Ofcom publishes report on internet safety measures

22 July 2014

Ofcom has today published a report for Government outlining measures the UK's largest internet service providers have put in place to help parents protect children from harmful content online.

This follows an agreement between the Government and BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media, the four largest fixed line internet service providers (ISPs), announced in July 2013. Each ISP committed to offer new customers 'family-friendly network-level filtering' by the end of December 2013.

This is the second of three reports the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has asked Ofcom to produce on internet safety measures to protect children. The DCMS asked Ofcom to look at the approach taken by each ISP to implement family-friendly filtering services which block content that may be inappropriate or harmful for children, rather than assess the effectiveness of the filters.

The report also describes measures taken by ISPs to present a pre-ticked 'unavoidable choice' to new customers on whether or not to activate the filter, and includes initial take-up data among new customers offered filters.

The filters apply to all web based internet content, on any device that is connected to the fixed broadband network in the home.

Report findings

The report finds that the four ISPs now have a network level family friendly filtering service, which is offered to new customers. New subscribers receive a prompt from their ISP during the broadband set-up process, describing the filtering service and offering the consumer a pre-ticked option to use the filtering service.

The filters allow a user to manage access in their home to a range of internet services, helping parents to prevent their children accessing content that is not appropriate for them.

There are a number of filtering categories common to all four ISPs. Suicide and self-harm, pornography, file sharing, crime, drugs, violence and hate are covered by each provider's classification systems.

By the Government's target of December 2013, BT, Sky, and TalkTalk each offered a filtering service allowing parents to restrict categories of online content, and presented new users with the unavoidable choice of whether to activate the filters.

Virgin Media launched its network level filter in February 2014. When it launched, it was not able to implement an unavoidable choice for all new customers, and estimated this was offered to about a third (35%) of new customers. To help address this shortfall, Virgin Media implemented additional ways for the customer to choose filtering, after the initial set-up.

Next steps

The ISPs are currently working towards meeting their commitment to Government to contact all their existing customers and present them with an unavoidable choice about whether or not to install the family friendly content filters by the end of 2014.

Ofcom is due to produce the third in this series of reports in December 2014. This will review Ofcom's Media Literacy research from 2014 on parental strategies for protecting children online.

Specifically, it will look at how take-up, awareness of and confidence of parents in relation to parental controls has changed since its first report published in January 2014. It will assess the broader strategies parents may adopt to improve children's online safety and will provide a more complete set of data on which to draw clearer conclusions.

ENDS

NOTES FOR EDITORS:

  1. In November 2013, the DCMS asked Ofcom to produce three reports on internet safety measures to protect children.
  2. This is the second of three reports the Government asked Ofcom to produce on internet filters and online safety. The first, published in January 2014 looked at parental strategies for protection of children online reviewing Ofcom's Media Literacy research from 2012 and 2013. The final report will be published early in 2015 and will review Ofcom's Media Literacy research from 2014 on parental strategies for protection of children online.