Acting to protect children online

This week in the Parliament we have been discussing the Telecoms Single Market package (TSM) which is currently in trilogues (negotiations between the European Parliament, the European Council and the European Commission to decide on new legislation). The proposal is aiming to end roaming charges and develop a policy of net neutrality within the EU.

Net neutrality is the principle that internet service providers (ISPs) should give their customers access to all legal content and applications available on the internet on an equal basis. It means that ISPs cannot favour some sites or block others. It prohibits them from creating “fast lanes” on the internet or charging websites and content providers for faster delivery of their content. It also stops them from deliberately slowing down content from other content providers. This rule is of fundamental importance to the functioning of the internet.

One of the other important issues being discussed is that of Parental Controls, the blocking of certain types of websites and content so they can’t be accessed by children.

In the UK, we have the default filtering of content by the four major Internet Service Providers (ISPs) rather than relying on the use of parental control software.

By 2013, there had already been considerable adoption of in-home filtering in the UK, with 43% of homes with children aged 5–15 having filters installed on their family computer. But the slow development of software couldn’t keep up with developments in mobile technology.

So in 2014, the four major ISPs (TalkTalk, Sky, BT and Virgin) undertook the default filtering of existing customers. Customers can opt out at any time.

We aren’t alone on this – 33% of parents across Europe use some form of parental controls. And for good reason.

  • 25% of children have seen online pornography by the age of 12
  • 23% of 11-16 year olds claim to have seen hate messages online
  • 25% of parents worry about children seeing content that encourages them to harm themselves

Parents sometimes don’t have the technological know-how to install and manage software on all of their children’s devices. They may not know how many devices are in their households, or children may swap phones in the playground, teenagers use their friends’ laptops and iPads.

This isn’t about denying access or an infringement on personal freedoms. It’s about giving parents the option to have parental controls. If they don’t want them they just need to ask their ISP provider or phone operators to remove them.

We need to do more to protect children online, allowing Parental Controls is a simple way of allowing parents to opt in for greater protection, protection they might not necessarily be able to provide themselves.

I am hopeful Parental Controls will be provided for in the TSM but, if not, this is an issue I will continue to work for in the European Parliament.