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BSkyB to flick switch on network-level smut-'n'-violence filters

Insists move 'not a change in position', won't rule out packet-sniffing

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BSkyB will switch its broadband service to network-level filtering later this year in a clear move away from giving subscribers control over what content they want their families to access online in their own homes.

The telco said that computer-based parental controls were not enough to protect kids who use web-based services on a variety of devices. So network-level filtering - possibly using Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) probes - will be applied to the service at some point in 2013.

The Register asked BSkyB what technology the company would use to block websites that might be considered inappropriate for youngsters and whether it might involve DPI, but the media giant declined to comment.

"We're not talking about the technology today. We will do nearer to implementation," a spokesman said.

The company quietly announced its plan in a blog post penned by Sky brand director Lyssa McGowan. She said:

[W]e’ve been investigating ways to help provide a ‘whole-home’ solution in which web content can be filtered out not by a particular device, but at a household-level so that parents can define the type of access they want blocked and the filtering will apply across all connected devices in the home.

And I’m delighted to be able to confirm that Sky has committed to offering a whole-home solution to all of our more than 4 million broadband customers. We will also introduce reporting tools to parents so they will know each and every time any changes have been made to the settings they’ve applied, to ensure they are happy with the settings at all times.

It's not yet clear whether network-level filtering of, for example, smut and violent sites would be switched on by default. But, it's likely that consent would be required from Sky's customers if what happened to TalkTalk - which was the first big name telco in Britain to start blocking websites - is anything to go by.

In May 2011, TalkTalk implemented anti-malware blockers on its service with a system dubbed "Homesafe". It arrived later than originally planned, after the company was chided by the information commissioner for quietly following its customers around the web and scanning what they looked at as part of TalkTalk's development of the system.

TalkTalk struck a deal with Chinese vendor Huawei to provide that tech, which works by harvesting every URL visited by every customer. It then follows them to each web page and scans for threats, creating a master blacklist and a whitelist of dangerous and safe URLs.

In December, Prime Minister David Cameron described on-by-default network-level web filters as a "crude system" for blocking inappropriate content.

Away from TalkTalk, the ISP industry appeared united against network-level filtering before Sky apparently broke up the party by jumping into its neighbour's pool. ®

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