Users unable to access church Website for four months due to O2’s 18-plus rating
Christmas is generally a busy time for members of the Christian faith, but parishioners of one church in Sheffield will be unable to check the times of services on its Website as it has been blocked by O2 for the last four months.
The mobile operator claims that the Website featured adult content and the move has attracted criticisms from rights groups who are warning of the dangers of systematic censorship.
Porn-Fiends Opt In
One parishioner told how he tried to access the church’s Website on his O2 Mobile broadband, but was unable to do so as he was told it contained “18-plus content”. The customer then described his experience with the unhelpful O2 customer service.
“When I contacted O2, my first email was rejected due to having ‘insufficient information’,” he said.” I finally managed to find a contact form which worked, and they told me that I could ‘solve the problem’ by having my mobile enabled for 18-plus content.”
“I told them that this was definitely not what I wanted, and refused to go through their age verification procedure,” he added. “Fixing the censorship for me alone is not a proper fix.”
The Open Rights Group has echoed these sentiments and said it believed that innocent Websites should not be blocked by default and that there should be a way of removing site from automatically generated lists.
“Just as importantly, people should provide their consent before having their Internet censored. They should be told what it means,” it said. “And a customer should not be forced to label themselves a “porn-fiend” in order to remove censorship.”
“It’s Christmas – we expect to hear a lot from churches across the UK,” added the organisation’s director Jim Killock. “But it seems, if church Websites even refer to sex, they are likely to be banned by automated blocks, for every child in the UK, and any adult who doesn’t wish to explain to their mobile operator that they might want to access ‘adult content’.”
The case highlights the negative aspects of Web censorship, which could be exacerbated if some politicians have their way.
Tory backbencher Claire Perry has proposed filters which would require internet users to opt-in to be able to access pornography, while the Minister of Communication, Culture and the Creative Industries, Ed Vaizey, has supported calls for age-ratings on Web content.
In July, the high court ordered BT to block Newzbin2, a file sharing Website which featured links to movies, music and games, while in November the Motion Picture Association (MPA) asked Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media to deny their users access to the site.