Discussion paper to protect children from harmful websites


Ministers have published a new discussion paper on whether automatic online blocks should be introduced to protect children from adult and harmful websites.

The sites which will come under the umbrella of online blocks will include adult sites and those exposing them to online sexual grooming or cyber-bullying, or promoting suicide, anorexia, gambling, self-harm and violence.

Ministers will set out policy later this year after discussions with the UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS).

The discussion paper asks for views on three broad options for the best approach in keeping children safest online, in a rapidly changing digital industry:

  •  A system, known as default-on or opt-in, where people’s home Internet Service Provider or each internet-enabled device (laptop and desktop computers; mobile phones; tablets and television) blocks harmful content automatically before any customer purchases it. They can later choose to adjust or remove the blocks if parents want to access the blocked websites.
  • A system where customers are always presented with an unavoidable choice about whether or not they want filters and blocks installed either on their home internet service and/or each internet-enabled device they are buying – an approach known as “active choice”. This applies at either the ‘point of purchase’, either online, telephone or over the counter or when a customer first switches on a new device or internet subscription.
  • A system that combines features of both systems, where customers are presented with a list of online content that will be blocked automatically unless they choose to unblock them – or active choice plus.

The move follows last year’s independent Letting Children Be Children report by Reg Bailey, Chief Executive of Mothers’ Union.

The Bailey report argued that parents are best placed to manage what their children’s access online – but while many want to take control, all too often they do not know how.

Children’s Minister Tim Loughton said: "The internet is transforming every aspect of society and family life – and opens up enormous opportunities for us all. But with the benefits come risks. Growing numbers of parents do not feel in control of what their families are exposed to online. Many want to take responsibility, but all too often they do not how know how because they find the technology too difficult to use or their children are more technically advanced then they are.

"We have been clear that the internet industry needs to raise its game to equip families better in being able to block what their children access on the internet. We have always been clear we would turn up the heat on industry if it did not make fast enough progress."