UK mobile operators agree to censor adult content on 3G phones

Six of the UK's largest mobile phone operators are to censor content and services delivered over third-generation handsets as...

Six of the UK's largest mobile phone operators are to censor content and services delivered over third-generation handsets as part of an effort to keep under-18s from accessing adult material such as gambling sites, pornography and unmonitored chatrooms.

The plan, unveiled by Orange, Vodafone, Virgin Mobile, Hutchison 3G, O2 and T-Mobile, came in the form of a code of practice developed by the companies in co-ordination with government and charity groups.

The code will come into force by the end of the year when the operators expect to have new handsets on the market that offer internet access, picture messaging and a variety of new services, some of which will not be fit for users under the age of 18.

According to the code, all commercial content deemed unsuitable for minors will be classified "18" and not be made available to customers unless they verify their age. Likewise, unmonitored chat rooms will only be accessible for adult users, and parents will be able to apply filters to operators' internet access services to keep the children from accessing mature content.

While the details of the plan are still being hammered out, Virgin Mobile spokeswoman Alison Bonny said she believes that most operators will choose to block users from adult content and services automatically until they prove their age.

The content classification will be performed by an independent body that has not yet been selected.

The code of practice was released on the heels of a report issued by UK charity group NCH last week, warning that new internet-enabled devices could fuel a rise in child porn if left unchecked.

The NCH and six other charities participating in the Children's Charities Coalition for Internet Safety (CHIS) applauded the plan, calling it a major step forward in protecting children from paedophiles and pornography on the internet.

However, the group expressed concern over children using handsets already available on the market, and called for fixed-line internet providers to adopt the same stringent rules.

UK communications minister Stephen Timms also praised the plan, calling the code an excellent example of responsible self-regulation.

Mike Dennehy, spokesman for the UK's Department of Trade and Industry, said that the department would rather have the operators agree on self-regulation than have to impose rules of conduct.

"It's about priorities and protecting vulnerable people," Dennehy said.

Scarlet Pruitt writes for IDG News Service

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