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December 24, 2013 | Jim Killock

O2 pulls blocked URL checker as wave of new customers activate their phones

Following complaints, media attention and misunderstandings surrounding O2's URL checker and categories, O2 have switched it off, with no timescale for reinstatement.


While O2 are the only company providing any transparency with their checker, this is a bad move. People need to see how the filters work, and the checker helps them do this. Christmas is a time when huge numbers of people set new phones up.

Of course people will suspect that the checker has been “closed for maintenance” because it is producing complaints. People are concerned that websites from Childline, the NSPCC, the Police and many others are deemed unsuitable for under 12s. (Childline should now be available following complaints.)

Pink News reports that: “O2 has labeled Stonewall, BBC News, the Conservative Party and the Number 10 Downing Street website as unsuitable or uninteresting to under 12s.” O2 provided them with a list of types of sites likely to be allowed, but still refuse to provide a list of actual sites allowed. 

What this emphasises is that transparency needs to be of right, and not something that can be withdrawn for commercial or public relations purposes. Websites need to identify that they are blocked, or not. Complaints should not only be dealt with because of Twitter campaigns.

If you want to help, we have a project to make filtering and blocking transparent. This isn't to "improve" inherently flawed filters, but simply to make it clear what is happening. Transparency should help people limit their reliance on filters. It helps us document the harm and argue that filters are not a 'good' in themselves but have significant downsides.

Our first aim is to make sure that any website can check their status on any UK network. Can you help? Donations, joins and practical help are much appreciated!

[Edit note: for avoidance of doubt, O2's under 12 Parental Controls are “opt in” and provide a restrictive whitelist of sites deemed to be aimed at children. The “default safety” setting is opt-out and restricts access to a selection of sites thought to be unsuitable for under 18s]

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Comments (3)

  1. Sabine Engelhardt:
    Dec 25, 2013 at 02:01 PM

    To me it seems that the U12 filter is a whitelist. Two days ago I had checked a bunch of domains, partly my own, and blogs of mine or which I'm administering, and all of them were blocked in the U12 section. I also tried (German) news sites – all blocked for U12. So I think they are checking sites manually and then put them on the whitelist – or not.

    What I would like to know is whether O2 customers get the filter first and then have to prove they're 18 or older to get that U12 filter removed, or whether they can opt-in to the filters. Can you tell me?

    Greetings from Germany, Sabine

  2. Jim Killock:
    Dec 25, 2013 at 04:15 PM

    @Sabine Yes, the u12 filter is a whitelist, quite restricted at that, to sites aimed at younger children. The u12 filter is opt in, the “default safety” setting however is opt out and you have to prove your age by submitting credit card details or talking a passport or driving licence to an O2 shop.



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