U.K. ISPs Hijacking Browsers to Force Porn-Filter Choice

Dec 19, 2014 12:10 PM PST

LONDON — Virgin Media, BT and Sky are hijacking web connections to force U.K. customers to make decisions about porn filters, according to a report by Wired.

The ISPs are taking over the browsers of undecided customers as an end-of-the-month deadline imposed by Prime Minister David Cameron looms.

Under the guise of preventing underage exposure to porn, Cameron rolled out his Internet filtering plan in 2013, with ISPs designated to do the dirty work.

For the past year-and-a-half, ISPs have been asking users to opt out if they do not want explicit web pages automatically blocked.

Now, the ISPs are making certain they have an answer from all undecided customers.

The hijacking works by intercepting requests for unencrypted websites and redirecting users to a different page, according to Wired.

BT is taking its policy one step further by blocking people's browsers until they make a decision, making it impossible for customers to visit any websites once the in-browser notification has appeared. The message will remain until the customer makes a decision.

Sky is hijacking browser sessions to ask customers if they want to turn on its Sky Broadband Shield filter, but unlike BT Sky won't disconnect or block customers if they refused to make a decision.

Sky, however, plan to turn web filters on automatically for any undecided customers sometime next year.

Virgin has no plans to disconnect or block customers who didn't make a decision

Another ISP, TalkTalk, isn't displaying notifications, but it is placing an in-browser notice when customers check details of their account.

All four ISPs outsource their web filtering to other firms that use a combination of block lists and automated content detection to decide if a website is "inappropriate" or not.

A spokesman for the Open Rights Group (ORG) told Wired that there are better ways for ISPs to contact their customers, particularly since that they have customer phone numbers, email and actual home and business addresses.

ORG, founded in 2005, is a member of European Digital Rights and is billed as the U.K.’s leading voice defending freedom of expression, privacy, innovation, creativity and consumer rights on the Internet.

"How can a customer tell the difference between an ISP hijack and a phishing site made to look the same?" the ORG spokesman told Wired.

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