'Internet filter' introduced to UK

  • ISPs downplay news of a UK-wide internet filter
  • Parental controls available as an extra service
  • Australian internet filter unlikely to pass through the Senate

Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in the UK have moved quickly to play down reports of an internet filter designed to block adult content.

The Guardian newspaper yesterday claimed the prime minister, David Cameron, was about to announce a 'filtered feed' by the top four ISPs designed to shield children from adult content. Customers who wanted an unfiltered service would have to opt-out, according to the report.

But the four ISPs named in the report - BT, TalkTalk, Virgin and Sky – quickly put out statements insisting the filter would not be opt out but rather an extra service dubbed 'parental controls'.

New customers will have to decide whether they want parental controls on or off when setting up their broadband with their new provider.

Talk Talk has launched HomeSafe, which allows parents to select the categories they want to filter out from their internet, including pornography, gambling or drugs. This is a network block that will affect all the internet-enabled devices in a home.

Virgin is offering a similar service, while BT is offering software that can be downloaded to block sites on individual computers. Sky has not yet announced how it will be offering parental controls.

BT told blog Wired.co.uk that software on individual computers is a better solution to an ISP level block, as it is more effective and could prove 'irritating' to customers.

In effect, the only difference will be that new customers will have to choose whether they want parental controls on or off when going through the set-up process with their new provider.

In Australia, the Labor government has put its own internet filter plan on hold after the Coalition and other parties opposed the plan, making any legislation unlikely to pass through the Senate.

The filter was controversial and unpopular with many consumers, as a poll on this site revealed.

Instead of an opt-in filter, Labor was proposing a compulsory ISP level block, designed to eliminate child pornography and other illegal content available on the web.

However, Telstra and Optus now block websites featured on a list provided by Interpol, as an interim measure. Other ISPs such as Internode have refused to commit to any filter unless legislation is passed.

The Guardian article was based on a leaked copy of the Bailey Review, a report from the UK group Mothers Union, which has been lobbying for measures to protect children from porn.

The report also recommends a ban on outdoor advertising of adult services such as lap dancing clubs near schools and preventing under 15-year-olds from acting as 'brand ambassadors' to their peers.