Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Mobile Regulation: In the News

From the Times Online, some early coverage of an issue that appears to have come up quite a bit at the recent 2008 Mobile World Congress: how to protect kids from accessing innappropriate content on their mobiles. Of key concern at the congress and throughout industry discourses around this issue appears to be coming up with a "self-regulatory solution" before any form of new government regulation can be introduced. As seen last month in the UK, for example, where Ofcom and the Children's Charities' Coalition for Internet Safety (CHIS) announced their intention to review its industry's voluntary code of conduct for mobile content. According to the Times article:
A spokesman for Ofcom said: "To ensure that children continue to receive appropriate protection, Ofcom is working with the CHIS and the mobile operators to review the voluntary code of conduct for mobile content." A report is expected in the summer.

Mobile phone ownership among the young is common, with a million under-10s in the UK — one in three — now owning one, according to figures from mobileYouth, a research consultancy. Separate figures from Ofcom found that 32 per cent of children aged 8-11 regularly use a mobile.

The access that the latest phones provide to the internet — often away from parental supervision — was cited last year as an increasing concern in a report by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, a branch of the Serious Organised Crime Agency, which is dedicated to combating child abuse.

Flash forward a couple of weeks, to the Mobile Congress and the announcement that:
Europe's mobile phone operators are joining forces to obstruct access to child sexual abuse websites. Leading operators, including Vodafone, Orange and 3, will announce plans today to install technology in their networks that will bar access to thousands of blacklisted sites.

Efforts to ban access to these sites has focused on service providers such as BT, which offer internet services via personal computers, but with internet access increasingly becoming a standard feature on mobile phones, the phone operators are facing increased pressure to take action on their networks.

Under the scheme, which is being spearheaded by the GSMA, the mobile industry's global trade body, customers who, inadvertently or otherwise, try to access illegal sites will be directed to a police warning notice or will be presented with a message saying that the site is not available.

The participating companies will also provide hotlines for customers to report any child sexual abuse content discovered via their mobile phones.

The scheme is backed by Vivian Reding, the European Telecoms Commissioner.

An obvious preemptive move -- but what democratic process produced the "blacklisted" sites, I wonder, and how will the "technology" function...can it be customized, what are the defaults, and how (and by whom) were these decisions made?

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