Internet providers angry at government 'meddling' on parental controls

Leaked letter suggests there's a great deal of tension and disagreement between the UK government and broadband providers over how to manage children's safety online.

Internet providers are angry about the government's apparent meddling on the subject of children's safety online and how best to encourage the use of parental controls.

A letter from the Department for Education (DfE) that was sent to some of the UK's biggest broadband providers - BT, Virgin Media, Sky and TalkTalk - has been leaked to the BBC and subsequently published in full.

The letter asks providers to change the language they use when describing the adult content filters and parental controls new customers are offered when signing up.

At present, the major UK broadband providers are required to offer customers an 'Active Choice' of whether or not harmful content and adult websites should be blocked.

Instead of referring to Active Choice, providers are being urged to promote 'default on' controls, which critics are worried will create more confusion.

"It makes parents complacent - if you tell them the filter is switched on by default, they get a false sense of security. We want parents to make informed choices about the way their children use the internet," an unnamed industry source told the BBC.

The letter also asks each provider to pledge an amount of cash to fund an awareness campaign for parents, without giving any details whatsoever in terms of how the money would be spent.

Rory Cellan-Jones, the BBC technology correspondent who published the letter, said: "I've written before on the dialogue of the deaf between politicians and the internet industry over child internet safety - and now the relationship seems to be getting even worse."

Below are a couple of extracts from the leaked document, courtesy of BBC News:

  • Without changing what you will be offering (i.e. Active Choice), the Prime Minister would like to be able to refer to your solutions as 'default on' as people will have to make a choice not to have the filters. Would you be able to commit to including 'default on' or similar language both in the set-up screen [for new customers] and public messaging?
  • The Prime Minister would like to be able to announce a collective financial commitment from industry to fund this [public awareness] campaign. I know that it will be challenging for you to commit to an unknown campaign, but please can you indicate what sum you will pledge to this work that the PM can announce?

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