British ISP filter plan causes mass confusion

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British ISP filter plan causes mass confusion

What the ISPs have actually agreed to do.

The British Government has announced plans to have the country's four biggest internet service providers block adult content, leading to massive confusion among internet users.

The plan had been leaked to The Guardian yesterday, which said users would have to "opt-in" if they wanted to continue to view explicit content.

However, the ISPs involved - BT, Virgin Media, Sky and TalkTalk - dismissed reports of an opt-in system, saying that customers will be asked to make a choice over whether they want filtering on their connection or not.

Adult content blocks won't be implemented by default, they said.

Here is what the four ISPs have signed up to:


BT will be forcing new subscribers to make a decision on whether they want adult content filters switched on as part of the installation procedure for BT broadband. Only new customers will be forced to make a choice - existing customers will be sent a letter reminding them of BT's filtering software.

BT will continue to use the McAfee Family Protection suite it currently offers to its broadband customers for free. This isn't a network-level block, but PC-based software. That means devices such as smartphones and tablets will not be filtered.

Click here for full details of the BT Family Protection suite (PDF).

Virgin Media

Virgin Media currently operates a similar system to BT, where it offers customers parental control software for their PCs on an opt-in basis.

The software will, according to a Virgin Media spokesman, "identify sites that you will want to block as a parent", including pornography, gambling and violent websites.

The software works across up to three PCs in the home, but once again devices such as smartphones and tablets accessing the internet via the home Wi-Fi connection will not be filtered.

Click here for full details of Virgin Media Security.


Sky said it was “too early to get into the technicalities”, but confirmed it would be introducing measures to comply with the Government proposals. “Active choice measures will mean customers have to make a choice not to take advantage of parental controls,” Sky said. The company currently offers controls via McAfee software.

"To set up McAfee Parental Controls you’ll need to be signed into your computer with Administrator rights," the company says. "You will also need to create non-Administrator user accounts for each child who uses the computer."

Click here for full details of Sky Parental Controls.


TalkTalk implemented an opt-in adult content blocking service earlier this year. The Homesafe system provides network-level protection against malware, as well as giving parents the option to block certain types of content, including pornography, gambling and violent websites.

The content filters are applied to every device and user in the home, so there's no way for parents to retain access to adult content while preventing children from doing so, without switching the blacklists off when the children go to bed.

TalkTalk has said it would resist any Government attempts to make filtering compulsory, but said under the proposals new customers would be alerted to HomeSafe. “TalkTalk will be offering all new customers an ‘active choice’ about whether or not they want to use parental controls,” the company said.

Click here for full details of TalkTalk HomeSafe.

Fears of scope creep

While there has been a swelling tide of conservatism in recent months, with MP Claire Perry and the Bailey Report seeking further protection for children, campaigners believe the plans could stray into censorship and warn the industry must guard against heavy-handedness.

"There is a world of difference between offering sensible child safety, and trying to persuade adults to live with layers of censorship,” said Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group.

"The devil is therefore in the detail, and how 'options' are presented. Will adults be asked if they need parental controls, or if they want to switch adult content on? We will oppose anything designed to induce adults to live with censorware, which would inevitably deny them access to commentary, health and medical advice."

PC Pro has been told that the Government plans would involve only new subscribers being offered parental controls when they are connected, which would be acceptable to campaigners, but there are fears the plans could involve retrospective options, too.

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