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Brit ISP content filters are misfiring blunt instruments

Porn filters couldn’t hit a bottom with a paddle
Thu Dec 19 2013, 15:40
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THE CONTENT FILTERS recently rolled out by UK ISPs do not work particularly well and are taking out much more than adult content.

An investigation from the BBC found that the ISPs, which include BT and Virgin Media have been blocking out sites that offer sex education information, as opposed to just sexual content.

The BBC says all the main ISPs that have committed to filtering are throwing up errors, and singled out examples from TalkTalk and Sky, where websites for victims of sexual crimes and award-winning educational pages have been filtered out.

TalkTalk was found to block 93 percent of the pornographic sites that the BBC's Newsnight team decided to visit. Sky's blocked 99 percent. BT is accused of blocking sites about domestic abuse, among other things.

The UK's Open Rights Group (ORG) said blocking sites is an unworkable solution. Peter Bradwell, policy director at ORG, said there must be a serious rethink.

"We started looking closely at internet filtering by mobile networks a couple of years ago. We knew that we could try to learn lessons from the way their default-on systems worked that could be helpful if and when systems for domestic ISPs were rolled out. We found that it was hard to understand what was blocked and why, and that over-blocking was a serious problem," he said.

"We are clear that we don't agree with the government's current approach – mandating network-level filters and a 'one click to safety' approach."

The group has followed this with the release of a 10-point advice list for the government and ISPs.

TalkTalk said there is no clear route to perfect content filtering, and explained that it is working hard at its best efforts.

"Over 400,000 families have already activated our HomeSafe parental controls and they tell us they value having a free tool that helps them stay safer online. We are pleased other providers are now introducing similar systems," said a spokesperson.

"Sadly there is no silver bullet when it comes to internet safety and we have always been clear that no solution can ever be 100 percent. It requires all of us to play our part. We continue to develop HomeSafe and welcome feedback to help us continually improve the service."

BT, which rolled out its filter this week, said much the same, explaining that it appreciates the input from the BBC and is looking "urgently" into the issues Newsnight raised.

"Categorisations are constantly updated to keep pace with changing content on the internet and we will investigate any concerns and make changes as necessary. BT Parental Controls can be customised to suit each individual family's needs – users can choose the categories they want to block and add or remove specific sites," said a spokesperson for that firm.

"No technology is 100 percent effective. Parents need the knowledge and the tools to help them keep their children safe online. That is why BT, along with other major ISPs, is investing in a multi-million pound campaign to raise awareness of online safety." µ


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