Cell Companies Push Self-Regulation

Matt O'Conner
CANNES, France – While revenue from mobile adult content in overseas markets continues to rise, many wireless service providers, fearing a backlash of heavy-handed government regulation, are voluntarily adopting stronger measures to restrict access to adult content on their networks.

Speaking yesterday at the 3GSM World Congress on the French Riviera, Al Russell, head of content services for Vodafone UK, said, “We’ve learned from fixed-line [Internet] that if you leave it too late, the genie gets out of the bottle.”

A group of European cellular companies recently formed an independent body to classify content as being appropriate only for those over 18 years old, and two of the carriers, Parent Vodafone Group and Orange UK, have already implemented filtering and age-verification processes.

Now Vodafone is urging partners and rivals to follow suit, warning that government and consumer groups could crack down on carriers if they don’t take it upon themselves to protect children from explicit material.

Tina Southall, Vodaphone’s head of content standards, pointed to the examples of Germany, which recently adopted statutory rules restricting mobile porn, and Australia, which is considering legislation that would ban certain types of content.

“In Spain and Italy, there’s some pretty explicit content without any form of age verification,” Southall said. “Given what’s happening in other markets, I don’t think that’s a suitable position.”

But any attempt to label and filter content will surely be complicated by civil liberties issues and cultural differences.

In the same hall where Vodaphone executives made their comments, French company 1633 Publishing was proudly displaying its licensed Playboy content and Italy’s Princess Productions was showing off its hardcore screensavers and videos.

“We also have wallpapers and some spicy cartoons, even for younger people,” said Andreas Adami of Princess Productions. “Last year, mobile sales accounted for about 20 percent of our revenue. This year, it will probably be 60 percent.”

While European carriers struggle to find consensus on the issue of offering adult content, U.S. companies seem to have decided long ago that potential profits weren’t worth the potential trouble. None of the nation’s three largest carriers, Cingular, Verizon or Sprint, currently offer sex-related material.

“We’re not going to offer adult content,” Mark Siegel, a spokesperson for Cingular, said in a prepared statement earlier this year. “That is not compatible for our brand.”