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Officials claim mobile phone firm O2 is misleading public on gay internet blocks

British Board of Film Classification says UK mobile internet provider O2 shouldn’t blame them if its blocking all LGBTI sites
Headquarters of mobile phone firm O2.
Photo by Mtaylor848.

The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) has slapped down mobile phone operators for making misleading claims about its role in online filtering.

Many LGBTI sites in the UK and beyond, with no pornographic content, have found themselves blocked by parental and other online filters, despite some of them being vital public services.

Cell phone company O2 has now found themselves in the firing line again after officials, including the team responsible for responding to the public on twitter, claimed they were only following orders on the block – in this case, as supplied by the BBFC.

GSN asked why they appeared to be providing a facility, under parental controls, for blocking all sites with any link to LGBTI in their title – as well as at least one commercial site, apparently for the sole reason it was a business run by a transgender individual.

According to their official feed: ‘All websites are classified by BBFC.’

The BBFC, however, denied this.

They told us: ‘The O2 press office and social media team is giving a mistaken line here and we’re working to have them correct it.

‘The BBFC provides the mobile classification framework that the mobile operators then apply to restrict access to their commercial content that is unsuitable for customers under the age of 18.’

While critics have condemned online censorship as a single issue, it is actually two separate problems.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron demanded earlier this year that internet service providers put in place filtering and blocking – and internet users have begun to notice this over the past few weeks as major providers such as BT began to provide this as a standard option to new subscribers.

However, mobile phone companies such as O2 and Virgin have been blocking content since 2004.

According to their code of practice, ‘The filter is set at a level that is intended to filter out content approximately equivalent to commercial content with a classification of 18.’

A spokesperson for the BBFC added: ‘Any additional parental controls put in place by the mobile operator are not controlled by the BBFC and the mobile classification framework provided by the BBFC only defines commercial content as adult (for over 18s) or suitable for all. It does not include any other age calibrations ie “12 plus” or “under 12s”.

Reconsideration requests can be made by any website owner, content provider, consumer or any other person who has an interest in the material, who is dissatisfied with the application of the Classification Framework by the mobile operators.

‘A reconsideration will first be processed by O2, if this first stage does not resolve the issue, the appeal may then be sent to the BBFC for an adjudication.

‘The BBFC classification framework does not discriminate against content based on sexual orientation.’

Much of the focus on O2 has been because it they provided an online ‘URL checker’ so users could see if certain sites were blocked or not.

Now that is ‘unavailable’.

Other service providers have been significantly more secretive over what they are blocking, with BT even refusing to reveal who carries out their filtering, on the grounds that it was ‘commercial in confidence’.

They later revised this position, admitting that they used non-UK provider, Nominum.

According to O2, they took the URL checker down last week and they do not know when it will be live again.

A spokesperson told us: ‘We are currently in the process of reviewing and updating our URL checker to ensure it is fit for purpose and gives transparent information for our customers.’

But O2 has listed a number of sites which can now be viewed under the ‘parental control’ filter.

They include gay campaign organization Stonewall, LGBTI youth homeless organization Albert Kennedy Trust, LGBT Youth Scotland, LGBT History Month, the London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard, gay and trans counseling organization Pace Health, and the All Sorts Youth Project and It Gets Better sites.

However, mobile operators and internet service providers – including O2 – are still refusing to respond to questions as to why parental controls that encourage widespread blocking of LGBTI content were instituted in the first place.

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