BT to warn users attempting to view child abuse images
BT is attempting to warn off paedophiles by throwing up a warning page when they attempt to access child abuse images.
The move comes amidst a renewed debate around filtering illegal and legal content from the UK internet, with internet firms and ISPs set to meet with the government on the issue next week.
Ahead of next week’s meeting, Helen Goodman MP raised a motion in parliament calling for Google to turn on its safe search system by default and calling for “splash pages” to pop up when people try to visit abuse images. The motion was widely criticised – even by Claire Perry MP, who has actively campaigned on child safety.
We believe the UK is probably one of the most advanced nations in the world for family friendly internet provisions, but there are still big challenges
Julian Ashworth, global director for industry policy at BT, said the company has been “concerned” about child protection issues for a long time. Speaking at a Westminster eForum event in London today, Ashworth announced that BT will start alerting users when they attempt to visit a page that’s been blocked using the Internet Watch Foundation’s list. At the moment, BT shows a standard 404 page.
As of this morning, when users “inadvertently or intentionally” try to visit such a page, BT will show a splash page.
The message will read: “Access has been denied by your internet service provider because this page may contain indecent images of children as identified by the Internet Watch Foundation. If you think this page has been blocked in error please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.”
Ashworth said: “BT supports the idea of communicating and education, and we think it remains one of the best tools for working through these issues.”
However, Andy Baker, the deputy CEO of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, said that few people innocently “stumble” across such images. “It’s not easy to find it online – you do have a choice,” he said. “You make a choice to go find it. You don’t stumble across it, and I think that’s often overlooked.”
BT’s move follows Google donating £1 million to the IWF, and suggests tech firms are trying to take action before next week’s meeting.
Perry and Diane Abbot MP both claimed the government has prompted the industry to take action, suggesting tech firms were more concerned with revenue than child safety.
However, Ashworth pointed out that BT helped found the IWF, has funded it to the maximum level since its inception, and created Cleanfeed, which blocks illegal content at the network level. “We did this without coaxing from the government and the press, but because it’s right to do, and we shared this technology [Cleanfeed] with other ISPs in other countries around the world,” Ashworth said.
He added that BT has long offered parental controls for families, and would roll out a network-level version later this year. “We believe we have a moral obligation to do so,” he added. “We believe all industry and internet players have a moral obligation to do what they can, within the law, to protect children online.”
Despite the call for more action to be taken, Ashworth said the UK has already done more than most other nations. “We believe the UK is probably one of the most advanced nations in the world for family friendly internet provisions, but there are still big challenges.”
What to do
It isn’t yet clear what additional action the government would like tech firms to take – and indeed the issue of blocking child abuse images and keeping children from seeing legal adult content continues to be conflated, which several of the industry experts at the Westminster eForum criticised.
BT’s Ashworth noted that technological innovation moves faster than any ISP can keep up, noting blocking doesn’t address encryption, P2P sharing or cyber lockers. Others suggested banning payments via UK processing firms to overseas sites that offer illegal content or don’t stop children from seeing adult content.
“The ISPs have got a lot more to do, and it’s not just about throwing money at the problem,” said CEOP’s Baker. “The industry is doing a lot, but some are doing more than others, and others can do more.”