It was controversial from the start and caused many issues at the beginning of 2014, yes, that’s right, I’m talking about family filtering that was introduced at the requirement of the Government in the UK. In essence a system that aims to protect children from accessing inappropriate content on the internet by automatically filtering web access in the UK, while good in theory, it became rather more of a headache to others and with websites such as sexual information resources and VPN providers being blocked, the technology behind the system has also been called in to question.
I wrote about the topic back in late 2013 when ISPs in the UK started to roll out filtering, Virgin Media, one of the larger providers was actually the last major ISP in the UK to introduce a family filter in what they call Web Safe. The idea behind Web Safe is to filter out adult content at the network end so no software or filtering product is required on the user end. All new customers who sign up with one of the major ISPs including Virgin Media are required to agree or disagree to accessing what is considered “adult content”. This alone is a privacy concern as if you select that you do not want filtering then it could be assumed you are already on a list for those who wish to access smut, when this may not be the case at all.
This weekend, starting on the 8th November the family filter on the Virgin Media service went in to overload and started routing an unprecedented amount of traffic towards the filtering server, this caused it to stop working leaving customers unable to access any site at all.
While that situation was bad enough in itself, many of the customers found complaining had not even signed up to the Web Safe filter, or at the very least not accepted to have their internet traffic filtered. The issue appears to have been caused by the Virgin Media DNS servers routing all request to their Web Safe server, something which if using a VPN provider with custom DNS servers would of completely bypassed the problem and enabled the internet connection to function as normal.
The worst affected customers and some of the most annoyed had even opted out of web filtering, yet still found themselves victim of this latest adult filtering fiasco.
Those who are unlucky enough to have fallen fowl of this error over the weekend, considering a Virtual Private Network will remove the possibility of a similar situation occurring again. Due to this and other failures, such as the issue of accessing Facebook via Virgin Media some months ago, again which was down to another DNS issue. Making use of a VPN just to use the internet in an unfiltered way is starting to appear to be the best solution to combat such issues.
Virgin Media apologised for the issue and informed customers that it had been resolved as of the 9th November 2014. Not much use if you needed to access something important on Saturday.