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UK Home Broadband ISP Users Shun Adult Internet Content Filters

Wednesday, December 16th, 2015 (1:48 pm) - Score 2,051

A new report from Ofcom has revealed that the vast majority of fixed line home broadband ISP subscribers have, after being given an “enforced” choice, chosen not to implement their provider’s network-level filtering (Parental Controls), which are designed to block adult websites (porn etc.).

Currently all of the markets largest broadband ISPs are required, as part of a semi-voluntary agreement with the Government, to adopt network-level filtering through a system called Active Choice Plus. The intention is to prevent children from seeing unsavoury online content.

Under this system customers who sign-up to Virgin Media, BT, TalkTalk or Sky Broadband are given the “enforced” option of whether or not to enable filtering, which comes pre-ticked as “Yes” (to disable it you have to specifically un-tick the box). A list of various categories is then offered for censorship (e.g. self-harm, social networking [Facebook], porn, dating, sex education etc.).

Since then the ISPs have also presented their existing customers with a similar choice and the system has thus now been in place for over a year, which means that we’re past the early adoption stage (virtually 100% of subscribers have been given the choice) and so this should give us a better idea of actual adoption (note: data collected to June 2015).

Take-up of Family-Friendly Filters (New and Existing Subscribers)
1. Sky Broadband 30-40%
2. TalkTalk 14%
3. Vigin Media 12.4%
4. BT 6%

Some implementations of this system are more aggressive than others. For example, Sky will eventually enable the feature regardless of whether or not you missed the original notice, but the account owner can still disable it whenever they want (that’s true of all the above ISPs). Sky’s spokesperson said, “The automatic position of Sky Broadband Shield is the safest one for all – that’s ‘on’.” This explains why Sky are so high in the table, although that position is under threat from the new EU Net Neutrality rules (here).

Interestingly the take up figures for new customers (excluding existing subscribers), who see the unavoidable choice during their order process, are much higher and that’s perhaps partly because it looks less like SPAM when you first see it. Equally some ISPs, such as TalkTalk, have been offering the service for many years. Still the results are mixed and the majority choose not to enable filtering (note: sorry for the low quality illustration, blame Ofcom).

internet filtering takeup june 2015

At this point Ofcom’s report goes on to survey parents and children in order to discover their attitudes towards filtering. The results note how awareness of ISP content filters has increased among parents of 5-15s since 2014 (from 50% to 57%). Use of these filters has also increased among parents of 5-15s since 2014 (from 21% to 26%) and 97% of parents who adopted the filtering say they find it useful, obviously. We’ve highlighted some of the other results below.

Highlights – Ofcom’s Parents and Child Survey (Internet Filtering)

* In 2015 more parents said they had looked for or received information or advice about how to help their child manage online risks (from 70% to 75%).

* In 2015 most parents agreed that they knew enough to help their child to manage online risks; 80% of parents of 3-4s and (76%) of parents of 5-15s agreed with this statement.

* There has been a decrease since 2014 in the number of parents who trust their child to use the internet safely, from 83% to 78%.

* The top three reasons given by parents for not using filtering are consistent: 1) around half of parents of children aged 5-15 prefer to talk to their children and use other methods of mediation; 2) four in ten say they trust their child to be sensible / responsible; 3) around two in ten parents say it is because their child is always supervised or there is always an adult present.

* Parents were asked about eight different technical tools and whether they thought their child could “get round them”. Around one in five parents of 5-15s who used each tool felt that their child was able to bypass the tools, while a quarter of parents felt that their child could get around their ISP’s network-level home filtering, and about one in 12 parents who used each of the eight tools said they were unsure whether their child could bypass it.

As readers of ISPreview.co.uk will know, bypassing such filtering systems can often be as easy as simply visiting a different website address (e.g. web-based proxy), using a VPN or installing special web-browser software. However Ofcom suggests that the knowledge of how to do this, among children, is actually quite low; although we have to wonder whether a child being asked such a question would always answer honestly.

Certainly some older children (12-15s) did have knowledge of potentially risky behaviours, for example one-third knew how to delete their browsing history to mask what they had been doing, although only 1 in 10 said they have actually done it. Elsewhere 1 in 10 also said they knew how to disable a filter or control and 6% say they know how to use a proxy site or a VPN, although only 1% admitted to having done this.

Ofcom’s 4th Report on Internet Safety Measures

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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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6 Responses
  1. Avatar AndyC says:

    what kids did they speak to? 3 year olds from north korea! most schoolkids know more about computer code then their parents, hell the bbc even has a website teaching pre-school kids how to do basic codeing

  2. Avatar John Miles says:

    Need a bit of context to understand this

    Only about 30% of UK households have any children, so take-up at 30 – 40 % for Sky could mean that most (Sky) households with children are using filters.
    Similarly for TT and VM at 12 – 14% suggests that half of households could be using filters (on the basis that households without children probably would not have explicitly opted-in)

    So if you consider the group of households that have a need for the filters the take-up
    is probably quite high, around 50% or more. Hardly users ‘shunning filters’ as in your title.

    1. Avatar Web Dude says:

      Good point, well made, though I’ve no idea whether 30% (or more) of households have children (and in any case, some ‘silver surfers’ fo not have under-16s of their own, but may have allowed the filtering to be ‘on’ anyway, in case a grandchild visits).

    2. Mark Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      It absolutely is users shunning filters (our headline makes no mention of parents or children). Part of the Government’s mantra wasn’t just that they wanted to protect children, but that they believed adults in general would welcome the service and many would use it.

      What this shows is that when faced with an option of censorship, people without children generally do not choose to enable it.

      Sky’s figures should also be taken with a big pinch of salt because they enable the filtering even if you ignore their notice.

  3. Avatar PHB says:

    I’m using an alternative filter (OpenDNS) set up at the router level plus controls in the router firewall rules to force DNS requests to go via OpenDNS. I therefore opted out of TalkTalk’s filtering.

    Some other parents are likely doing the same given that some routers (e.g. Netgear & Draytek) come with net filtering included.

    This probably only applies to a minority of “tech savvy” users but just because someone has chosen not to adopt their ISP’s filtering doesn’t mean that they’re not controlling what their kids can access on line.

    1. Avatar Web Dude says:

      I suppose one has to weigh up the type of restriction (and flexibility of control) offered by the different tools available. For many, whether tech savvy or not, there’s a lot of trust in whomever has chosen what to allow / block can “get it right”. No doubt there is “small print” in all the terms of use so that if someone’s child finds a ‘HowTo’ on committing suicide, the filtering firm cannot be held responsible if they failed to filter such a site out of view…

      I don’t especially like systems that block sites (advertising excluded) but if someone does use such a system, it hopefully has some flexibility to allow a parent / guardian the ability to blacklist or whitelist any site(s).

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