Perry: ISP filter overblocking reports are "fanciful"

ISP filters aren't overblocking websites, government's child safety tsar claims - despite evidence to the contrary

Shona Ghosh
29 Jan 2014

Reports that ISPs' parental-control filters are blocking legitimate sites are "fanciful", according to the government's child safety advisor, MP Claire Perry.

Perry dismissed recent reports that the newly implemented filters were blocking harmless sites - including her own - as "anecdotal evidence".

"When these filters came out there was anecdotal evidence - some of it completely, completely fanciful - that sites were being overblocked. Including mine, which is ridiculous, because it wasn't," she said, speaking at a Westminster eForum event.

She also dismissed concerns that the filters would censor the web.

“There’s no database, there’s no surveillance, there’s no mad sense of government interference that people like to talk about," she added. "The filters you get [now] are far better, far stronger, much more effective and will not overblock."

Perry, special advisor to the prime minister on preventing the sexualisation and commercialisation of childhood, is largely responsible for government pressure on ISPs to introduce opt-out parental controls. BT, TalkTalk and Sky have all rolled out their filters to new customers, with Virgin Media expected to follow shortly.

Contrary to her comments, those three ISPs have faced continued criticism for blocking harmless sites. Most recently, Sky's parental controls blocked the jQuery website, classifying code.jquery.com as malware and breaking numerous sites around the web.

The company also blocked the TorrentFreak news site earlier this year.

Easier to report blocks

At least one overblocking report has been inaccurate, however, after British gamers claimed ISP filters had blocked an update for League of Legends. The report received widespread coverage, though Sky, TalkTalk and BT all told PC Pro their filters had nothing to do with the issue.

The problem highlighted a wider lack of transparency over how the filters work, or how site owners can find out if their website has been miscategorised and subsequently blocked. Perry conceded that ISPs should be more transparent - though she seemed to be unaware of any public confusion.

"Yes, I think ISPs should be very clear with their customers on what filtering does and doesn’t do," she told PC Pro. "I’m not aware that they’re not transparent, but there is a lot of misrepresentation."

Sky's head of policy, Adam Kinsley, said ISPs would eventually make it easier for site owners to report accidental blocks.

"There will be errors - the trick is how quickly we can deal with that," he said. "There's a working group on overblocking, where we're trying to facilitate a process whereby site owners can understand what the status is. That's only just started, and we will get better at that."

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