Content filtering by UK ISPs

See Adult content filtering regulation for proposals that the government legislate for content filtering.

In addition to the filtering of illegal content (see Internet Watch Foundation) and court-ordered website blocking, UK ISPs are, to various levels, making unavailable content deemed unsuitable by government guidelines.

The Digital Economy Act 2017#Internet filters included a measure that made it legal for ISPs to use blocking or filtering if it was provided for in their own Terms and Conditions. This appears to be in conflict with the EU net neutrality regulation which says that "End-users shall have the right to access and distribute information and content" and that "Agreements between providers of internet access services and end-users...shall not limit the exercise of the rights of end-users."

Content categories affected

A number of current categories of content may be blocked to various degrees: Dating, Drugs, Alcohol and Tobacco, File sharing, Gambling, Games, Pornography, Nudity, Social networking and Web forums, Suicide and Self-harm, Weapons and violence, Obscenity, Criminal Skills, Hate, Media Streaming, Fashion and Beauty, Gore, Cyberbullying, Hacking, Sex education, Search Engines, Phishing, Malware and Spyware

See Comparison of blocking categories (Wikipedia) for a comprehensive comparison.

Mobile networks

Mobile Broadband Group code of practice

  • Mobile Broadband Group code of practice 2004[1]
  • In July 2013 responsibility for the classification framework switched from the Independent Mobile Classification Board to the BBFC
  • Differing commercial and technical reasons for network-level filters
  • Filter manifests per-device, but technically a network-level filter.
  • Blocks applied originally where the operator received no indication that the phone/SIM owner was over 18 (e.g. pay-as-you-go SIM), later applied where the operator received no indicator that the phone/SIM user was over 18 (e.g. a contract phone paid by an adult that might potentially be given to a child).
  • Proof of age required to remove adult filters, typically a credit card payment, or passport/etc presented in specific shops.


  • O2 18+ is the content filter applied to O2 phones. Introduced as early as 2008 it became opt-out in 2011.
  • O2 Parental Control is the opt-in whitelist restricting access to sites suitable for under-12s.


"Vodafone Content Control"


"Orange Safeguard" or "EE Content Lock"


EE Content Lock


  • Three blocked page (redirects if not from a Three phone IP)
    • links to information about unblocking the phone
    • Three Support
    • Phones where age verification has taken place can be content-blocked on request by text message.

Broadband Networks

Broad consolidation of providers has meant that over 90% of home broadband is provided by 6 ISPs (BT, Virgin, TalkTalk, Sky, Orange, O2), of which only TalkTalk has attempted to promote network-level filtering.

Fixed-line ISP code of practice

In October 2011 the four main UK ISPs, in consultation with the government and the UK Council for Child Internet Safety agreed to a code of practice regarding adult content filters. While early reports gave the impression that network-level filters were being required[4], ISPs later said they had committed providing child protection information and tools to new subscribers, not specific technical proposals.[5][6][7]

The published[8] code of practice did not mandate specific technical measures, but that an "Active Choice" be made regarding any filter tools. They also commit to making filter controls free-of-charge (i.e. not directly paid for by the users of the controls).

The code should be in place before October 2012, and a report on its effectiveness as well as an assessment of future technologies is due from each ISP in October 2012.

A side-effect of ISPs offering free parental control solutions is that the UK market for such software will basically be decided by the choices of ISPs. Of the five main ISPs, three offer McAfee as their parental control software.


BT Family Protection

"We continue to investigate ISP-level filters. We are clear, however, that no technical solution currently available can provide 100 percent protection for a household. There is no substitute for parental engagement and diligence in monitoring children’s use of the Internet. Our child protection package helps parents to exercise such diligence."[9]

BT Parental Controls

BT agreed with the government to switch to network-level filtering of content by the end of 2013.[10]. "BT Parental Controls", based on DNS-based blocks, was introduced on the 13th December 2013.


Despite being a BT subsidiary, Plusnet apparently does not currently use the BT filtering system.[11]

Virgin Media

Virgin Media offers "Virgin Media Security" (device level) for parental control[12] which seems to be Trend Micro Titanium Internet Security for Windows.

An announcement made on Safer Internet Day 2013 suggested that Virgin Media would soon be adopting network-level filtering.

Virgin have agreed to switch to network-level filtering of content in early 2014.[13] Virgin Media Web Safe was launched in February 2014.[14] Filtering was switched on by default for new customers in May 2018[15]


(Also points Mac users towards the built-in OS X Parental Controls.)

In February 2013, Sky announced in a blog post[16] "able to confirm that Sky has committed to offering a whole-home solution to all of our more than 4 million broadband customers. We will also introduce reporting tools to parents so they will know each and every time any changes have been made to the settings they’ve applied, to ensure they are happy with the settings at all times."

Sky have agreed to switch to network-level filtering of content by the end of 2013.[17] "Sky Broadband Shield" was announced in November 2013.[18]


TalkTalk, the third largest UK ISP by subscriber size[19], has been offering network-level content filtering to subscribers since May 2011 in the form of its "HomeSafe" system which uses filtering hardware developed by Chinese manufacturer Huawei-Symantec.[20]. In February 2012 it announced it would be introducing an "Active Choice" forcing all new customers to signal if they wished to opt-out of adult-content filtering [21]. After one year it had attracted 350,000 users[22], about 8.6% of TalkTalk customers.

