Online pornography blocked by default - censorship or sensible?

Sky Broadband is effectively requiring users to opt in to pornography - a move that many parents may welcome, but which civil libertarians among others do not.

Lyssa McGowan: “family-friendly approach"
Lyssa McGowan: “family-friendly approach"

Sky Broadband, the UK's second biggest broadband provider, is to block access to pornography as its default service for its 5.3 million broadband customers. Users wanting to retain access would need to opt in by switching off Sky's Broadband shield. 

Lyssa McGowan, brand director for communications products at Sky, in a blog post earlier this week, commented: “From January, we'll be emailing our customers who haven't chosen to activate or disable Sky Broadband Shield explaining its benefits and giving them the opportunity to make a decision one way or the other. Customers can activate Sky Broadband Shield, adjust or decline it at any time.” 

The aim is to prevent children having access to pornography, accidentally or deliberately, by adopting what McGowan says is a “User and family-friendly approach to online safety.”  She adds that, “Customers can easily choose and change their settings in MySky depending on the level of protection they need for their home.  Once Sky Broadband Shield is active, users cannot access a filtered site unless they choose to log in and alter their settings. However they can browse away from the filtering page to visit freely any site suitable for the 13 age rating, without any interruptions.”

Critics of the move, such as Richard King, of the Open Rights Group say that default censorship is wrong and unfair to Sky's customers; blogging on the ORG site he says: “Web-filters should be opt-in only. It's fine to offer them but it's wrong to force them on people.”

In an email to journalists, David Emm, principal security researcher, at Kaspersky Lab commented:  “The use of technology to filter pornography is not new. Most ISPs have offered controls to new customers to limit or prevent access to pornography since 2013, following pressure from the government to do so – Sky included.  Moreover, many internet security products also provide this.  What is new is ‘retro-enabling' such controls for existing customers, unless customers specifically opt out.”

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