State parental control: blocking of websites from November 21st

Earlier this year AGCOM (Communications Regulatory Authority) presented guidelines for Internet service providers aimed at protect minors from online risks. The new provisions will come into force from 21 November 2023 and provide for the obligation on the part of providers to activate suitable tools to filtration automatically i contents inappropriate for minors e to block the material, available online, reserved for an audience over 18 years of age. In short, it is a parental control of State, a measure that aims to avoid the exposure of contents potentially harmful to the growth of the minor.

Parental control pre-activated only for minors

The document shared by AGCOM contains a complete analysis of the initial proposal, the observations received from the telecommunications operators and the final decisions regarding the obligations to be fulfilled starting from November 21st.

First of all, there is no parental control automatically activated for all fixed and mobile users but only for those attributable to a minor. Furthermore, the service can be deactivated upon explicit request of the person who exercises authority over the minor. Always the one who has parental responsibility has the possibility of accessing a administration panel customize parental control behavior.

More advanced features such as unlocking the system in certain situations time slots (possibly for specific websites) or access to the list of websites visited may be provided by the provider upon payment of a subscription fee.

How parental controls can work

Usually, one of the best ways to set up a parental control efficace, consists of the activation of a functionality strictly linked to the operating system installed on the user’s device. As some of the providers involved by AGCOM point out, the blocking websites Potentially malicious malware can be easily bypassed if done at the DNS server level. The user simply needs to configure a resolver DNS different from that of the provider.

Additionally, most browsers now support protocols such as DNS-over-HTTPS, DNS-over-TLS, and DNS-over-QUIC that allow you to encrypt your domain name resolution requests, also removing them from the analysis of the Internet provider. It is also not possible inhibit traffic on specific ports used by these protocols because all HTTPS requests would be prevented.

Based on these and other observations, AGCOM decided to leave providers free to implement an effective parental control solution. “We agree with the market’s request to leave greater margin to operators and technological partners in order to identify the most effective technical solution“, observes AGCOM which clarifies how the protection for the protection of minors can be activated via a parental control system:

  • based on DNS or other network-level filtering;
  • built around an application that can be downloaded and installed by the user (the reference to the person having parental responsibility is implicit).

The risks of a non-shared solution

AGCOM points out that Internet operators can identify the technical solutions that they consider most effective for activate parental controls on lines activated by minors. In case of reports of inadequacy of the solutions put in place, the Authority will always be able to intervene with specific measures.

There are many questions that the decision leaves open. First of all, it happens very frequently that the telephone numbers actually used by minors are registered to the parents. In these cases, state parental controls would not be activated by default. Also, whatever restrictive measure applied at the network level today appears rather useless if you think of the many possibilities available to the most savvy users to avoid limitations and “censorship” (modifying DNS, use of encrypted DNS, Tor Browser, VPN services,…).

A parental control solution can work if and only if it works well integrated at a low level in each device. Applications that work at too high a level risk not being effective. Family Link for Android devices, Apple’s Content and Privacy Restrictions and Microsoft Family Safety have existed for some time: all solutions also allow you to specify which applications can be installed, run and used (also indicating any time restrictions).

Was there a need to reinvent the wheel? In our opinion, no, also because sometimes the patch is worse than the hole. Furthermore, educating minors on the correct use of the internet is in many cases the most powerful tool available.

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