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BT tweaks WORDING of sex-ed web block after complaints

'Cos that was the problem, right?

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

BT has adjusted the wording of one of its web-filtering categories, following The Register's story late on Friday when the telecoms giant admitted that UK parents who don't want their kids to seek advice about their sexuality online could block access over its network.

However, while BT continues to offer that control to its subscribers, the company has now backtracked on how it labels its sex education category.

The one-time national telco previously carried a frankly bizarre list of things that BT defined as sex education websites, which said they could be blocked "where the main purpose is to provide information on subjects such as respect for a partner, abortion, gay and lesbian lifestyle, contraceptives, sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy."

But when we flagged up to BT concerns about the phrasing used in its sex-ed category - which could easily help justify the attitude of homophobic parents in particular, who may wish to prevent their offspring from seeking advice on understanding their sexuality - we were told that the filter might be useful to folk with toddlers.

BT, defending its wording, said on Friday that "Some parents of very young children may wish to block sex education material."

The company added at the time that it was reviewing the odd phraseology used and apologised "for any confusion caused". BT also claimed that it did not discriminate between heterosexual and LGBT material found online after it suggested that being gay or lesbian was a "lifestyle choice".

In a further climbdown - at least over semantics - BT has tweaked the wording of its sex-ed filter category. It now reads:

This category is intended to prevent very young children from being exposed to sites that have a significant focus on subjects that might come up in a sex education programme. Parents should carefully consider the possible adverse effects from denying children of an appropriate age access to information on these issues.

But the option to block sex education sites over BT's network remain in place. And while the firm is now encouraging parents not to prevent kids of an "appropriate age" from accessing such advice online, the control stays for any mum or dad who might have a serious problem with their child's sexuality.

Oh, you too, O2? Carrier forced to adjust wording of its long-running filter service

Over the weekend, the Twitterati turned its attention to mobile network provider O2, after people started playing around with its url checker tool to see what policies are in place for different types of content.

To the dismay of some, O2 appeared to be offering to block all sorts of websites - including your very own El Reg - over its service when a subscriber switches on the "parental control" feature.

However, O2 - which like other mobile carriers in Blighty has for years been offering to prevent default access to certain types of content, such as porn, on its network - failed to make it clear to anyone who idly tapped website urls into its system that its parental controls were an "opt in" choice for customers.

It has now changed the wording to reflect that by saying that it was an "opt in u12 service". O2 says that its parental control service "enables us to restrict children's web access via their mobile to a limited number of sites which are suitable for children." It clearly operates a whitelist of sites deemed safe by the operator, such as the BBC's CBeebies site.

But that tweak only came after complaints mounted up against the firm on Twitter. And the blocking system itself remains patchy at best.

It was noted, for example, that burger chain McDonalds was apparently included on O2's whitelist of safe content for under-12s. But Childline, a charity set up to protect kids from - among other things - violent parents, was on the banned list under the parental control option.

O2 confirmed on its Twitter account that it was "working closely with BBFC [British Board of Film Classification] to review and change the site classification as we speak." The BBFC cobbles together a Classification Framework for mobile operators to help define what content should be deemed unsuitable for under-18s.

O2 added that "BBFC is used by all major networks in the UK. They review all the content that’s suitable for under 12s."

Comment

For nearly 10 years, mobile operators in the UK have been offering to block all sorts of sites from being accessed over their networks, having agreed to self-regulate what content should be censored for different age groups back in 2004.

But O2's public relations gaffe - played out on Twitter over the weekend - highlights that filtering systems are a crude, flaky and over-sensitive way of censoring the web to satisfy politicians and Middle England voters.

Arguably, O2's whitelist really ought to have been fine-tuned by now. But the absence of a site such as Childline suggests something quite different is going on. First, that the system itself is somewhat neglected, and second, that parental controls are perhaps not a popular option for the company's subscribers.

Broadband providers such as BT are now similarly categorising different types of contents for a variety of filtering options for parents. All the while, the telcos are quietly mumbling that such a system is a bit rubbish and really, ultimately, it's up to parents to be responsible for educating kids about the dangers that might lurk online. ®

Update

Since publication of this article the BBFC have been in touch to say:

The mobile framework is only applied by mobile operators to restrict access to their commercial content that is unsuitable for customers under the age of 18.

Any additional parental controls put in place by the mobile operator are not controlled by the BBFC and the mobile classification framework provided by the BBFC does not include any other age calibrations i.e. '12 plus' or 'under 12s'.

The Classification Framework was developed using the BBFC’s Classification Guidelines. The Guidelines are based on large scale public consultations involving around 10,000 people, and are revised every 4-5 years.

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

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