In a press release delivered on Monday, the service provider announced its intention to automatically turn on Sky Broadband Shield for all new broadband customers starting 2016. The first time a subscriber goes online on their Sky connection, they will be informed that Sky Broadband Shield is on. To switch off the filter, users will have to login to their MySky account online or over the phone in order to opt out.
The decision to extend Sky Broadband Shield to all new customers is just the latest step in Sky's attempts to increase the usage of its filter. Launched in 2013, only three percent of Sky subscribers opted in to the system after a full year of availability.
In January 2015, the Internet provider sent an email to all of its subscribers presenting them with the option to opt in for the service. 62 percent of customers wound up with the content blocker activated after the email was sent out—but there's a caveat: users who ignored or did not respond to the email, Broadband Shield was activated automatically. BBC reported that most users did not respond to the email.
A representative of Sky Broadband confirmed to the Daily Dot that the company did not intend to expand the Broadband Shield to be permanently turned on, but the service will remain optional via opt out rather than opt in.
Making customers consider content filters has become imperative for all services providers in the U.K., following a 2013 speech from Prime Minister David Cameron in which he called for broadband users to have to face an "unavoidable decision" over enabling the blockers.
Minister for Internet Safety and Security Baroness Shields praised Sky's decision to expand its filter, stating in a press release from Sky, "Family filters have proven to be an extremely helpful tool for parents to safeguard children from age-inappropriate content. Sky's 'default on' approach is a great example of how industry is exploring different technologies to help keep children safe online."
By default, the Broadband Shield applied to Sky customers will prevent access to any site deemed inappropriate for people 13 years old and up until 9pm. From there, sites appropriate for users 18 years and older become available. According to Sky's documentation on the Broadband Shield, the age rating blocks content including dating sites and file-sharing services.
Users do have the ability to customize the filter, utilizing adjustable age settings or blocks for nine different varieties of content. Individual sites can also be added and removed from the blocker, a representative of Sky Broadband told the Daily Dot. Varying filters can also be applied to go into effect at different times of day.
The intention of the filtering system may be good, but Pam Cowburn, Communications Director of Open Rights Group, warns that the blockers aren't always as they appear.
“Customers should be made aware of the problems with filters so that they can make an informed choice about whether or not they want them - before they are switched on,” she told the Daily Dot.
Open Rights Group developed a tool, Blocked.org, that identifies which sites are blocked by parental controls. With information gathered through that initiative, Cowburn said her organization knows filters often "censor many harmless sites including blogs, shopping, education and charity sites - even those sites that are specifically designed to give advice to young people. Often site owners are unaware that this is happening."
Cowburn also pointed out that in additional to being overreaching at times, filters often miss truly harmful content. "There is a danger that parents may think that switching on filters will guarantee to keep their children from seeing unsuitable content," which isn't always the case. She suggested that instead of counting on a blanketing content blocker, parents instead "talk to children about their Internet use and help them to develop the skills they need to navigate the web safely.”
Sky Broadband noted that the company uses a third-party filtering solution that dynamically updates to add and remove sites and services. Content is reviewed regularly to keep the whitelist and blacklists updated.
Sky Broadband serves 21 million customers across the U.K., Ireland, Germany, Austria and Italy, including over 5.3 million broadband customers.