Ministers have rejected plans to automatically block internet access to pornography on all computers, saying the move is not widely supported. But the government says internet providers should encourage parents to switch on parental controls. The NSPCC said parents’ voices were not being heard. There were more than 3,500 responses to the 10-week consultation – which included those from members of the public, academics, charities and communication firms as well as 757 from parents.Respondents were asked to answer “yes”, “no” or “maybe” to three separate questions about how internet service providers (ISP) could play a role in limiting access. An automatic block would mean users would have to actively request that pornographic content was made available by their ISP.
The report said there was “no great appetite among parents for the introduction of default filtering of the internet by their ISP – only 35% of the parents who responded favoured that approach”. Some 13% said they favoured “a system where you are automatically asked some questions about what you want your children to be able to access”.
And 15% answered “yes” to a system that combined the previous two approaches where some harmful content, such as pornography, was automatically blocked but parents were also asked about what other content their children could access.
The NSPCC said the figures showed that half of the parents who took part in the consultation wanted some sort of automatic block on online pornography. But the report said an automatic ban – or “opt-in” – approach could lead parents into a “false sense of security” because it could not filter “all potentially harmful content”.
It also did not “deal with harms such as bullying, personal abuse, grooming or sexual exploitation which arise from the behaviour of other internet users”. It added: “There is also a risk from ‘over-blocking’ – preventing access to websites which provide helpful information on sexual health or sexual identity, issues which young people may want information on but find difficult to talk to their parents about.
“The government is now asking all internet service providers to actively encourage people to switch on parental controls if children are in the household and will be using the internet.”
The report praised the the four main ISPs – BT, TalkTalk, Virgin Media and Sky – for signing up to a code of practice, offering customers a choice of whether to apply filters, but said providers should go further and actively encourage parents to turn them on.
The NSPCC said that while the government’s response was “a step in the right direction in making the internet safer for children” it was “disappointing” it had not gone further. “The best option to protect children is for adult content to be automatically blocked by internet service providers,” head of corporate affairs Alan Wardle said.
“Given that half of the parents who took part in the government consultation wanted this option we are concerned their views have not been heard. “Hardcore pornographic videos are just a few clicks away and a quarter of children have been sent unsolicited sexual material online.”
He said it was vital new measures were rolled out to new and existing customers “as quickly as possible”. The government consultation followed a campaign by MPs including Conservative Claire Perry for greater curbs on access to online porn. Ms Perry chaired the cross-party Independent Parliamentary Inquiry on Online Child Protection which concluded in April that government and ISPs needed to do more to keep children safe online. It found that children were easily accessing pornography and websites showing extreme violence and called on the the government to back moves for stronger filters of adult content.