Why is O2 blocking websites on your phone?

3 March 2011

If you've tried browsing on your mobile in the past day, you may have encountered a problem; O2 has started blocking specific websites in mobile browsers. We've now seen three different examples customers on two different service providers, which no doubt means it's an issue affecting many more.

Avid Bitterwallet Dave has been in touch to ask exactly what O2 are playing at. He's a customer of O2, and more importantly he's an adult. Yesterday, however, Dave found he couldn't access Jalopnik, a Gawker-owned site about... cars. Instead, O2 has blocked the site and requires Dave to verify his age through themselves or a third party company:

Bitterwallet - O2 3G restricted site

According to their account on Twitter, O2 have started blocking a long list of websites and are demanding age verification, seemingly without any warning to the customer. From their Twitter updates:

This is solely to ensure that children are protected from inappropriate content when using the internet on their phones. That's why we require customers to prove they are over 18 before they can use these sites.

That's all very noble, but O2 have seemingly introduced the policy without talking to their customers. More importantly, O2 seems to be blocking sites that couldn't realistically be deemed inappropriate, meaning the action they're taking is ineffective anyway.

Dave isn't the only one; Bitterwallet reader Paul reported his mobile browsing is now the subject of 'Content Control' by Vodafone, after attempting to visit The Whisky Exchange, a legitimate site for purchasing... well, whisky:

Bitterwallet - Vodafone restrict website access

According to Vodafone's website, "Vodafone uses Content Control as we wish to protect minors from accessing inappropriate content and services that may be available over the Vodafone networks." But Vodafone doesn't even classify alcohol-related sites as requiring Content Control, and besides that's missing the point. Paul doesn't have children, has never registered for Content Control, and Vodafone has his date of birth and countless other details besides.

One way round is to use a browser like Opera, but again that's not the issue; why are ISPs deliberately restricting accounts in this way? As Paul points out, if an ISP like BT did it customers would be furious.

O2 are pointing the finger of blame at the IMCB, but all this activity has only kicked off in the past day. Have you had any issues with your service provider today? Let us know.