In May 2012 TalkTalk announced that all existing customers would be prompted, on an annual basis, whether to enable HomeSafe adult content filtering or not[23].



Orange offers McAfee parental control software (device level) since October 2011[25]

Orange were not among the major ISPs announced to be introducing network-level filtering on their broadband network.

Smaller ISPs

Smaller ISPs have not been included in announcements regarding David Cameron's filtering request. Indeed some, such as AAISP, make an explicit point of not doing ISP-level filtering.[26]

Public estate

Internet content on the public estate (networks operated by the UK government) also block sites on a list compiled by the Counter Terrorism Internet Referral Unit.

Networks at immigration removal centres in 2014 used "specialised software which screens out prohibited categories of sites or sites whose addresses contain prohibited key words rather than blocking individual website addresses"[27] A 2016 order prohibits access to particular categories of site, including social network sites.[28]

Public internet access


  • Adult content blocking on London Underground Wifi (Virgin Media and Everything Everywhere) using (DNS-based?) Nominum.[29]
    • "You accept that EE, Virgin Media or a third party have the right to restrict access to any inappropriate content on the service, such as adult and illegal content. You hereby agree not to access or attempt to access such adult or illegal content using the service."[30]
  • In-store "TescoWifi" is apparently subject to network-level filtering (it was reported that the ORG website is blocked).
  • Wifi operated by Sky has content filtering applied by default.[31]
  • BT Wifi uses Symantec RuleSpace [32]


A number of Freedom of Information requests were made by volunteers to ask councils about web filtering in libraries. The collated results are available at

Some local authorities block payday loans websites on their library computers and public-access wifi networks. Some councils (e.g. Nottingham City Council) automatically redirect users to the local credit union website.


Content filtering is widely deployed in UK schools. The government is, in 2016, "consulting on requiring all schools to use filters".[33]



"Most suppliers operating [immigration removal centre]s on behalf of the UK Border Agency use specialised software which screens out prohibited categories of sites or sites whose addresses contain prohibited key words rather than blocking individual website addresses. Prohibited categories are based on safety and security concerns."[34]

Internet access available to Houses of Parliament (PICT) is monitored and filtered. "A Parliament spokesman said ‘more than 5,000 people’ had access to parliamentary network computers but that the Out Of Town Affairs website broke IT rules and had now been blocked."[35]

See Also


  1. Mobile Broadband Group: social responsibility
  3. Vodastalk; Vodafone and Bluecoat Stalking Subscribers
  4. Biggest four UK ISPs switching to 'opt-in' system for pornography, The Guardian, 2011-10-11
  5. David Cameron's 'porn filter' will make no difference, say ISPs, The Guardian, 2011-10-11
  6. Industry sources: ISP porn filter plans have been blown out of all proportion, ISP bosses "livid", James Firth, 2011-10-11
  7. Pornography online: David Cameron to consider 'opt in' plan, The Guardian, 2012-05-04
  8. UK Internet Service Providers Commit to Government Backed Code of Practice, Sky, 2011-10-28
  9. Opt-in Internet porn filter across 4 major UK ISPs humming along nicely, Ars Technica,2013-03-18
  10. The internet and pornography: Prime Minister calls for action, 2013-07-22
  11. Plusnet is working on a network-level filter to block pirate sites, Register, 2014-01-22
  12. Broadband gets Safer with Virgin Media, 2011-12-08]
  13. The internet and pornography: Prime Minister calls for action, 2013-07-22
  14. Virgin Media adds network level parental controls to help keep kids safe online, Think Broadband, 2014-02-28
  15. Safe from the start – how we’re helping protect families online, Virgin Media, 2018-02-18
  17. The internet and pornography: Prime Minister calls for action, 2013-07-22
  18. Sky's reply to ORG on default internet filters, ORG, 2013-11-15
  19. Top 10 UK Broadband ISPs
  20. TalkTalk online security system attracts few takers, The Guardian, 2011-12-29
  21. ISP asks new customers to set access controls, The Guardian, 2012-02-06
  22. TalkTalk Blog, 2012-05-04
  23. Now you'll have to ask TalkTalk to turn your porn on, TechRadar, 2012-05-14
  24. Communications Review Open Letter, DCMS, 2011
  25. Orange ahead of the broadband pack on parental controls, Broadband Choices, 2011-10-12
  26. AAISP Broadband "We do not have, in our network, any equipment installed to filter access to any part of the public Internet for our customers as a whole. We will give 12 months notice if we ever add any such filtering."
  27. Hansard, 2014-07-22
  28. Detention Services Order 04/2016 - Internet access for detainees, GOV.UK, May 2016
  29. WiFi now live at first Tube stations, Virgin Media, 2012-06-07, "In line with the established industry approach to adult content on mobiles, Virgin Media will block adult sites on the new WiFi service utilising a Nominum content filtering solution"
  32. BT Wifi Protect
  33. Hansard, 2016-01-25
  35. Adultery website 'Out of Town Affairs' received 52,000 hits in seven months from Parliament computers, Mail, 2013-02-10