British Telecom, one of the UK’s largest internet access providers, has made “BT Parental Controls” a default service for new user of its internet services, thereby blocking “adult content” unless customers request it not be activated.
Existing BT Consumer customers will be contacted in 2014 so they can decide whether to use content controls or not. Its broadband customers number 6.8 million.
BT’s decision falls in line with the UK government’s push for greater online child protections this year.
BT Parental Controls uses filtering based on domain name resolution, and will block a list of sites that are deemed inappropriate for young people. Concern has been expressed that the blocked site list may contain more than pornography sites, but also sites that deal with suicide prevention, safe sex, and anorexia and eating disorders.
According to a Q&A between BT and activist group Open Rights group, an account holder can customize their account’s filter from pre-defined filter levels ranging from strict to light, choose categories to block, and block or unblock specific pages.
Critics have noted that filters simply provide a false sense of security for parents, whose children will find ways to evade these blocks. And blocking sites at the domain level means that high-profile sites like Google Image Search and Tumblr are places that are unlikely to be banned but still be a source of material deemed age-inappropriate (although it’s worth noting that these sites are taking it upon themselves to classify content as adult or NSFW, and having age filters).
Others have criticised measures child content filters because they do little to protect children from online predators, which is better battled by online policing efforts that prosecute criminals and teaching children safe online practices.
On this front, BT is committing more than £9.3 million in efforts to increase awareness and education around online safety for children.