Telcos bar children from adult content

U.K. mobile-phone companies have developed guidelines that block children from accessing unsuitable sites via their mobile phones.

Mobile-phone companies have developed guidelines that block children from accessing unsuitable sites via their mobile phones.

Children will be blocked from accessing chatrooms, online gambling, mobile gaming and adult Web sites via their mobile phones under new guidelines officially unveiled today in the U.K.

Mobile operators 3, O2, Orange, T-Mobile, Vodafone and Virgin Mobile have responded to concerns that mobile devices with enhanced features such as colour screens, picture messaging, video cameras and Internet browsers can be used to access a growing variety of media-rich content, some of which could be unsuitable for children.

Commercial mobile content will be subject to independent classification and mobile operators will place access controls on content classified as '18', making it available only to those customers over 18 whose age has been verified -- using valid ID at the point of sale or a third-party credit check.

Chatrooms -- which children's charities say are targeted by paedophiles to 'groom' potential victims -- will also be placed behind access controls unless they are moderated. Methods used to prevent unrestricted access to adult content will include barring, PIN numbers and subscription-only services.

As mobile operators are unable to subject other Internet content to the same restrictions, parents will be able to apply a filter to the operator's Internet access service that will filter out adult content. These filtering services are expected to be available later this year.

The code of conduct does not cover premium rate voice or SMS services, which will continue to be regulated under the Independent Committee for the Supervision of Telephone Information Services (ICSTIS) Code of Practice.

The mobile operators were forced to develop the voluntary code after warnings that the government would step in with regulations if the industry was not able to police itself.

Stephen Timms, Communications Minister, said in a statement in response to the launch of the code: "This Code of Practice is an excellent example of the responsible self-regulation we are keen to encourage among the mobile operators to address issues relating to new types of content now available on mobile handsets. New technology introduces significant benefits and opportunities, but it can also bring new concerns and we must ensure that safeguards are in place to protect those who are vulnerable, such as children."'s Andy McCue reported from London.