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What this emphasises is that transparency needs to be of right, and not something that can be withdrawn for commercial or public relations purposes.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.
[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]