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December 13, 2013 | Peter Bradwell

BT answers our questions about parental controls

In the summer we asked ISPs 20 key questions about how their parental control filters will work. Today BT replied and you can read their answers here.


Today BT launched their new Parental Controls service, the latest ISP to roll out network level filters following the Government's push this summer.  (There's also more detail in their press release).

Sky replied to our questions a couple of weeks ago, and you can read their responses too. You can also read our explanation of why we asked these questions. 

We haven't gone through the answers in great detail yet. But from a first look, the main similarity with Sky's answers concerns how they will deal with reports of over-blocking. Both Sky and BT say that there will be a process for responding quickly to reports, which is a start. But there's little more than that and the devil will be in the detail.  We need to be sure that site owners know who to approach, that they will speak to someone who understands the problem, and that the mistake will be fixed quickly.

Neither Sky nor BT really address the issue of liability, either. If a business finds its site blocked for, say, a week by mistake, are they able to take any action to remedy the possible damage? BT seem to suggest that they are not responsible at all for the categorisations, pointing at the (unnamed) third party that they are using for the service.

As with Sky, we appreciate BT answering the questions. We're waiting for replies from Virgin and TalkTalk - we believe they are on the way. These answers will be part of our continued effort to make sure these parental control filters are as transparent and responsive as possible. 

 

Twenty questions for ISPs on Internet filtering systems

BT Parental Controls – Responses

What is BT Parental Controls?

BT Parental Controls is a network based solution designed to help parents protect their children online. The tool is quick and easy to set up and simple to manage. Parents can set filters that best suit their family’s needs from one of our 3 pre-defined filter levels – strict, moderate or light, or they can completely personalise the categories they wish to block for their family.

In addition, there is an option for parents to add specific sites to either an allowed or blocked list.

BT Parental Controls also offers the capability to turn off filters during a set time (the controls will automatically turn back on after this time). Parents can also set up Homework time, which adds an additional layer of filters during a time set, to block social networking, school cheating sites and online gaming.

A. On how the technology works

1. Is any traffic of users who are not opted in to filtering inspected and / or logged?

No. The BT Parental Controls solution does not inspect or log traffic for customers who do NOT opt in to the service.

If so, is it logged in a way that links the traffic to a subscriber? What logging will there be of blocking events? How does this work?

n/a

2. Is filtering applied to all forms of connection offered by the ISP (dialup, ADSL, cable, fast fibre connections etc)?

Yes, the BT Parental Controls tool is available at the network level to all BT Broadband customers and so applied to all forms of connection.

3. Have you estimated the impact of the through-put of filtering technology on the speed of users' internet access (both for those who are opted in and opted out)?

Yes, we do not anticipate that BT Parental Controls will have any impact on user’s speeds however we will continue to monitor this.

4. We are concerned about the impact on Internet applications in general as well as web traffic. Does filtering take place only of HTTP traffic on port 80, or will other traffic be affected? What steps will be taken to avoid interfering with non-HTTP traffic on port 80, for example non-HTTP applications that use this port in order to bypass firewall restrictions?

Our Filtering solution is based on Domain name resolution and can apply to any protocol used for a blocked domain.

5. What impact does the filtering have on end-to-end security measures such as SSL or DNSSEC?

BT Parental Controls filtering will not have an impact on end- to- end security measures.

6. Can you guarantee that your networks will not be susceptible to mistaken blocking as a result of using specific IP addresses for forwarding filtered traffic, for example as seemed to happen in a case involving Wikipedia?

No filtering system can provide a complete guarantee that this won’t happen, however BT Parental Controls utilises a trusted specialist 3rd party to categorise content.
In the unlikely event that content has been incorrectly categorised, we have a mechanism in place which allows us to quickly correct this.

7. Have you made any estimates on the impact of filtering systems on infrastructure upgrades?

Our business as usual capacity planning processes take into account growth and traffic forecasts for BT Parental Controls.

