Feeds

Vodafone defends buggy content filter

Brand protection or child protection?

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Website security in corporate America

Vodafone UK has defended the early introduction of adult content filters for its mobile phone users, saying that the system is necessary to protect children.

The operator launched the filters with great fanfare last week, five months ahead of the mobile phone industry's self-imposed deadline. However, aside from a smattering of applause from child protection lobbyists, the response to the launch has been critical.

Al Russell, head of content services at Vodafone, says the company wants parents and guardians to feel that their kids are safe using Vodafone's services. "This is not an area for compromise," he argues. "The choice was, do we want to wait to protect minors until the end of the year, or do we implement a transparent and pragmatic system now?"

Other operators have written the move off as a publicity stunt, pointing out that there is not much competitive advantage in launching first. Their point was made for them: Vodafone has set the system up so that subscribers must prove that they are 18 to be gain access to restricted sites. However, bugs in the software meant large sections of the Net were classified as 18+ classification, regardless of their content.

The filtering system uses a rating service bought in from a third party, which Vodafone is, as yet, reluctant to name. It uses a combination of a database of classified sites, and a dynamic rating service.

Andre Pyler, Vodafone's man on the ground, says the system is classifying everything except for half a per cent of user-requested URLs. In such cases, the URL is sent to a human operator for manual classification.

However, a glitch at launch meant subscribers trying to access pages that were unavailable for other reasons ended up seeing a restricted access notification, instead of a '404 not found' message. Also, the filter automatically barred sites that it couldn't automatically classify. The company says it has fixed both problems, and that complaints have dropped off substantially.

The industry-wide decision to introduce self regulation was prompted by the usual hints from government that life would be oh-so-much-more-complicated if it had to get involved. Vodafone says it was also contacted by several "charity stakeholders", who were just as keen to see some kind of restriction on the access to porn and betting sites.

By the end of 2004, all the operators in the UK will have content regulation, with the still-to-be-appointed Independent Content Board (ICB, as it will be known) taking responsibility for rating content.

The ICB, or the lack of the ICB, is also proving controversial. Although Russell insists Vodafone does not see its role as that of censor, he concedes that the situation will be more comfortable when a third party is responsible for rating content, and there is clear accountability in place. ®

Related stories

So why does Vodafone filter block Sky News?
Vodafone's adult filter is go
Mobile porn is a 'time bomb'

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
Brit telcos warn Scots that voting Yes could lead to HEFTY bills
BT and Co: Independence vote likely to mean 'increased costs'
Phones 4u slips into administration after EE cuts ties with Brit mobe retailer
More than 5,500 jobs could be axed if rescue mission fails
ISPs' post-net-neutrality world is built on 'bribes' says Tim Berners-Lee
Father of the worldwide web is extremely peeved over pay-per-packet-type plans
New 'Cosmos' browser surfs the net by TXT alone
No data plan? No WiFi? No worries ... except sluggish download speed
Radio hams can encrypt, in emergencies, says Ofcom
Consultation promises new spectrum and hints at relaxed licence conditions
Turnbull: NBN won't turn your town into Silicon Valley
'People have been brainwashed to believe that their world will be changed forever if they get FTTP'
Google+ GOING, GOING ... ? Newbie Gmailers no longer forced into mandatory ID slurp
Mountain View distances itself from lame 'network thingy'
Blockbuster book lays out the first 20 years of the Smartphone Wars
Symbian's David Wood bares all. Not for the faint hearted
prev story

Whitepapers

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
The next step in data security
With recent increased privacy concerns and computers becoming more powerful, the chance of hackers being able to crack smaller-sized RSA keys increases.