Mobile phones and age verification - your questions answered

As a business and as an industry, we believe protecting children using the web via their mobiles matters. We recently posted a parent’s perspective on the issue, which you can read here. People have asked us what it means for them. Here’s our quick run down.


Post in the comments if you have further questions, and we’ll do our best to answer them.

Q: What’s age verification?
A: To ensure that children are protected from inappropriate content when using the internet on their phones, we require customers to prove they are over 18 before they can use these sites. Access to 18+ rated websites is therefore blocked by default. Customers only have to age verify once.

Q: So what’s changing now?
A: Over the last few months we’ve been gradually migrating our customer base onto a new age verification platform. We’ve completed, which will ensure all our Pay & Go and Pay Monthly customers are protected by the age verification system.

Q: I’ve received a text from “O2”, or been blocked by an “O2” page. Is this a scam?
A: No, it’s legitimate.

Q: Why should O2 dictate which websites customers can use on their phones?
A: Like all UK operators and ISPs, O2 blocks access to illegal images of child abuse, as defined by the Internet Watch Foundation. Quite separately, we also have policies in place for content rated 18+. All the operators subscribe to a Code of Practice for the self-regulation of new forms of content on mobiles (which can be found here).

O2’s internet filter is aligned to the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) framework. Sites are automatically categorised and, if they are classified suitable for those aged 18 and over, they require age verification. The Internet is so vast this can only be done in an automated way.  Inevitably this means that some websites are mistakenly caught up in the block. Where that happens, we will of course listen to our customers and take action to unblock sites, where appropriate, as quickly as possible.

Q: Pay Monthly customers have to be over 18 to sign up for a contract. Why do you make them age verify again?
A: Yes, you have to be over 18 to sign a Pay Monthly contract with O2. However we know that many parents take out Pay Monthly contracts for their children, so it’s not safe to assume that all Pay Monthly phones are actually being used by adults on a day to day basis.

Q: Why does O2 block some sites that are suitable for under 18s?
A: The internet is huge, and no system is perfect. Occasionally we do accidentally block sites that should be available to anyone without proving their age. If you find an example of this please let us know, and we’ll do our best to unblock the site quickly. Drop us a message on Twitter (@O2) or through our O2 Community.

Q: Why does O2 prevent children accessing sites that offer anonymising services?

A: Along with the other UK mobile phone operators, we are committed to protecting children from access to ‘over 18’ rated websites on the internet.  Any website classified as an ‘anonymiser website’ cannot be accessed by unverified accounts because of the protection mechanism we have in place. This is because anonymiser websites bypass the 18+ site filters we have in place.  If a child were to use an anonymiser site, they could potentially access 18+ rated websites.  Anonymiser websites can be accessed once the device has been age-verified.

Q:  Do I have to age verify with O2 every time I want to go to a different 18+ site?
A:  No, you only need to age verify with O2 once.  But some websites may have their own age verification process; unfortunately you’ll still need to go through their process as well.

Q: Why do customers need a credit card to age verify with O2?
A: You don’t have to. You can also take photo ID (passport, driving license) into an O2 retail store, where they can be age verified by our store staff. But credit card is the most convenient method for most customers. Because you have to be over 18 to have a credit card, it’s fool proof in that respect. But we know that credit cards could be used fraudulently to age verify (for example a child “borrowing” their parent’s card). That’s why we take a £1 charge from the credit card, so that a message appears on the cardholder’s statement confirming the transaction has taken place – and providing a feedback mechanism.

Q: Why do you charge the customer £1 to age verify? Is this just to make money for O2?
A: By making a charge on the credit card, it ensures the transaction appears on the card holder’s statement. This would alert them to any fraudulent usage. However we do credit the customer with £1 back onto their mobile bill, so O2 won’t make any money as a result of this charge.

Q:  How long does it take to get my £1 credit?
A:  If you’re a Pay Monthly customer the credit should appear on your next O2 bill.  If you’re a Pay & Go customer then it could take up to two weeks to credit your balance.

Q: What if I don’t want to put my credit card details into your age verification mobile website?
A: You can also age verify by calling 61018 from your mobile, or by going to https://ageverification.o2.co.uk/ on your computer. You’ll still need your credit card.

Q:  What if a customer doesn’t have a credit card?
A: Customers can also take photo ID (passport, driving license) into an O2 retail store, where they can be age verified by our store staff. Once they’ve done this it may take up to 48 hours for the customer’s access to be “unblocked” (in reality it should be done a lot quicker, but 48 hours is the stated service level). The customer will receive a text to confirm when their access is unblocked.

Q: Who are Eckoh, why does O2 use them for their age verification system?
A: Eckoh (see www.eckoh.com) host and operate the WAP mobile, web and IVR interface for O2’s age verification system. They’re experts in this space, with many years of experience working with both mobile operators and content providers worldwide. Eckoh has provided components of O2’s age verification and parental controls systems for over 5 years. To Age Verify go to https://ageverification.o2.co.uk (web), or call 61018 (IVR). The WAP age verification service is only accessed if you are blocked when trying to get to 18+ websites on your mobile. (Updated 28 October 2013)

Q: What else are you doing to protect children?
A: We have a “Parental Controls” setting, which restricts mobile access to a limited number of websites approved for younger children. Parents can easily choose to restrict their children’s mobile access by calling 61818 for free. O2 is the only UK mobile operator to offer parents this kind of “parental controls” protection for their children. See www.o2.co.uk/parents for more on how we’re helping to protect children.

Q: What if a customer doesn’t have a credit card?
A: Customers can also take photo ID (passport, driving license) into an O2 retail store, where they can be age verified by our store staff. Once they’ve done this it may take up to 48 hours for the customer’s access to be “unblocked” (in reality it should be done a lot quicker, but 48 hours is the stated service level). The customer will receive a text to confirm when their access is unblocked.

Q: What do the other UK mobile operators do in this area?
A: All the other UK operators also run content filtering and age verification on their mobile networks, based on the BBFC guidelines. As mentioned above, it’s an industry regulation that’s been agreed by all the main UK networks.

Q: What is the experience customers will see?
A: If a customer tries to access an 18+ site, and they have not age verified, they will see this page:

AV1

1)    Mobile web experience:  

If you click “Continue” at the bottom of the page, then you’ll be taken through two pages to enter their credit card details.

Age Verification

Age Verification

Finally they’ll see a page confirming they’ve been successfully age verified and you’ll receive a text message.

Age Verification

2) IVR experience

If the customer clicks on “61018” on the first page, then their phone will call our age verification IVR (credit card still required). Note: some older mobile phones do not support this “click to call” functionality.

Of course the customer can choose to dial 61018 as normal from their phone; they don’t have to start from this page. It’s free either way.

3) More information

If the customer clicks “No Card?” on the first page then there are a couple of pages explaining the alternative option to age verify in an O2 retail store: