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Quarter of parents say kids can bypass net filters

Ofcom survey reveals parents' fears about kids evading content filters

A quarter of parents believe their children know how to bypass the content filters supplied by Britain’s leading ISPs, according to new research from telecoms regulator Ofcom. The research examined both parents’ and children’s attitudes to the content filters that the government effectively foisted on companies such as BT, Virgin Media and TalkTalk. 

The research found that only half of the parents they surveyed were even aware of the network-level content filters, which all of Britain’s major ISPs had installed by the early months of 2014, and that only 21% were actually using them. Those who are running the network filters are generally happy with them, with 93% of parents saying they find them useful and 73% saying they block the right amount of content.

However, almost a quarter of parents (24%) admit that their children could probably bypass the content filters if they wanted to. Given that circumventing the filters often requires little more than using a proxy website, you might argue that the other 76% are simply living in denial.

Indeed, the survey revealed that kids are pretty savvy when it comes to covering their tracks online. A third of 12-15 year olds knew how to delete their browsing history, with 12% claiming to have done so in the past year. One in five knew how to put a browser in privacy mode (thus avoiding leaving anything unsavoury in the browser history for mum and dad to find) and one in ten said they knew how to disable online filters and controls. 

Although those figures sound encouraging for parents, they largely focus on the use of PCs, whilst kids are now largely accessing the web through smartphones and tablets. Ofcom found that 65% of 12 to 15 year olds now owned smartphones and 64% use a tablet. Whilst many of the network-level filters will still block access to unsuitable websites visited using smartphone/tablet browsers, their ability to prevent kids accessing unsuitable material via apps is much more limited. 

Parents’ knowledge of mobile tools that can block unsuitable content is also weaker. Just over a third of parents of whose children uses a smartphone or tablet are aware of safety tools, and only 15% of parents use them. 



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