The UK government yesterday opened up a consultation on proposed methods of shielding children from pornographic or unsavory content on the internet. The discussion paper published by ministers on highlights possible ways to protect children from harmful web content including websites promoting suicide, anorexia, gambling, self-harm and violence, as well as those exposing them to online sexual grooming or cyber-bullying.
The paper, published at a UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS) conference on Thursday, asks for feedback on three options for keeping children safe online. The first is an opt-in solution that would see harmful content blocked automatically on internet-enabled devices. Customers would need to specify with their ISP that they want to opt-in for blocked content. The second option would involve presenting customers with 'an unavoidable choice' as to whether or not they want filters and blocks put in place on their internet service. This would happen either at point of purchase or when a customer first switches on a new device or internet subscription. The third option details a system that is an amalgamation of the options described above. Customers would be presented with a list of content to be blocked automatically unless they choose to unblock this content.
The proposed blocking of adult content is backed by UK Prime Minster David Cameron. However, Cameron believes it will only work if there was a clear prompt for the user that informs them of the settings and affords an opportunity to adjust them. According to the Department for Education, the UK's four main ISPs (BT, TalkTalk, Virgin Media and Sky) have each signed a code of practice that says they will give an active choice to customers when it comes to applying controls and filters to block harmful content. However, ministers have also said that the government will consider regulation if the industry doesn't go far enough or fast enough.
"Growing numbers of parents do not feel in control of what their families are exposed to online," the Department for Education cites Children's Minister Tim Loughton as saying. "Many want to take responsibility, but all too often they do not how know how because they find the technology too difficult to use or their children are more technically advanced then they are," he continued. "We have been clear that the internet industry needs to raise its game to equip families better in being able to block what their children access on the internet. There has been some good progress to date but just as technology does not stand still, nor should we, in making sure our children are protected. We have always been clear we would turn up the heat on industry if it did not make fast enough progress."
The government's consultation will last 10 weeks and will allow parents to give their own input and feedback.