/ Parenting, Technology

Why should I answer TalkTalk’s questions about adult content?

Three 'X' keys on computer keyboard

If I sign up for a new broadband service I don’t expect to be questioned about my personal (and private) surfing habits. And will providing this information really make children safer online? I don’t think so.

I like the word ‘choice’ – it sounds good. I don’t want to be dictated to – I want to choose. But I think TalkTalk’s plans to give everyone a ‘choice’ about parental controls isn’t necessarily a great idea.

A couple of months ago I asked if people wanted to watch porn online. (Not something I find myself regularly doing in the course of my day-to-day work, it must be said.) I did this mainly to prove the point that actually being asked the question is a bit of a surprise, and not something that most people want.

Now TalkTalk has announced that its customers will be asked whether they want service blocks on their internet. If they don’t answer the questions they can’t activate the service. You don’t have to have the blocks, but you do have to answer the question before they’ll activate your internet service.

The questions aren’t just about the ‘adult’ services that I’d blush to write about, but other categories as well, such as gambling, social networking, weapons and suicide.

Are we really getting an active choice?

The aim is to give parents a more ‘active choice’ in what their children view on the internet. A laudable aim, but those without children might be wondering why they have to tell their broadband provider they like to have a bit of a flutter on online poker sites every now and then.

If I’m choosing a broadband provider, I’d like to think that I’m also more than capable of asking it to block certain services if I want them to. Being prompted to choose seems odd, and makes me worry that judgments would be made about anyone who opted not to have the block.

It might sound petty, but I’ve paid for a service that encompasses the whole internet. I no more want to tell my provider which bits of it I’ll be using than I want to tell a bike company where I’ll be cycling to. It’s none of their business.

Does it protect children?

My second concern is that this could lull many parents into a false sense of security. These blocking services, while pretty sophisticated, will never be able to catch all of the inappropriate content that children could be exposed to.

What’s more, it could block content that is extremely helpful for young people. In the last Convo I wrote, carolo pointed out that:

‘Usually this porn-blocking software is very crude and unable to differentiate between help and information on gay issues, and classifying it – and by default all gay people – as just “porn”.’

So, will TalkTalk’s system make children safer? My gut reaction is ‘no’, but I’d like to be proven wrong. I think that it’s a risky move to force all its subscribers to make this ‘choice’. If it doesn’t result in safer browsing for children, then its customers will have answered these embarrassing questions for nothing.

But maybe I’m just too private. Perhaps it is worth making users answer these questions before their service is activated. Would it put you off, or do you think I’m making a fuss over nothing?

Comments
Profile photo of william
Member

One of my concerns about this, is how would a company like Talk Talk handle all that sensitive personal data. Marketing springs to mind. I think I’ll stick with my unreliable hideously expensive ISP.

Profile photo of Hannah Jolliffe
Member

I think that carolo has a really good point in the bit Nikki has quoted above. The same goes for advice about drugs, sexual health etc – all of which teenagers often turn to online sources first (of which there are some very good ones). Parents blindly ticking all the ‘block’ boxes could mean that they no longer have a first point of call for information on these things. Having an anonymous route to information and advice via the internet is crucial – these are often embarrassing and difficult to raise subjects, so taking away teenagers’ abilities to get some top-line info could be disastrous.

Member
Nigel Whitfield says:
11 February 2012

I also worry about the potential uses of this information, when ISPs have lists of who has and who hasn’t asked for filtering, regardless of whether it’s opt in or opt out (and I think filtering must be off by default; only a minority of households have children, and they should take responsibility, not expect the rest of us to suffer a censored internet by default).

But we’ve seen through things like the phone hacking and other tabloid scandals, how easy it has been for unauthorised people to get access to things like phone records. Sooner or later, someone will try to get hold of this too, whether it’s for a tabloid expose, or a nasty custody case, it’s not too great a leap of imagination to see someone holding up the “fact” of someone not having porn filtering on their net connection as an indication of their lack of suitability, whether it’s for access to children, or holding some public position.

That, to me, is a very disturbing potential consequence of this sort of thing.

Profile photo of Nikki Whiteman
Member

You make an interesting point about hacking, Nigel – I’m getting more and more emails these days saying ‘sorry, there’s been unauthorised access of your account’ whether that be a ticketing website, newsletter website, or something else. I understand that such breaches do occur, but think that means it’s even more important for companies to be careful about what they collect. I usually try to think when I’m filling out forms, etc – “do you really need this info?” – and info about browsing habits would certainly seem to fall into the ‘unnecessary’ category.

Member

If you take a look at Talk Talks practices and procedures, and the dismal way they treat their customers….
Go on do it now; visit the broadband help website, or just google in talk talk at random.
You will understand that this company cannot be trusted.
Then ask your self.
‘Can a company that operates like this be trusted with my personal information?

Profile photo of IanMurray
Member

If a talk talk broadband user parent, stops monitoring what his or her children are doing on the internet because having signed up to this blocking, he/she believes that talk talk are doing this for them.

And if one of their children is then groomed by some paedophile and ultimately is taken by them, never to be seen again, is talk talk liable in law?

Just a thought in this litigation age.

Profile photo of jontycampbell
Member

The answer is proxies and incognito browsing.

Member

Lots of households don’t have children… there are hundreds of thousands of flats shared by adults in London alone. If you choose to have a child, then you need to take responsibility for that child. This is another example of people letting government and service providers act as nannies. They know damn well that asking people if they want access to porn etc, will make a certain percentage blush and be too ashamed to say yes.

I found after signing up for a Giff Gaff sim card that I wasn’t able to access a gay dating website I used. It’s not porn, there are no videos, and the only x-rated pictures you can see are those that might be sent in private messages.. which you can only send if you sign up and create a profile, which won’t be viewable to others unless you upload the required face picture, then you can start chatting with people.
In order to sign up for the site you have to be 18 or over. And in order to pay for Giff Gaff’s services you have to have a debit or credit card… which children do not have.

So they are blocking every single user from viewing whatever they broadly deem to be ‘adult’ sites, simply so that those of their customers who have children and who have decided to give their child a giff gaff sim in a phone, won’t be able to look at porn… right… except, as soon as the phone connects to an unsecured and unfiltered broadband.. which happens frequently and automatically for me on buses, all sites are immediately accessible once again, albeit whilst you stay in range. So what.. we should all block our home broadband’s too? Where exactly does this end?

Oh yeah, and I did ask giff gaff to unblock adult content for me on my phone.. and in order to do that I had to give them my passport number!! Just outrageous! Everything should be opt-in if you want it. They need to stop treating us like babies and trying to restrict our civil liberties!