself once l found a way to access adult content despite filters, hell l sneaked down to the computer when everyone was in bed (not always to view adult content).

      my point is, while it might be impossible to keep an eye on children online 24/7 too many ppl seem to think its someone elses job to keep their kids safe online because they cant be bothered to learn about the technology their kids use. and that in my personal opinion filters dont stop content being accessed they just make it slightly harder and much easier for the government to block things they dislike because lets face it once a system is in place properly they will use it to block content they dont like because they will have more control over content.

  5. Avatar t0m5k1 says:

    It is systems like this & the gov. bodies that push them into place for “saftey” & “protection” of the intenet that allow for more broader breaches & snooping on our internet traffic.

    No wonder the original creator of the internet has distanced himself from his creation.

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