TalkTalk have become the latest ISP to automatically block adult material following the lead of Sky.
Last week we reported on how Sky Internet became one of the first ISPs in the UK to automatically block adult content without the users consent. To view adult content, users are required to physically enable access, regardless of age of residents or if there are even any minors in the household. In 2013 there were a reported 26.4 million households in the UK, 29% of which contained only one person, added with couples without children & adult house shares, the numbers starts to stack up. With well over a third of households not containing children, why this has been enabled by default will leave most baffled.
TalkTalk, an ISP with over 4 million broadband subscribers based on 2013 statistics becomes the latest ISP to automatically block adult content following suit of Sky. The system works by a pop up box system when a user on a connection that hasn’t agreed or disagreed to the filter accesses a site that their HomeSafe filter would usually block.
Filter automatically set to no
The setting for adult content is now automatically switched to “no” in regard to accessing and will require the user to enable it. As with Sky the system is rather flawed, firstly, it requires users to actually confirm they want to access “adult content”, what this actually means in a nutshell is it would be easy to automatically create a filter that shows which users specifically want to access adult content, even if they have no intention of doing so. From a privacy point of view this invades users option to anonymise what they access on the internet, forcing them to disclose their browsing habits and those that do not want to access adult content but do not wish to have a restricted internet would also have suspicion pointed in their direction.
The teenager concern
Aside from the obvious privacy concerns a bigger issue is the lack of education and understanding of less technically able parents. It has become true that filters and blocks are likely to be probed by inquisitive children and especially teenagers. Centuries of stopping adolescents from doing specific things has proved a huge amount of ingenuity when blocks are in place from stopping them doing certain things.
As teenagers become more tech savvy than their less able parents, the methods employed to bypass such content blocks become ever more known and widespread, with the use of social media amongst the under 18’s at an all time high, methods to bypass TalkTalk’s HomeSafe filter will be distributed far and wide within minutes. Unaware parents will assume that their internet connection is now safe and locked down and allow their children to use the internet unsupervised, assuming that the technical TalkTalk HomeSafe filter will be keeping their kids safe online.
How to bypass adult filters
Two very simple solutions exist that will bypass the TalkTalk HomeSafe filter. These are a simple Virtual Private Network that encrypts a users internet connection and creates a safe tunnel to the wider internet and proxy servers that may allow access to certain adult sites in certain circumstances. So while the intention of the filter is good, the implementation and the realistic nature that it is a one size fits all solution is completely wrong and misleading.
Virtual Private Networks do cost money, so requiring a debit or credit card is sometimes a requirement and a hurdle for most teenagers, however as payment method acceptance increases, it is possible to buy a subscription with some service providers via methods such as cash, vouchers and other options that would be available to teenagers, as such removing the purpose of the adult filter which would be easily bypassed.
As automatic web filtering appears to be on the increase, ISPs should consider the false message this is sending to parents who may otherwise not know better and be unaware that technological methods exists which would bypass such filters.