Mobile industry to tackle child porn concerns


19 Jan 2004

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Irish mobile network operators are to respond to the growing public concern over child pornography and paedophilia by drawing up a code of practice to prevent underage users from accessing pornographic images on their mobile phones. The move is to be followed by the introduction of technology that will allow networks to block unsuitable content.

The item will be high on the agenda when the Irish Cellular Industry Association (ICIA) – the trade body for the mobile industry – holds its first meeting of 2004 at the end of the month. Joan Keating, head of corporate communications with Vodafone Ireland and incoming chairperson of the ICIA, told siliconrepublic.com that the issue would dominate the work of the association this year much in the way that the issue of mobile phone theft – which led to the creation of a Central Equipment Identity Register – was a priority last year. “One of our priorities will be a Code of Practice consisting of checks and balances to protect minors from inappropriate content,” she said.

Keating said that as she had not yet consulted with industry colleagues, no firm timelines had been agreed but she hoped that the code would be finalised by the summer. However, the introduction of content filtering technology was likely to take considerably longer – possibly 12 months or more.

“We already have a good content filtering service in place for our mobile ‘Chat’ service which works by blocking certain words or terms. However, the filtering of visual content on camera or MMS phones is much more difficult. Our colleagues in Vodafone UK have been looking at ways to block flesh tones but it is an extremely complex problem. We don’t want to end up blocking images of new-born babies for example.”

With 80pc of post-paid mobile phones sold in the UK now incorporating cameras and screens, the mobile communications industry there has been under mounting pressure to find a way to minimise the risk of unsuitable content reaching children and the risk to children of being targeted by paedophiles via their mobiles.

Last week the UK mobile operators announced that by the end of the year they would introduce technology across all networks that would allow them to block the delivery of services or content with an over-18 certificate to underage users.

Keating reiterated that no date had been set for the Irish introduction of such technology – it could be by the end of the year or by early 2005, depending on how quickly the technical issues were resolved. “I’d like to think that if the technology works in the UK we should be able to implement it here shortly afterwards,” she said. “We don’t want to reinvent the wheel.”

Keating added that in drawing up the Code of Practice, the ICIA would involve or liaise with all relevant stakeholders including the Communications Regulator, the Department of Communications, child protection groups and the GSM Association, the organisation representing the global mobile industry, which is based in Dublin.

By Brian Skelly