December 21, 2011 | Jim Killock

O2 bans church for Christmas, claiming its website has “adult content”

For the last four months, and despite repeated complaints, O2 has blocked the website of a Sheffield church, claiming it features adult content.

Now it’s Christmas, the time when we expect churches to be exercising their freedom of religion and expression to bring their message to those of us who are perhaps a little more Scrooge-like.

But not if you’re an O2 customer, it seems. O2 have settled firmly on the Scrooge side of things, denying their customers not just access to this site, but also any semblance of decent customer service when dealing with this censorship. O2 customer and ORG Supporter Gervase Markham explains:

My wife and I just moved to Sheffield and joined a network of churches called The Crowded House. I used my O2 Mobile Broadband to try and access their website, but it told me it was “18+ content”! When I contacted O2, my first email was rejected due to having “insufficient information”. 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+ content! I told them that this was definitely not what I wanted, and refused to go through their age ‘verification’ procedure. Fixing the censorship for me alone is not a proper fix.

The next thing I knew, a text arrived on my phone saying “you can now access 18 rated content”. I had to explain to my wife quite why I was getting a text saying that. … To get them to reinstate the block, which they had removed without my permission, I had to call them. They told me they'd change it back, but then left me a message to say that they couldn't reinstate the block without my date of birth! I had to fight my way through their support menu system again to give it to them.

During the call, an O2 representative told me that he and his manager knew of no procedure for appealing against a block. He said that the block wasn't just for 18+ content, but it was also for things which might corrupt the morals of children. I asked him if he was describing my church's website in that way, which he hastily denied. He told me they unblocked people's phones all the time because they couldn't access perfectly innocent websites. I suggested that perhaps that this indicated that the system wasn't working very well.

ORG believes that innocent websites should not be censored by default, and clear mechanisms should exist to get innocent sites taken out of automatically generated censorship lists.

Just as importantly, people should provide their consent before having their Internet censored. They should be told what it means. And a customer should not be forced to label themselves a “porn-fiend” in order to remove censorship.

If you encounter examples of this default censorship disrupting people’s businesses, churches or free expression, please let us know. Report the block, via our mobile-friendly website, blocked.org.uk. Read more about what mobile companies should be doing here.