O2 has finally switched on its porn-blocker, much to the annoyance of customers who don't see why they should prove their age.
British mobile operators are required to provide age-verification before allowing access to "adult" content, but different operators opt customers in and out by default. It seems that O2 is now learning firmly towards the "out" option and started asking customers for a credit card transaction to prove their age, which is winding up many.
Faced with unexpected requests for credit card numbers from unknown companies (O2 outsources its age filters to Bango) customers are understandably concerned, and irked. Bango takes a white-list stance, resulting in apparently innocuous sites such as Google Translate falling foul of the censor.
These controls aren't new, only being enforced with more enthusiasm. O2 tells us it's been doing age verification for years and can't seem to explain why it's suddenly being applied with such vigour.
O2 has migrated to a new platform, which seems to have changed the default settings for a lot of customers who are now required to provide a credit card payment of £1 (for which they receive credit worth £2.50) to prove they are over 18. O2 described its intended age-verification system back in 2009, and planned it even earlier, but spent a long time getting it working.
All the UK's mobile operators face the same issue - unlike fixed internet service provides the mobile operators are required to police access to adult content. Orange will let you drop into a shop with a photo ID and most operators will verify age over the phone one way or another - your correspondent's suggestion, while employed at O2 half a decade ago, was that customers should just be asked to name two Pink Floyd albums, but that wasn't considered secure enough.
The situation gets stranger still; if you're using a smartphone near an O2 Wi-Fi hotspot then one is blocked from accessing porn over O2's 3G network (at 2.1GHz), but switch to Wi-Fi (at 2.4GHz) and one changes regulatory environments. Then porn flows freely onto the screen thanks to a change of frequency.
Which brings us to the most likely reason the mobile network operators are tightening up their access controls: the application of the same thing to fixed internet service providers. If the mobile operators can do it, the argument will go, then why not the fixed-line operators? It's not like any content will be banned, only that you'll have to opt in to get it. All for the sake of the children, of course. ®