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Ofcom Reveals UK Attitudes Toward Network Level Filtering by ISPs

Wednesday, November 29th, 2017 (12:01 am) - Score 1,665

Ofcom has published their latest report into the use of media by UK children and parents, which among other things finds that around two in five parents of children aged 3-4 (39%) or 5-15 (37%) use network-level filters on their home broadband ISP. The vast majority of those find them useful.

All of the markets largest broadband ISPs (BT, Virgin Media, Sky Broadband, TalkTalk etc.) are required, as part of an agreement with the Government, to adopt a system of network-level filtering that blocks potentially harmful websites from the gaze of young eyes. Customers can disable this if they so choose, which is good because such systems have become notorious for incorrectly blocking masses of safe websites.

Overall 92% of parents who use home network-level content filters consider them useful (down from 95% in 2016) and a similar proportion (93%) say this about parental control software. The use of such filters has also increased since last year, although oddly a significant proportion remain unaware of the features, which is despite ISPs conducting plenty of promotion among both new and existing subscribers.

More than eight in ten parents of 5-15s (85%) have also talked to their child about staying safe online, although this falls to 65% for those with children aged just 5-7.

ofcom_adoption_of_network_level_isp_filters

ofcom_network_level_filter_blocking_opinion

Interestingly parents of 5-15s who use home network-level filters said they were more likely than in 2016 to feel that their child is able to bypass them. As anybody familiar with internet networks will know, bypassing network-level filters is incredibly easy (e.g. VPN, Proxy Servers) and there’s very little that ISPs can reasonably do in order to prevent this (it’s largely a result of how the internet itself works).

Around one in five parents of 5-15s who use home network-level filters (21%) and one in six using parental control software (16%) feel their child can bypass these controls. Compared to 2016, parents are more likely to say their child can bypass home network-level filters (up from 15%), although this increase follows a decrease between 2015 and 2016 (from 26% to 15%).

Naturally parents of 12-15s are more likely than parents of 8-11s to say their child can bypass both types of content filter (30% for 12-15s vs. 17% for 8-11s for home network-level filters), which is hardly a surprise because by that age you’d expect them to be pretty clued-up on such things.

However it’s worth noting that when children aged 12-15 were asked whether they could bypass such filters, only 18% (i.e. those who go online and who opted to respond) said they know how to disable them and 6% said they’ve already done this. This should be tempered against the fact that children may not always feel as if they can answer such questions with honesty.

As for those parents of 5-15s who are aware of but do not use home network filters, some 50% said this was because they trust their child to be sensible online and others said it was because they use different ways of ensuring correct use (e.g. close supervision). Only 6% said it was because the filters block too much or get in the way of their browsing and 4% figured it was pointless because their child could find a way around it.

It’s worth remembering that the Digital Economy Act 2017 (summary) will in 2018 introduce a new age-verification system for websites that contain pornographic content. Under this approach the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) will gain the power to force ISPs into blocking porn websites that fail to put “tough age verification measures” in place.

Ofcom’s report also contains plenty of other interesting stats.

ofcom_children_attitudes_to_uk_media_and_internet

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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.
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5 Responses
  1. rtho782 says:

    Interesting.

    In our case, we have a 13yo. We have no ISP filtering – I would not tolerate it, and if it was made compulsory I would move ISP to avoid it.

    However my router is a Sophos UTM build, using Ubiquti points for WLAN. Our child has their own SSID which shuts off at night. Everything is filtered and logged by the router, with exceptions in place for mine and my partners devices, no outbound access is allowed other than HTTP and HTTPS except for my whitelisted devices, and DNS requests are intercepted to force them to go through the router, which pushes google, bing, etc to enforced safesearch URLs, and blocks workarounds such as Iodine (IP over DNS).

    This sort of setup is much better than ISP level blocks, and does not require the whole country to be inconvenienced in order to parent my child for me.

    1. John Miles says:

      Re: “and does not require the whole country to be inconvenienced”

      Where exactly is the inconvenience? If you don’t want a filter then its a one time operation to turn it off.

      And in my experience can’t see a problem with having one turned on either. In the past few years that I have been running a network filter (on two different ISPs) I cannot recall any incorrect site blocking.

    2. 125us says:

      What’a the point of your post other than boasting? For the 0.5% of the parent population who have the skills and inclination to do what you’ve done, there’s clearly no need for filters – or at any rate – none that you’ve identified. For the other 99.5% the choice is ISP filters, buy something off the shelf or do nothing at all.

      Given that identifying a need, planning a solution and implementing it is only 10% of the lifecycle of a security product, I gladly hand that job to my ISP.

  2. Stewm says:

    I personally wouldn’t rely on any ISP blocking as job done for stopping my kids accessing unsuitable material on the internet. As a tool to help me while discussing with my children the do’s and don’ts, then OK. But as a parent I object to being told “use this” or opt out if you don’t want it. I am the parent not the State.

  3. Ultraspeedy says:

    Laughable, what happens when little Johnny uses his Smartphone or Tablet to connect to a wifi spot which is not filtered? Or they decide to spend one of their hours per week of TV viewing to switch on certain freeview channels at Midnight? Opps the minority once again are clueless.

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