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O2 has been busy explaining to customers why it's come over all prudish, and why they shouldn't worry about spending a little money to prove their age.

O2 has begun enforcing an opt-in policy for access to grown-up internet content, redirecting customers to a company called Bango to prove their age with a credit card. That's worried some customers, which has turn prompted the operator to pose a detailed guide to the whys and wherefores of its newly enthusiastic policy and why it's made such a hash of implementing it.

In common with all UK mobile operators, O2 has a responsibility for protecting children from internet content. It's nominally voluntary, like the health warnings on cigarette packets used to be, but all the operators have "volunteered" and will remain part of the scheme which has set up the Independent Mobile Classification Body (IMCB) to provide a shared database of dodgy content for blacklisting*.

That was launched in 2005, and O2, like all the other operators, has blocked content access since then to commercial adult content. But with more data-capable phones, and more free content, the network operators are all tightening up the process, which has led to such unrest among O2's customers.

In November, the company started applying more stringent checks to small trial group, which didn't seem to mind handing over details to Bango. On that basis, O2 flipped the switch without warning, forcing everyone who hadn't opted in to adult content to do so.

You don't need a credit card to opt-in; drop into an O2 shop and present photographic ID. Some El Reg readers report that they convinced phone support to opt them in - but this is not an officially-supported route. O2 points out that it costs the company £1.50 each time a credit card is used, as it bills for £1 (to ensure the card's owner sees the transaction) and credits £2.50 to the account. But the operator also finds out the name and address of the customer – which is valuable information in itself.

This isn't just about O2, or about mobile. If the mobile operators can demonstrate a viable opt-in system then fixed ISPs will be asked to do the same thing. It makes no sense for O2 to check the customer's age at 2.1GHz (3G) and not at 2.4GHz (Wi-Fi) or even over ADSL. So we should probably get used to having to register our perversions with our access provider, for the sake of the children of course. ®

* The IMCB has been in touch to clarify: the organisation creates the criteria by which commercial content is judged, rather than rating content itself. That remains the responsibility of the network operator, to whom any objections should be addressed.

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