Monday, July 02, 2012

UK Department for Education publishes consultation on Internet parental controls


Further to my last post in May 2012, the Department for Education (DFE) has now published the consultation on Internet parental controls mentioned in previous announcements. From the DFE press release:
"The discussion paper asks for views on three broad options for the best approach in keeping children safest online, in a rapidly changing digital industry:
  • A system, known as default-on or opt-in, where people’s home Internet Service Provider or each internet-enabled device (laptop and desktop computers; mobile phones; tablets and television) blocks harmful content automatically before any customer purchases it. They can later choose to adjust or remove the blocks if parents want to access the blocked websites.
  • A system where customers are always presented with an unavoidable choice about whether or not they want filters and blocks installed either on their home internet service and/or each internet-enabled device they are buying – an approach known as “active choice”. This applies at either the ‘point of purchase’, either online, telephone or over the counter or when a customer first switches on a new device or internet subscription.
  • A system that combines features of both systems, where customers are presented with a list of online content that will be blocked automatically unless they choose to unblock them – or active choice plus."
The concept of "active choice plus" - where adult content is blocked automatically with users being able to request access to it should they wish - is the main development here. Also see coverage from the BBC, ISP Review (further commentary here) and The Guardian. The discussion document re-states the intention to move on from the active choice put forward in the previous Bailey Review to blocking by default/active choice plus:
"The Government has been working with UKCCIS and its members to ensure that parents are always presented with an unavoidable choice as to whether or not they want filters and blocks installed on their internet service or internet-enabled device.  This approach is often referred to as ‘active choice'. Since the publication of a report from the Parliamentary Inquiry into Online Child Protection, chaired by Claire Perry MP, the public debate has been framed around the apparent ease of access that children have to online pornography. The report argued that internet service providers (ISPs) should provide broadband connections into homes with filters already in place as the default setting to block access to pornography. Adults who wanted these filters removed from their service would have to tell their ISP they wished to ‘opt in' to these sites. A variation could be to combine these ideas, so that the user is clearly and unavoidably presented with a list of content types that will be blocked unless they choose to unblock them with a simple action such as removing a tick from a box. Evidence shows that giving ‘default' answers like this tends to encourage more people to accept the suggested option, and most ISPs do this for things like virus protection, where there's an obvious benefit to ticking ‘yes'."
The document acknowledges that no technical solution can by itself be 100% effective but that "it is right to look at the role technical solutions can play as part of a package which also includes education, awareness raising, and, if necessary, regulatory measures." The consultation runs until 6th September 2012.

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