Internet providers offer parents bar on porn

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Media caption,
David Cameron said that parents could feel ''it is a jungle out there''

Four leading web providers are to offer customers the option to block adult content at the point of subscription.

BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin will offer the protection for smartphones, laptops and PCs.

It comes as David Cameron on Monday met industry representatives amid concern over sexualisation of children.

The prime minister also launched Parentport - a website to help parents complain about inappropriate content.

And he backed a ban on billboards displaying risque images near schools.

Mr Cameron said there was a "growing tide of concern" amongst parents who were concerned about children being exposed to "inappropriate advertising and sexual imagery".

"I welcome the progress being made, including the Parentport website being launched today that will give parents a strong voice and a single hub to air their concerns about inappropriate products, adverts or services.

"But we must do more, so today I call on businesses and industry to go further and in the new year I will again review progress because I am determined we are really making changes that support parents and protect our children," he said.

"There's no doubt that the sort of pressures - what you see on television programmes and advertising hoardings and sort of a mixture of pester power problems but also just the sense that our children are being forced to grow up too quickly," he said. "We don't want to see always the answer as a regulatory legislative answer - so what can we do showing some social responsibility."

The new measures, aimed at helping parents protect their children from internet porn and other explicit sites, follow a report earlier this year by the Mothers' Union Christian charity known as the Bailey Report.

The four ISPs said in a statement that they: "have worked closely with government and a range of stakeholders to swiftly introduce measures addressing recommendations set out in the Bailey Report."

They said they would talk to parents about how to activate and administer parental controls. The tools to limit what children can see and do online are already available but, before now, have not been offered to customers as they sign up.

The Conservative MP Claire Perry, who's been leading a Commons inquiry into online child protection, said she welcomed the moves.

But she said she was concerned it was only for new customers and would not be introduced until 2012.

"We know the technology's already there. We know that people want it, so why the wait? Let's just get on and do this - because internet's coming to our TVs, it's coming to our sitting rooms," she said.

The BBC's technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones said the industry was a bit wary of these plans as it did not want to be seen as censors.

Web providers currently offer packages which enable certain websites to be filtered out, he added. However this was an "imprecise art".

TalkTalk offers users network-level filtering software, which means it protects all devices used on the home internet connection.

This is seen as important as more families surf from a variety of laptops, tablets and smartphones.

Some 150,000 TalkTalk customers have so far opted in to the HomeSafe service, according to the firm.

It blocks a variety of websites, including suicide and self harm, violence and weapons, dating sites, gambling sites and filesharing. Parents decide what sites they want to include on a blacklist.

Increasingly ISPs are offering more sophisticated filters for customers.

"The major service providers are accepting that their customers expect them to play their part in helping to ensure children are able to use the internet in a safe way," said Sebastien Lahtinen from Think Broadband.

"It's worth noting that those determined to get around a filter will find a way of doing so, often quite trivially," said Mr Lahtinen.

Some critics are concerned that such filters represent the thin end of the wedge when it comes to censoring the web.

Nick Pickles, director of privacy and civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch, said: "We should tread very carefully when developing state-sanctioned censorship of the internet.

"Let alone the quagmire of deciding what should be censored, it is a dangerous path to go down to expect technology to replace parental oversight and responsibility," he added.

Critics of filters argue they often block access to innocent sites and never shield people from all inappropriate destinations.

Age restrictions

Media caption,
The BBC's Rory Cellan-Jones: "It's a fairly blanket blocking of all sites that may be unsuitable"

Mothers' Union's head, Reg Bailey, warned that childhood was being wrecked by the "commercialisation and sexualisation" of children on TV, amongst advertisers and on the web.

He said he was pleased businesses and regulators were not just "paying lip service" to his recommendations, but said the areas tackled so far were relatively easy to implement.

"I don't want the more complex technical issues facing businesses to get in the way of them making changes.

"Over the next year I will be working with voluntary groups to hold organisations and government to account. The outcome we are seeking is far too important to slip off the agenda."

The changes proposed in Mr Bailey's review include restricting steamy pop videos to older teenagers and later television slots and covering up magazines on shelves that feature sexualised images.

Telecoms watchdog Ofcom said the launch of Parentport would make it easier for parents to complain about material they had seen across the media, communications and in retail.

It said the website had a "have your say" section where parents could give informal feedback and comments and also offered advice on keeping children safe online.

Chief executive Ed Richards, said: "Seven UK media regulators have come together to develop a single website, with a single aim - to help protect children from inappropriate material.

"Each regulator shares this common purpose and is committed to helping parents make their views and concerns known."

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