54 comments

  • Phil76
    Given that you have to be over 18 to enter into a phone contract, I would have thought this age verification has been done for a large chunk of customers already. I've hit this problem with O2, but the number of sites I visit that are effected is so small I've ignored it.
  • Adds
    Google translate is restricted on O2. They want me to provide my credit card details! Really? You credit checked me for my phone and gave me a 24 month contract. Still think I'm 17?
  • Steve
    3 are doing exactly the same
  • Idris
    I understand they charge your account £1 everytime you do this credit card check?
  • Idris
    I understand they charge your account £1 everytime you do this credit card check... Theyll refund you £2.50 the first time, every other time means that they will charge you again. Right?
  • inactionman
    When I recently transferred to 3, I found the same thing. They wanted me to verify my age through credit card details. I looked and this would be using done over the internet with no encryption (in violation of the credit card industry rules), so I phoned the up and (eventually) got put through to someone who could remove it for me. I'd much rather their was an opt-in for this kind of thing, as other posters have mentioned they know I'm over 18.
  • DP
    They're basically paying you £1.50. Once verified it won't have to be done again. So you'll be able to look at all your pictures of foxes once again.
  • Zleet
    Unless this somehow filtered internet over wifi it's completely pointless. I would guess little Timmy surfing for grot would be doing it in privacy at home so would no doubt use wireless as I don't think he'd want to start tugging it on the bus to school. Does nothing but make things awkward for adults, same 'won't somebody think of the children' brigade who try to get the world censored because they can't control their own kids.
  • JT
    I called O2 as this was affecting me this morning. They told me it was affecting the whole of O2 and they removed the block without having to pay anything. Seems a less dodgy way than paying a website to validate you.
  • martinhb
    GiffGaff do the same thing. To unblock it you have to e-mail them with your date of birth and wait a week before you can access anything they deem as being an over 18 site. Was annoying initially but now the block is off not an issue. Would I input my credit card details just to access a site. No way!
  • maxtweenie
    T-Mobile have been doing this for at least a year, when I got my Desire. The difference is that you can log in to your account online and change the settings yourself.
  • tappy
    I use Opera on my HTC HD2 and I still get the age verification message.
  • keveh
    People have been reporting this is happening on my forum, which is about Bolton Wanderers. Strange. I'm guessing inappropriate language must be involved in the logic somewhere.
  • The B.
    It's very rare that I defend Vodafone but last time I encountered over 18's blocking I simply entered my account on-line and turned it off, voila, porn... erm, I mean cars/whiskey browsing back to full capacity.
  • nonimaus
    @ The Real Bob I keep trying to turn off content control with Vodafone, but every time I try it online and get to the point where I've entered all my card details, I get an error telling me to try again later. It's got to the point where I've just given up on it; I've tried different times of the day on different days in different browsers but Vodafone really don't want me to get my hardcore whiskey fix when I'm on the go.
  • Jason
    I'm an O2 customer on iPhone 4, and I just tried to go to The Whiskey Exchange. When accessing via. Wireless, I didn't have a problem... BUT going through 3G I was blocked by the age verifier. So you can access all the inappropriate, seedy websites you like; so long as it's not through them. That'll protect those innocent kids....a typical "not in my backyard" scenario for O2.
  • klingelton
    orange aren't without blame. I just cba to unblock. it does seem silly when my cats' veterinary practice is blocked though.
  • Terry
    @klingelton - it's obvious - pussy and drugs :)
  • Dave
    It's not the point that we can access whiskey, cars and filth via wifi, it's the fact it cant be done on the 3G we're paying for - usually on a contract, which we need to be 18 to sign up for! Either way, I've pestered a (quite clearly non-English speaking) O2 rep online who assures me all will be back to normal within 48 hours. We'll see.
  • Mark C.
    Ironically the IMCB website is blocked at my work because the system thinks it's riddled with filth.
  • Fox B.
    I couldn't even get on megarotic this morning to smash one out over some foxes! O2 need to sort it out! It look like i'll have to use wireless from now on.
  • [email protected]
    DP is correct that you only need to verify your age once and you'll be able to access all websites. Customers can also age verify by calling 61018 from their mobile, or by going to https://ageverification.o2.co.uk/ via a computer. Customers can also take photo ID (passport, driving license) into an O2 retail store, where they can be age verified by our store staff.
  • Andy
    I had this issue last September trying to access a wine shop whilst in Canada. Needless to say the verification would not work (i wasn't going to pay anyway but was interested in finding out the process.)
  • Steve O.
    Vodafone have had this for at least 18 months when I took out my BUSINESS contract with them. (Have now left the cunts, thankfully.) I mean, how many under-18s have a business account? Despite links on the blocking page, I could never unblock online and had to call to do it. A few months later it got re-applied. Absolutely fucking ridiculous. So much more sensible for parents to ask to have it applied to their hideous offspring's account.
  • Alan
