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Parents Find UK ISP Network Level Internet Filters Beneficial

Tuesday, February 4th, 2020 (8:37 am) - Score 1,074
blocked website parents network level isp filter

Ofcom’s latest annual ‘Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes‘ report has found that 9 out of 10 parents who use the network-level internet content filters provided by big UK broadband ISPs find them beneficial, but many still don’t use them and a fair few children can circumvent these systems.

At present all of the markets largest broadband ISPs (BT, Virgin Media, Sky Broadband, TalkTalk etc.) have, as part of an earlier agreement with the Government, adopted a system of network-level filtering that blocks potentially harmful websites across all connected devices from the gaze of young eyes. Customers can disable this if they so choose (it’s on by default), which is good because such systems have also become notorious for incorrectly blocking safe websites (e.g. they can easily get self-harm sites confused with sites that help people to stop self-harming etc.).

Overall the regulator’s survey found that six in ten parents who have home broadband and whose child goes online are aware of home network-level content filters, but only half of these actually use them (36%) and parents of 8-11s are more likely to do so (41%) than 5-7s or 12-15s (33% and 34% respectively).

The same proportions are aware of, and use, parental control software (e.g. Net Nanny, McAfee Family Protection, Open DNS FamilyShield). Unlike network-level content filters, parental control software is more likely to be device specific and used by parents of the younger age groups (35% for 5-7s and 36% for 8-11s), than 12-15s (27%).

The Divide Between Nations

Parents in Northern Ireland are the least likely to be aware of, or use, content filters and parental control software.

Parents in England and Scotland are more likely to be aware of home network-level content filters (37% and 36% respectively), than parents in Wales (29%). While parents in Northern Ireland are less likely, than any other UK nation, to use these (19%).

Meanwhile, parents in Wales are the most likely to use parental control software (49%), followed by parents in England (33%). As with use of content filters, parents in Northern Ireland are the least likely to use these (15%), along with parents in Scotland (20%).

However, parents also recognise that content filters are not completely failsafe. Overall 14% said their child is able to get around such filters, which increases to 20% for parents of 12-15s. This older age group endorse this belief; some 15% of 12-15s who go online say they know how to unset such filters, and half say they have done so.

Any future plans (i.e. Online Harms Bill) to block websites at ISP level will almost certainly suffer from the same issue, since ISPs have no ability to remove the content posted on remote web servers and thus the blocks they’re able to enforce are akin to placing a “do not enter” sign on an open bedroom door. This is not the fault of ISPs, it’s just a facet of how the internet itself works (it was never designed to be a walled garden).

Interestingly fewer parents now feel that the benefits of their child being online outweigh the risks compared to five years ago. Just over half of parents of 5-15s feel this (55%), compared to two-thirds (65%) in 2015. However, there are indications that more parents are talking to their child about online safety (85% of parents of 5-15s), than compared to 2018 (81%). At the end of the day no filter can be a substitute for education.

The main concern parents have about their child being online is the worry that companies are collecting information about what their child is doing (49%); unchanged since 2018. Meanwhile more parents of 5-15s were worried about their child seeing content which might encourage them to hurt or harm themselves – the only concern to see an increase (45% in 2019 vs 39% in 2018). Parents in Wales were also the biggest worry-pots.

2020_parents_concern_about_internet_use

Ofcom also asked parents about four approaches to mediating their child’s online use: regularly talking to their children about staying safe online; rules about what children do online; supervision when online; and awareness and use of technical tools. Nearly all parents of children who go online say they use at least one of the four forms of mediation. Almost 9 in 10 parents apply rules about what their child does online or supervise their child when they are online.

Finally, the tablet continues to be the most popular device for going online, used by 68% of 5-15s in 2019 (up from 64% in 2018). The proportion of 5-15s using a mobile phone to go online has also increased since 2018 (from 50% to 55%), now matching laptop use which remained stable year on year (55%). As with tablets, the increase in mobile phone use to go online was driven by increased use among 8-11s (from 41% to 49%).

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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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1 Response
  1. Avatar pb1365

    Just a quick correction that OpenDNS Family Shield isn’t software (there’s nothing to install) – it’s a third party DNS level filter that does the same job as those provided by ISPs or can be used if the ISP doesn’t provide network filtering and only needs the DNS server setting to be changed on the router (or individual device).

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