B. On setting up the filtering

8. Are users faced with pre-ticked boxes when choosing to activate filtering?

Yes, during the smart set up journey on the BT Home Hub 4 and 5 the ‘Yes, I want BT Parental Controls’ option is pre-selected.

What is the impact on customers who do not have access to or who do not use a web browser on a network such as a home broadband connection that is only used for Smart TV video on demand applications? (ie who will not be presented with a web-based set up screen?)

BT Parental Controls can be activated and managed from any internet enabled device capable of internet browsing including tablets and smartphones.

9. How granular are the available choices? Will a household be able to cater for:

a. Multiple ages or a variety of beliefs?

BT Parental Controls is a network based solution which means that all devices connected to your BT Broadband will have the same level of protection applied.

The account holder can choose one of our pre-defined filter levels – strict, moderate or light – or they can personalise their filter level by choosing which of the categories they would like to block.

b. Can specific sites be unblocked by a user?

Yes either by allowing access from the blocked page (they will require their BT ID and password) or by adding a particular site to their allowed list.

10. Have you done user-testing for your opt-in systems?

Yes, user testing was carried out during the development of the BT Parental Controls product and feedback was implemented to our tool. We also conducted user testing and product refinements throughout our trial phases – including testing with Mumsnet.

11. What information about the filtering is available at the point of sign up? Does it include:

a. Detailed information about what types of content are blocked, with examples?

Yes, the categories are listed in the sign up journey and on bt.com.

b. The providers of their filtering tools, if a third party is involved?

BT informs customers that a third party is involved within the Terms and Conditions

c. Information about the possible problems with and limitations of blocking, with information about how to report problems?

Yes – we provide guidance throughout the setup process and provide a range of help options, including a comprehensive troubleshooting guide, FAQs and a help video posted on bt.com. In addition, we provide links to information on some of the issues that children may face on the internet.
We inform our customers that no solution is 100 per cent effective and should be seen as a tool to be used in combination with other parenting measures and education

12. What age-verification processes will be in place? How will this work?

The broadband account holder’s credentials are required to setup BT Parental Controls and any changes made to the filter settings will be notified to the account holder via email.

13. Is a customer’s decision not to activate filtering a one-off decision, or will it have to be periodically repeated?

Customers will be asked each time a new device is connected to the BT Home Hub 4 or 5 (unless they choose to disable the Smart Setup functionality). They can choose to activate Parental Controls at any time by logging into My BT and finding the BT Parental Controls panel in the My Extras section.

C. On managing problems and mistakes

14. When a site is blocked, what information is supplied to the end-user about why and how it has been blocked?

When a user attempts to access a site which is blocked under the restrictions set on BT Parental Controls by the account holder, the user will receive a blocked page stating that the page has been blocked by BT Parental controls and the filter level that has been applied.

15. Are there easy ways to report mistaken blocks, either over-blocking or under-blocking? Are these clear when users encounter a block?

A customer or website owner can report mistaken blocks by contacting us.

If a site is blocked or allowed unexpectedly, the user can add this to their personal allowed or blocked list which can be done from the blocked page or through the BT Parental Controls management page

16. Are there easy ways for people to check if URLs are blocked, and will this include a reporting tool for requesting corrections and reclassifications?

We do not currently provide the facility for people to check if URLS are blocked. However, we have a process that allows website owners to report mistaken blocking. Details will be available in our FAQs.

17. How will complaints, from both your subscribers and from owners of sites that are blocked, be dealt with?

We have processes for customers and content owners to submit complaints. Details will be available in our FAQs.

a. Are there plans in place to train customer service staff for dealing with these reports? 

Yes – this will be included as a standard part of product launch and in-life management.

b. Are there targets for dealing with mistakes in a timely manner, or estimates of how long responding to and correcting mistakes will take?

