So, O2 has apparently angered the Internet Gods by switching on its Adult Content Filter. This means anyone who wants to look at adult material on the web will have to pay a fee to prove they are over 18.
Of course, their filter is broken - so it's caught sites like Google Translate and B3ta and banned access to them.
And, naturally, there's no easy way to unlock this bar without walking into an O2 store and shouting loudly and proudly "I LIKE MASTURBATING AND WOULD LIKE MY PHONE UNLOCKED SO I CAN LOOK AT PORNOGRAPHY AND MASTURBATE. And then translate it into Russian via Google Translate."
I've written before about censoring the web. I also used to work for a Mobile Network Operator looking after, in amongst everything else, adult media. You can watch my video from SMC London discussing how (some) MNOs approach adult material. I think it's fair to say I know a little bit about this subject.
In my attempt to educate the world, let me explain some things about mobile Internet filters.
There are only five things you need to know...
Government Isn't Involved
There is no government regulation, nor law telling mobile phone operators they have to block adult content. The government has said "Regulate yourselves, or we'll impose regulation upon you."
This is a fairly common trick. You may have heard it expressed as "Nice business you've got there. It would be a shame if anything ... happened to it..."
But, as we will see, it's not just the threat of red tape that keeps people up at night.
Fear Is A Great Driver
What every MNO live in fear of, is the Daily Mail headline which runs...
PERVERTS! Now Sick Mobile Phone Bosses Peddle Porn To YOUR CHILDREN (and you have to pay for it!)
That's it. Game over. Share price plummets, you lose your job, your name's in the papers and you lose your kids in a custody battle. Fear drives people to be ultra-conservative even when they realise what they are doing is irrational.
This Isn't Porn
I know what you're thinking. That's a porno-shot of Linda Lusardi. Obviously, that's unsuitable for children.
You could not be more wrong. Ever since 17th November, 1970 - when The Sun published a nude photo of Stephanie Rahn - shots like this have been counted as "family friendly".
Essentially, Rupert Murdoch doesn't run a porn empire - therefore, anything which appears in The Sun is family friendly. And if you try to classify it under "Adult" they'll sue the arse off you. Allegedly.
Simply put: porn isn't porn when it appears in The Sun. That's why most UK MNOs don't block page three - indeed, it's why they're quite willing to sell soft-core pornography to anyone, regardless of age.
The hypocrisy of the tabloid media is quite something to behold.
This Is Banned
Campaign's like Brook's Sex Positive often fall foul of automated content checking. Because they have words like "vagina", "orgasm", and "contraception" - it's easy for computers to get confused and think that they are porn.
— Brook (@BrookCharity) March 3, 2011
So, kids can see topless women but they can't learn how to put on a condom. Helpful.
It Doesn't Work
There are two things which regularly fail with censoring.
- False Negative. You can't catch every dirty image on the Internet.
- False Positives. It's easy to misclassify "safe" sites as "bad" sites.
Wanking is legal in this country. There's no good reason why anyone should have to go on record as saying that want to look at wobbly bits.
Because it's easy for a kid to find a site that isn't blocked - or to "borrow" mum or dad's credit card - it's of no serious concern to the intrepid kid. It does suck if they want to find out how not to get AIDS though.
So, we're stuck with a situation that's expensive for MNOs, embarrassing and annoying for consenting adults, and trivial for a child to bypass.
Everyone knows that mobile web censorship doesn't work. But it has to be done otherwise the media will get upset. If the press get upset - then you get upset. So it's all for your own good.