Some confusion exists about the difference between various sorts of filtering and website blocking mechanisms and how they might impact a broad range of issues such as censorship, net neutrality, child safety or the browsing experience of Internet Service Provider customers. It is in light of these broad, but very vital, debates that CARE wants to highlight and clarify one issue in particular.
We believe it is of paramount importance to empower parents to help their children’s experience online be as good, educational and entertaining as it possibly can be without the child inadvertently or on purpose accessing content online that is inappropriate for their age.
Filtering or blocking online content, whether it is to protect children from age-inappropriate goods and services, or ensure that illegal content –child pornography, for example—isn’t transferred between users, is possible in at least two levels of the internet experience. The first is at the level of the Internet Service Provider (ISP), whilst the second is at the level of the personal computer (PC) or device accessing the internet.
The debates highlighted above in relation to filtering, particularly with regard to censorship, net neutrality or customer satisfaction with ISP provision, hinge on a type of filtering which CARE is at pains to differentiate from filtering through Parental Control Mechanisms which operate solely at the level of the PC.
It is CARE’s belief that while it is unclear how effective ISP filtering is in blocking content, it is clear that Parental Control Mechanisms (some of which are provided by ISPs, but others exist which can be purchased) installed at the individual user level are effective in helping parents keep their children safe online.
It is important to be very clear about what Parental Control Mechanisms are and how they work in different platforms (whether on a PC, mobile phone or games console).
First Parental Control Mechanisms overlay filters on web browsers at the PC level (e.g. in the home), which allow children to access some web content, but block other more problematic content. Second, Parental Control Mechanisms do more than simply filter the web. They allow parents to monitor how much time a child is spending online, or playing computer games, and some even offer parents the option of limiting the time spent online. Finally some PCMs offer parents the option of monitoring their child’s use of social networking sites, without being overly invasive in “friending” their children.
CARE strongly supports the UKCCIS announcement of the launch of a BSI Kitemark to ensure the quality of PCMs are of the highest level. We encourage ISPs and mobile phone operators to promote such parental control mechanisms to their clients at the point of sale and for the duration of the contract. However, we also support the Minister for Communication, Ed Vaizey’s proposal for ISPs to introduce an opt-in/opt-out mechanism for blocking age-inappropriate content at the ISP level.