ACA mulls over mobile porn solution

PIN numbers and restricted number ranges are among proposals before Australia's communications authorities to limit minors' access to premium-rate multimedia content on their mobile phones.Australian Communications Authority (ACA) deputy chair, Allan Horsley, today said that the methods were among a number proposed for new telecommunications industry rules that would apply to 190 premium-rate SMS and MMS content numbers due for release in April.

PIN numbers and restricted number ranges are among proposals before Australia's communications authorities to limit minors' access to premium-rate multimedia content on their mobile phones.

Australian Communications Authority (ACA) deputy chair, Allan Horsley, today said that the methods were among a number proposed for new telecommunications industry rules that would apply to 190 premium-rate SMS and MMS content numbers due for release in April.

According to Horsley, the new rules were primarily being devised help parents protect their children from inappropriate content. According to Roy Morgan Research, one in every six Australian teenagers owns a mobile phone, with those aged between 14 and 19 one of the biggest spending groups.

Under the new rules, carriers will be required to tier access to content based on existing media classifications set by the Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC). Parents will be required to take responsibility for ensuring their children use the mechanism correctly.

That means that parents will choose ratings for the children's handsets such as PG, M and MA as they would when choosing movies from their local video store.

Horsley believes that the ACA was likely to opt to regulate access to content levels using defined phone number ranges rather than PIN codes. He said that the ACA had been advised that PIN numbers were "nearly useless" as a control method as they fell into the wrong hands too easily.

That would mean carriers will be required to allocate content to limited sets of the six and eight digit 190-numbers.

The rules are the mobile industry equivalent of requiring Internet Service Providers to restrict access to objectionable content online, a scenario the Internet Industry Association has fought hard to avoid.

"It's not greatly different to what happens on the Internet, but the reality is that we've got some more control than you have on the Internet because we can apply regulations to carriers," said Horsley.

However while legislation does allow the ACA to direct carriers to provide the access control mechanism, Horsley conceded that the ability of some phones to access the Internet was causing headaches for the regulator.

"That's one of the things we're confronting: if you've got this [mobile] device in your hand is it an Internet terminal or a telephone terminal, and how do you get control?" said Horsely.

"And if you use WAP, you're using the carrier as an ISP, but you're still using the carrier".

Australian authorities are looking to European example -- where premium rate services have been available for the last year -- for guidance in formulating the new rules.

The ACA and the Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABA) sent observers to follow the progress of a conference in London last week where Europe's largest players in the mobile industry gathered to compare notes on their first year's experience providing specialised SMS and MMS services.

In Europe, concern about the new services has been driven by the activities of paedophiles online.

Some of the UK's biggest mobile players announced mid-January their intention to sign a new code of practice to stop children accessing pornography, chat rooms and other content inappropriate for minors via mobiles.

The ACA's observer is due to return to Australia later this week.

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