The disappearance of parental controls
Being a parent is both challenging and rewarding. In the same way that we introduce, educate and develop the physical environment for our children – we now have to do this for the internet. The tools many parents use to safeguard their children on the web are commonly referred to as parental controls.
These simple software systems allow kids to enjoy a world of online learning – and shield them from the less welcome elements of the net. In this environment, even parents find themselves on the learning curve – trying to stay one step ahead of their child’s digital footprint, says Fergus Wills, director of Product Management at Openwave Mobility.
Parental controls however are under threat like never before. In a matter of a few months, parental controls from mobile operators could be a thing of the past. The reason for this? Privacy and encrypted data. Ever since large scale government surveillance came to light, privacy has been a major concern for many people.
Whether it is thwarting criminals or stopping government agencies from spying – privacy is at the top of the agenda. And one weapon in the war for privacy is data encryption.
The adoption of encryption used to be only for selected sites – e.g. when you are paying for something or accessing your bank account online. In most instances the end user can’t encrypt data and it is not something you as a parent can disable either. The power to do that lies with the content provider – you now have to trust them more than ever.
Encrypted as tight as a…
The increase in online security is to be generally welcomed, but it is a double edged sword. Owing to the rise in encrypted data, internet access is going “Dark” for internet service providers/ mobile data providers. Their capability to help parents understand what data is accessed from their child’s device and what controls to put in place are severely limited.
Encryption is of course great news to many subscribers who want to keep themselves safe. However this could soon be a headache to many parents. That is because the usual technology that mobile operators use to detect and block unsavory web content and manage the Quality of Experience can’t see through this encryption. Large sections of their networks are “going dark” and based on estimates over 80% of mobile networks could be encrypted by the end of this year.
When internet access is slow and unresponsive – it is more often than not blamed on the service provider. As encryption is adopted along with parental controls, the service provider is not able to manage or monitor the Quality of Experience (QoE) their users receive. So, if a YouTube video buffers or a Spotify music track breaks up – data service providers are powerless. And that’s not good news from a service perspective. Half of subscribers blame their operators for poor user experience.
The power of now
The tide of encryption will only continue to rise and operators need to act sooner rather than later. Both network controls and management are necessary to ensure a continued Quality of Experience as well as detection and enforcement from unwanted content. The industry will innovate to provide these options for encrypted flows as existing optimisation tools don’t cut the mustard.
There’s a multitude of handsets and millions of apps that all need unique handling requirements on the network. Data Service Providers require a solution that is device, protocol and app aware so it can apply different policy rules to meet user profiles. And it all needs to happen in real time to maximise quality and safeguard users.
Needless to say, a solution needs to be able to handle both encrypted and unencrypted data and inspect it continuously. Some service providers use Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) for their parental controls. These only inspect the first few bytes – not a continuous flow. They need to provide rapid reaction for encryption. DPI for 4G networks and beyond needs a reboot so it is fit and ready for both existing and new protocols without compromising user privacy and security.
The encrypted data tsunami is gathering pace and threatens to leave vulnerable mobile users open to online threats. As with any new sea change in technology, once it arrives there is no chance of rolling it back. Data Service Providers need to learn how to manage data like this and provide the next generation of services their customers need.
Operators must recognise that not all access should be treated the same. Parents and guardians need help with their responsibilities – and Data Service Providers can be the trusted partner in the value chain. It’s time to shine a light on this dark pipe…
The author of this blog is Fergus Wills, director of Product Management at Openwave Mobility.
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