Sky Is The Limit For Pornography

UK Internet giant blocks porn by default to protect children, but IT security firms warn the move could create a new set of problems

British telecommunications firm Sky Broadcasting Group (Sky) this week reaffirmed its commitment to protecting its Internet customers by introducing network-level content filtering software that blocks pornography by default.

The porn filters will be implemented on all Sky broadband accounts unless users specifically opt out, and Lyssa McGowan, brand director for communications products at Sky, says efforts to protect children were at the forefront of the decision.

Parents and perverts

The filters ensure that when a user attempts to view a website deemed unsuitable for children under the age of 13, the Internet subscriber will be sent a page reminding them to make a choice about filtering. The default ‘block’ setting can be accepted, they can change their protection levels or turn Sky Broadband Shield off altogether.

McGowan adds: “Once Sky Broadband Shield is active, users cannot access a filtered site unless they choose to log in and alter their settings. However, they can browse away from the filtering page to visit freely any site suitable for the 13 age rating, without any interruptions.

xxx“We’re all aware that cyberspace can present security risks, and that the Internet isn’t universally suitable for children. And at Sky, when it comes to online safety for all, we take our responsibility very seriously and we want what is best for our customers.”

Although Sky’s decision has generally been commended by those in the technology industry, concerns have been raised that it could lead parents into a false sense of security, and adult Internet users who choose to opt out could be labelled as “perverts”.

Ed Macnair, CEO of CensorNet, a specialist cloud security firm, comments: “While I applaud Sky for taking some positive action to protect children from accessing inappropriate content online, it’s too blunt an instrument and I fully expect there to be a backlash from customers. I dread to think how you will be viewed if you switch the filter off – a deviant or, even worse, a pervert! This kind of blanket ban by Internet Service Providers is simply not enough to protect children online. Parents need to take responsibility and choose what they are allowing their children to access, as well as ensuring specialist web filtering tools are installed on all devices – not just the home PC.”

“Sky’s approach helps make it as easy as possible for customers to protect their households. We are encouraging them to use the flexibility within Sky Broadband Shield in order to make the right choice for their personal circumstances. And Sky Broadband Shield doesn’t give us access to what you do online so your privacy will be protected.”

David Emm, principal security researcher, Kaspersky Lab, says: The move from Sky to block pornographic material by default will certainly help to shield children from the dangers of the Internet, although imposing them by default is a bold move. Today, it’s easier than ever for children to stumble across inappropriate material, so making tools available to shield them from this content is very important. However, while filtering inappropriate content may be the most obvious aspect of the problem, it’s by no means the only aspect of children’s online safety.”

The use of technology to filter pornography is not new. Most ISPs have offered controls to new customers to limit or prevent access to pornography since 2013, following pressure from the government to do so – Sky included. Moreover, many Internet security products also provide this. For example, a parent or guardian can use parental control software to set up separate (password protected) profiles for devices used by their children, allowing comprehensive access to the Internet for adults, limited access for teenagers and restricted access for the youngest members of the family. They can set time limits when the computer can be used, or when children can access the Internet. They can filter specific geographic domain names (.cn or .ru, for example), restrict access to forums, social networks, specific sites and even certain online functions such as the ability to make purchases or download files. What is new is ‘retro-enabling’ such controls for existing customers, unless customers specifically opt out.

“One of the dangers of an ‘on by default’ approach is that it might lead some parents into a false sense of security, thinking that someone else is ‘taking care of everything for them’, noteds Emm. “However, it’s important to remember that technology can’t replace parenting. It’s possible for such filters to get it wrong – letting through undesirable content or blocking legitimate content by mistake. So it’s very important that we inform ourselves about all the potential dangers of the online world and talk to our children about them. This discussion should start as soon as they pick up a device and continue as they get older and their needs change. Filters alone cannot protect them; education continues to be the most important defence a parent has against online threats.

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