On December 13, Major UK ISP BT put out a press release rolling out its new parental control policy and software. This move was prompted by BT’s signing onto the UK Parliament’s recent initiative to limit the exposure of children to online pornography.
Under BT’s new policy, new subscribers will have to choose whether to implement the parental control measures at the time of installation. The default setting will be to have the parental controls engaged, requiring a subscriber to actively turn them off. BT has also undertaken to contact its existing subscribers over the next year prompting them to choose whether to implement the new controls.
Unlike most parental controls which are set and managed at the browser level (i.e. for each computer on an individual basis), BT’s new software is network based. This will allow the settings to apply to device using the subscriber’s network whether connected by cable or Wi-Fi.
ISP’s are normally reticent to implement “default on” policies like this one. However, according to an article written by Katie Collins published this summer on WIRED.co.uk dealing with Prime Minister David Cameron’s ongoing push to limit accessibility to pornography in his country: “ISPs have welcomed the opportunity to work with the government in improving child safety online, and those that haven't already implemented the measures are in the process of doing so.”
I do not see anything inherently wrong with a private corporation taking a stand on any issue and modifying their policies accordingly; providing they are not engaging in unjustified discrimination against an identifiable group. While the default settings may prove to be a minor nuisance for certain BT subscribers, and though they may prove to be ineffective in curbing pornography viewership in the UK, so long as the initiative comes from the corporation, the legitimacy of the policy should not be questioned. It is an open question, however, as to whether government legislation demanding compliance with certain content filtering standard would not be an undue burden on the freedom of speech. It should be noted that for the time being we are only talking about default settings, not outright content bans. This does not mean that such measures are inconceivable. This initiative among ISP’s coincides with David Cameron’s related push to outlaw “violent porn” in the UK. The future of the freedom of pornographic content in the UK is therefore seemingly uncertain.