Sky Is Blocking Adult Websites by Default in the U.K.

LONDON — Customers of one of the U.K.’s largest ISPs, Sky, will find themselves automatically blocked from online porn.

The new adult content filter will be installed over the next few days to all its 5.3 million customers, as a part of Prime Minister David Cameron's initiative.

Cameron said in July 2013 that the four major ISPs in the U.K. had until the end 2014 to ask every household to make a decision about parental controls. But adoption rates have also been low.

Company spokeswoman Lyssa McGowan wrote on Sky’s blog that the provider will be emailing customers who haven’t chosen to activate or disable the system starting this month, giving them the chance to make a decision on the matter. If they ignore the mail, it will automatically be turned on.

Customers still will be able to choose to turn off the Sky Broadband Shield, which protects against malware and phishing sites, and has a watershed feature with adjustable times and age ratings to prevent children from viewing material during any given part of the day.

Richard King, who wrote for Open Rights Group on its blog today, said the latest initiative will increase harm for websites and surfers, and there is still little evidence of the benefit to children.

“Could Sky Broadband be seeking to increase adoption of web filters through ‘nudge’ tactics in order to avoid government criticism for a lack of uptake?” he asked. “Public interest in activating filters has been low since the government started pressuring ISPs to introduce them in summer 2013. 

“Ofcom said in July 2014 that just eight percent of Sky broadband subscribers had switched them on. The same report showed a 34 percent adoption-rate for competitor TalkTalk, which promotes filters aggressively, and have made them the default option for new subscribers for a long time,” King said.   

“Nudge tactics rely on the principle that most people don't bother changing defaults,” King said. “If Sky's agenda were neutral, they would block all web-access for an account until the account-holder had stated their preference about filters: on or off. Instead they intend to block only those sites ‘deemed unsuitable for under 13s.’"