There is more action on the sexualization of children front in the UK this week. But the latest move — involving the four leading internet service providers and porn filters — may not be as radical as it first seemed.
Prime Minister David Cameron, having bitterly disappointed many conservatives last week with his affirmation of same-sex marriage, seems determined this week to kiss and make up. First, his advertising standards watchdog has announced a tightening up on sexual imagery in outdoor ads; then it was reported that, following another recommendation of the Bailey report, he had done a deal with the ISPs to protect children from porn.
That was quickly followed by disavowals from the ISPs and commentary alleging that whatever it is that is changing, it won’t make any difference.
But ISPs moved quickly to insist that the provisions will only apply to people taking out completely new contracts, who will be offered the choice of a connection with “parental controls”, or one without. “Customers will have to choose one or the other, but we won’t be making either one the default,” said a source at one of the ISPs. A spokesperson for TalkTalk said: “This is called ‘active choice’ rather than an opt-in or opt-out.” People who change to a different tier of connection within the same service will not be obliged to change the setting. BT said that new customers will be offered a package of parental control systems, provided by the security company McAfee.
However, very few people change their internet provider — fewer than 5% in any quarter. The ISPs, though, are talking as though they have made a significant change:
In a statement, the ISPs said: “BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media are pleased to have developed and agreed a code of practice, including measures to ensure that customers are provided with an active choice as to whether to activate parental controls in the home.
“The four internet service providers have worked closely with government and a range of stakeholders to swiftly introduce measures addressing recommendations set out in the Bailey report.
“The ISPs have committed to improve the way they communicate to customers, enabling parents to make simple and well-informed choices about installing and activating parental controls and other measures to protect children online. The four ISPs are working with parents’ groups and children’s charities on this important initiative and will continue to do so.”
In fact, a service called HomeSafe, used by TalkTalk ISP, checks every web location that a customer connects to for malicious software, even if they have not opted into the parental control system. The Brook Advisory Service, which provides “free and confidential sexual health information to young people”, has been blocked by porn filters before and is complaining about the new system.
Better for everyone if they are blocked, I say.
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