Mobile Broadband Group response to ORG / LSE mobile censorship report
This is the first in a series of responses to the new report 'Mobile Internet censorship: what's happening and what to do about it', published today by Open Rights Group and LSE Media Policy Project.
How to offer appropriate protection to children on the Internet is a challenge that policy makers have been wrestling with for many years. It is necessary to navigate a path that does not unnecessarily restrict personal freedoms, is technically simple for customers to implement (or remove), can be executed via numerous distribution channels, across a range of devices, and can be applied with reasonable accuracy and consistency across hundreds of millions of web sites.
The mobile operators in the UK have been working in this field since 2002, when the first 3G mobile devices started to become available. In those times only a very small proportion of children accessed the Internet through their mobile device. In anticipation of significant growth in use by children, the UK’s mobile operators, under the auspices of the Mobile Broadband Group, published a code of practice in 2004, with a view to offering a safe browsing experience for children.
The Code has a number of elements. For the purposes of today’s discussion the most relevant relates to content available on the Internet, where operators have no control over what is available. A filter to the mobile operator’s Internet access service is therefore provided so that the content thus accessible can be restricted for children. The filter is set at a level that is intended to filter out content approximately equivalent to commercial content (Commercial content – means content provided by commercial content providers (encompassing own brand and third party providers) to their mobile customers) with a classification of 18, as determined by the Independent Mobile Classification Body, a body appointed by the operators under one of the commitments in the Code.
The Mobile Broadband Group Code has a strong claim to be one of the most successful in its field. The Code was the first of its kind and was used as the template for similar codes throughout the European Union. That said, child protection remains a very challenging policy area. It is not possible to achieve total perfection in a very dynamic environment – customers do not always have strong technical knowledge, children can be adept at finding ways round the protection systems and there are now supposed to be 644,275,754 active websites to classify.
There are no official benchmarks for classification accuracy. The BSI some years ago attempted to create a Publicly Available Standard for filtering systems, which required 99.99% filtering accuracy. If a ‘Six Sigma’ manufacturing standard were to be used a 99.99966% degree of accuracy would be required (in the context of 644m websites, 2,190 misclassified websites). Even allowing for the ORG missing a few, 60 misclassified websites does not amount to anything that could reasonably be described as ‘censorship’, particularly when mobile operators are happy to remove the filters when customers show they are over 18 and will re-classify websites when misclassifications are pointed out to them. This is how the small handful of web sites that get referred to mobile operators each year are already dealt with.
We believe that the vast majority of customers recognise the need for solutions in this area for the greater good – just as people are happy to show ID in off licences if they look under 25 (I would just be happy to be asked!).
In conclusion, I would like to emphasise the areas of agreement between the ORG and the MBG. The ORG agrees that giving safer access to children is a worthwhile goal. The MBG as well as the ORG would also like to see greater availability of filtering systems for mobile devices themselves – but the market is just not there yet. The MBG has also been working on a more comprehensive filtering framework for the mobile Internet and will announce developments on that front later in 2012.
The MBG will ensure that any misclassifications reported are corrected and will consider the ORG’s report carefully. We welcome stakeholder input from all points of view (and the ORG will be aware that many hold strong opposing views to theirs) and we will continue to develop appropriate child safety policy for an ever changing environment.
Hamish MacLeod is Chair of the Mobile Broadband Group. He is writing in response to the new report 'Mobile Internet censorship: what's happening and what to do about it', published today by Open Rights Group and LSE Media Policy Project.
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