ISPs launch internet safety site: will it make a difference?

alex smith
By Alex Smith

children safe online

THE UK's biggest broadband providers - BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media - have launched a new website to provide parents with information on keeping their children safe online.

The new site - internetmatters.org - is the first salvo in an internet safety campaign that will cost the ISPs £25 million in the next year.

Providers have taken action as a result of Government pressure.

internet matters screenshot

SOURCE: Internet Matters site, Choose.net screenshot from 21/5/14.

"This excellent campaign can make a real difference and help the UK to lead the way on this issue," Communications Minister, Ed Vaizey said last week.

And David Cameron released a characteristically personal video, "as a father of three" to mark the site's launch.

Yet it's not at all clear whether marketing and help sites like Internet Matters will really persuade more parents to use parental control software or even whether such software will truly stop "the attack on the innocence of our children", as Cameron puts it.

What is Internet Matters?

Internet Matters has been set up by the ISPs as a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to helping parents to ensure their children are kept safe online.

As you can see in the screenshot above, the site provides parents with a range of advice and tools to implement in their children's use of the internet.

More on online safety
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A router for parents

The sections detail a range of practical methods that parents can use to ensure children are kept safe and go into detail about preventing young people from viewing disturbing and harmful content as well as sharing advice about what parents can do if they find their children exposed to explicit, especially illegal, content.

Contributors to the project encourage parents and caregivers to talk to children about potentially harmful material, rather than shying away from it.

internet matters factoid screenshot

SOURCE: Internet Matters site, Choose.net screenshot from 21/5/14.

"Today's parents need to deal with issues that didn't even exist when we were growing up," said popstar and mum Sophie Ellis-Bextor, who launched the site for TalkTalk.

"There's a lot for us to learn with everything changing so fast. I'm careful to keep an eye on my two boys, especially my 10 year old, who is at that age when he's starting to explore the internet on his own."

Will it make a difference?

An Ofcom report released in January which looked at how parents view online safety showed that many already have a good understanding of their children's behaviour on the internet.

4 out of 10 parents surveyed by the regulator admitted to using the "history" function on their Internet browser to see what content their children had been viewing, for example.

22% of parents with children aged 5-15 used parental control software from their ISP, while many others used different online safety measures.

Parents of younger children (8-11 years old) were very likely to have set up a PIN or password on online streaming websites like BBC iPlayer. for example.

However, just 13% of parents who didn't use parental controls said it was because they didn't know how or didn't know it was possible.

Ofcom parental controls graph

SOURCE: Ofcom Report on Internet safety measures, released 1/14 available here.

A poll carried out by the creators of Internet Matters found that 74% of parents wanted more information about keeping children safe on the Internet.

Perhaps the campaign will encourage parents to try new approaches to keeping their children safe. But, based on the Ofcom figures, it may not have much success among parents that don't use software now.

More pressure on companies

The Internet Matters campaign emphasises helping parents take steps to keep their parents safe, a much more hands off approach than many of the measures proposed by the Government on this issue

All the big ISPs now have an 'active choice' system, prompting new customers to set up parental controls when they change their ISP, a development that has been strongly opposed by open internet groups.

As well as ISPs, however, MPs have strongly criticised Google for failing to implement adequate safety measures.

Google's response to has largely focused on illegal content. Late last year, the search engine tweaked its algorithm to limit results for suspected child abuse searches and instituted warnings when suspect terms are searched.

The site is also using a Microsoft's 'digital fingerprint' technology to track illegal images and is developing a similar program to track and delete illegal films.


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