TalkTalk To Offer Network-Level Child Protection

TalkTalk’s new HomeSafe security feature offers parental controls for all devices connected the network

Mobile operator TalkTalk has today launched a new broadband security service, designed to help parents protect their children from explicit content online and prevent kids from getting distracted by social networks during homework time.

The service, known as HomeSafe, offers virus alerts, parental controls and time-of-day blocking at a network level rather than on an individual computer, which means it works on all devices connected to a home broadband connection. TalkTalk claims this makes it more effective at ensuring families’ safety online than existing security systems.

“Our customers tell us that they couldn’t imagine living without the Internet now, especially given how much their children rely on it for school work and social reasons, but they still worry about the innate risks the Internet brings with it,” said Tristia Clarke, commercial director of TalkTalk. “HomeSafe is our answer to this.”

“Of course, it’s not a silver bullet and it doesn’t absolve parents from the responsibility of knowing what their children are up to online. But our research shows parents understand this,” she added. “They don’t want their ISP to control what content they can or can’t access online – they just want their ISP to give them the power to implement settings that are right for their family.

Keeping up with the kids

TalkTalk’s research found that 33 percent of children aged 12-17 use their mobile phones to surf social networking sites, and 29 percent use it to instant message when at home. Without the protection of child filters that are commonly installed on family PCs, children can easily stumble across inappropriate content.

TalkTalk’s HomeSafe service was welcomed by Will Gardner, chief executive of Childnet, who said such tools can help parents look after their children online “in the same way they would naturally do offline”.

However, while these types of solutions are useful, it is dangerous for parents to rely too heavily on them. As child protection groups have warned in the past, many young people are now more net-savvy than their parents, meaning that it will not take long for children work out how to disable Internet filters. Parents must therefore not become complacent.

For example, researchers at Lancaster University earlier this year  developed a mobile phone application to help children tell the difference between friends their own age and adults masquerading as children, designed to prevent grooming by paedophiles. The software, which is called Child Defence, uses language analysis technology to identify language quirks peculiar to different age groups.

“It can lull us into thinking that the child is safe and therefore we can move onto something else,” said Chris Cloke of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NPCC), commenting on the application. “I would certainly say that measures of this sort can be helpful but they need to be seen as one of the wider armoury we have for tackling child sexual abuse.”

Government steps up online child protection

Last year, the government launched a campaign to introduce a digital code for online safety – similar to the Green Cross Code for road safety – carrying the slogan, “Zip it, Block it, Flag it”. It advises parents to keep their children’s online passwords private, to teach their children to block people who intimidate them, and to regularly check if their children have seen anything online that has upset them.

Meanwhile, backbench Tory MP Claire Perry proposed an alternative solution in February, involving the use of Internet filters that require computer users to opt in if they want to access pornography from their home computers. Perry said there was a “scary degree of favourable consensus” between Internet porn campaigners, the government, and the ISP community on the idea.

Mrs Perry is also one of the main political supporters for the Safemedia campaign group, who are asking for network-level filters to block legal sex sites by default.