UK Internet Filters Block Disney Sites, Internet Safety Tips, and More

Opinion

In the UK, Internet providers offer site-blocking tools to their subscribers, so they can filter harmful content from the web. While these tools can be helpful to some, there are some rather peculiar blocks which show that they're far from perfect, to say the least.

Over the past several years we have regularly written about court-ordered blockades of pirate sites in the UK.

Today, we take a closer look at another type of blocking, the Internet safety filters UK ISPs offer. These filters, which are sometimes enabled by default, help subscribers to block harmful content, especially for their children.

With help from the Open Rights Group’s Blocked initiative, which documents the scope of various ISP filters, we took a look at how these perform.

The first results are as expected. Many porn sites are blocked and so are sites that are clearly oriented at a mature audience. That’s more or less what these filters are meant for, so no issues there.

We also noticed that many proxies and VPNs are not accessible. While this may seem broad, as they’re not offensive, these tools could allow clever sorts to bypass parental controls, so there’s an argument to be made for their inclusion.

Oddly enough, the Tor browser, which can do the same, is freely accessible. But let’s not digress.

What really stood out to us is that some sites which are targeted at kids, or at least useful to them, are blocked too.

One prime example is the official UK Disney website, located at disney.co.uk, which is blocked by BT’s Strict filters. That seems a bit cruel. The same is true for disneymoviesanywhere.com, which is not very useful, but certainly doesn’t seem harmful to us either.

Apparently, BT doesn’t want children to visit these Disney sites.

No Disney

The parental control filters are supposed to make the web a safer place for kids. While this is a laudable aim, the execution is not always perfect. For example, several ISPs including BT, Plusnet and Virgin Media, are blocking the internetsafetyday.org website.

Admittedly, the site is targeted at parents, but since these will often be behind the same filters, they’re missing out on some good tips and tricks on how to educate their children.

No safety

Talking about education. It’s always good when kids start to experiment with coding at a young age. This is also one of the core messages of the non-profit organization Kidsandcode.org.

“Everyone should have the opportunity to learn how to code,” the site reads.

This makes sense, you’d think, but for kids who are trapped behind the BT Strict or BT Light filters, this is not an option.

What can kids do nowadays then? Play a few simple games? Ideally educational games such as the ones playkidsgames.com offers. As you may have guessed by now, that’s not an option either, at least not behind BT’s Strict filter.

Maybe kids should stick to more boring stuff. Perhaps finish that school project on Vikings, that should be doable, right? Well, it is, as long as you don’t look up vikingsword.com, a historical and educational side dedicated to Viking swords.

Both Three and Sky have blocked the site, with Sky explaining that it’s placed in the “Weapons, Violence, Gore and Hate” category.

Ancient weapons

Perhaps we’re too insensitive, but I think that most children can handle grainy drawings of swords. After all, the average cartoon is more violent nowadays.

And yes, it’s true that decades-old Viking swords are weapons, but Three and Sky are not very consistent as the website of today’s largest weapons manufacturer Lockheed Martin appears to pass through all parental filters just fine.

Luckily, the Open Rights Group allows us to check for these odd results, and report sites which are inaccurately blocked. Interested in checking if your favorite website is blocked? You can do so here. Feel free to report any unusual findings in the comments.

Open Rights Group is currently looking for donations and other means of support to keep its Blocked project up and running. More information is available here.

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