There are processes in place to ensure that we respond to any mistakes / issues in a timely manner. The length of time will depend on the complexity of the issue.

c. Will you share error reports and corrections with other ISPs?

We will share best practices with other ISPs

18. Have you specified acceptable error rates to suppliers of filtering services? If so, what are they?

Our decision on the third party vendor included an assessment of accuracy – the agreed service level agreements with our vendor are commercially confidential.

19. Have you sought legal opinions relating to liability for incorrect blocks, including both false positives and false negatives?

We make it clear to users of BT Parental Controls that BT is not responsible for any of the site categorisations as these are done by our third party specialist vendor.

Do you have plans to offer compensation for businesses harmed by blocking errors, for example when potential customers are unable to access the site?

Our processes will ensure blocking errors are dealt with in a timely manner and each case will be dealt with on an individual basis.

20. Are there or will there be systematic reviews of the effectiveness and quality of filtering, including reporting on problems and complaints?

Yes

Is there a process for review and improvement? 

This will be part of our standard product management model

Is there or will there be an ombudsman or other oversight body to handle disputes and review performance?  

No.

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Comments (7)

  1. Chris:
    Dec 14, 2013 at 11:04 AM

    they say there 3 settings "strict", "moderate" and "light" did they say how you can turn it off so there no content filtering at all?

  2. Pete Bradwell:
    Dec 14, 2013 at 11:37 AM

    Hi Chris

    I believe that the first question in the set up process will be 'do you want the filters turned on?' According to the answers here, BT say that the 'Yes, I want BT Parental Controls’ option will be pre ticked. You will be able to change this to 'no'. If you do select 'no', the filters will not be turned on at all. If you choose 'Yes...' it's then that you will be given the 'Strict', 'moderate' or 'light' option.

    Pete

  3. Chris:
    Dec 14, 2013 at 08:15 PM

    thanks Pete
    there just a lot of confession on how they work from both sides also this is more like active choose then default on don't you think?

  4. jinn ko:
    Dec 15, 2013 at 03:25 AM

    In q3 it's not clear if they're referring to bandwidth or latency when they mention no impact to speeds.

    The answers to questions 4 & 5 contradict each other. They state in q4 that the system will apply on the DNS layer, then they state in q5 that there will be no impact to DNSSEC, yet if they're hijacking the DNS layer to implement this then they're breaking DNSSEC.

    Additionally it seems from answer 4 that running your own DNS or using another service like opendns or opennic would bypass the blocks.

    There are gaping holes between questions 3, 4 and 5 that need further clarification.

    I for one am not happy about this evolution of the great firewall of England.

  5. Peter Bradwell:
    Dec 16, 2013 at 12:05 PM

    @Chris - the approach taken by the government and ISPs is called 'active choice plus' - meaning that the yes box is pre ticked. We'd rather the boxes were not ticked, because it would make sure account holders were forced to make an informed, active decision. Defaults like that matter I think - there's a good article on our Zine looking at this http://zine.openrightsgroup.org/features/2013/effect-of-default-censorship

    @jinn k - thanks for this analysis. agree that the answers are helpful but certainly give us more questions to ask as well.

  6. Chris:
    Dec 16, 2013 at 03:40 PM


    I agree they should be not ticked but someone I know said that trying to "nudge" people into censorship only works if people trust you and really do you trust this government from what I have seen a lot of people who don't trust Cameron are also saying they will opt out even if they have children. I my self don't believe in this theory.

  7. Richard:
    Dec 16, 2013 at 10:50 PM

    The answer to question 19 says "We make it clear to users of BT Parental Controls that BT is not responsible for any of the site categorisations as these are done by our third party specialist vendor."

    This appears to suggest that BT employs a third party to make decisions which affect BT customers (with possible financial consequences) but takes no responsibility for the actions of the said third party. Apart from the obvious charge of buck-passing doesn't this contravene the law of agency whereby the principal (in this case BT) is responsible for the actions of its agent (the third party vendor)?



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