    O2 could and should have limited this to those who have opted in and those on PAYG contracts without a credit card attached. All other customers have already had their age verified and this just seems like a way of annoying customers for no valid reason that looks like a phishing scam
  • Businesses B.
    [...] seemingly blocking plenty of sites that aren’t sensitive in any way shape or form, such as car websites, while start-up company Lovefresh has seen its business decimated because O2 are blocking their app [...]
  • brian
    I just called O2 and they unblocked it over the phone. They did say it may take 48 hours to take effect though
  • JJ
    It doesnt appear to be affecting me but I am on a Blackberry and the internet goes through Blackberrys servers so that may be why.
  • Kim
    this has been going on with o2 for at least 4weeks possibly longer.
  • Glyn D.
    Just spoken to Customer Service @ O2 and demanded they sort out the issue on all the phones i have on contract with them. I suggested that although i was flattered that at 43 i needed their protection I was old enough and ugly enough to do it myself and didn't need them to either charge me for the privilage or have to waste my time and give them yet more copies of my photo ID etc. Lets just say they have resolved this without any cost to me apart from a 2 minute free phone call.
  • John
    I am also trying to browse Whisky & Cars on my O2 iPhone with no luck. When I phoned O2 to remove this block they said since the phone is under my mrs name (it was a gift) I will either have to do it online via credit card or ask my wife to call back. I don't want to give my card details online due to security issues and I don't want my mrs finding out I watch Internet Whisky & Cars either. So my question is is giving the card details online safe?
  • Super T.
    This is pathetic I'm 24 yrs old I don't own a credit card so I can't unblock it so basically I got a credit card to have full potential of a £75 a month contract what a load bs
  • ajs
    The £1 charge is made to Bango, who are also an analytics and marketing company. Basically O2 pay you £2.50 for giving money to Bango so they can collect your personal data for use in targeted advertising. Thanks for that, o2.
  • Pissed c.
    I have been with O2 for 4 years and I'm on pay as u go and top up with my credit card can they just check my fucking age on that I want my porn! Oh I mean my car sites
  • RB
    Download Opera Mini Browser Free from the app store and save yourself £1 and you can view all the porn and car sites you want without O2 interfering.
  • NORMAN B.
    I stopped getting all free porn a few days ago on 3G. It just so happens my contract ran out the other day and I am now with Vodafone but still cannot get any free porn. I have no parental control on my computer. Have I missed something or is someone not telling me something ?
  • suzanne
    can't download music because it keep's come'n up that i have 2 get intouch with 02 or pay a £1 get'en fed up with this am 47 year's old
  • Asia
    I am actually not on a uk network and i started getting these messages on my iphone when using Safari, except it isnt asking to charge me just telling me that the content has been blocked. I used the same simcard on a Nokia and the website went through so i know it is not my network provider. Can Safari/apple do this without my consent? The message quotes "your network has blocked this site for....." and it reads "blocked/opendns...." as the site address. I am quite confused
  • bee
    its not about verifying your age.... its BIG BROTHER wanting to identify people.... lets face it .... you can walk into a corner shop and buy a sim card paying with cash and you can buy a top up using cash and you can buy a mobile phone using cash....... all of these cash transactions are namesless faceless people that they cant keep an eye on.Restrict your browsing ...under a false pretence about proving your age with a credit card and BINGO GOTCHA.... so if you download any films illegally or buy anything that they would deem you a terrorist for Example " a Banana" ......[ you may laugh but lets face it...an old granny or even a baby gets frisked/searched these days] Then they will know who you are. I walked into a 3 store and im 45 and i had a £1 cash .... the shop assistant could verify i was over 18 but that was not good enough for the people at three. Think im wrong here..... well please enlighten me :o)
  • smurf
    to be honest im with 02 and im on a pay and go sim im 16 and top up with cash, 02 want to block me too bad there fucking idiots because i have opera (yes people to watch porn!) all i can say is they waste everyonrs time and should have the desency to let parents have an 'opt in' sevice
  • tay
    All Porn sites block
  • tay
    I hatte porn it is so gross
  • cramer
    I payed the charge of 1.50 but the dickbags at o2 have just blocked them in a diffrent way. Im redirected to the o2 websiite
  • Paddy
    I want to be able to go on my porn sites cough cough I mean "car" site WITHOUT having to ring O2 ffs!
  • paddymeboy
    yeah!
  • top b.
    how the fuck do you bypass it??
  • o2
    I love porn we all love porn I bet even the o2 head guy fucking watches it on his phone
  • piano c.
    Does anyone know how much can a violin lesson may cost? My daughter is a violinist and intends study in the UK and to teach children which may help her financially. She's graduated from a music school and getting her secondary music education. Will be grateful for any hints.. )i(I'm a good drummer but have never given drum lessons. His first lesson is tomorrow and I don't know what to teach him. He has taken lessons before but is still a beginner. he struggles with both tempo and the ability to play solid beats..
  • Peter B.
    I think that is stupid to verify your age i have an xbox and i use to find solutions to games i am stuck on and i when i find the page i need me to verify my age i am 31 i don't need to verify my age i never received a phone call from O2 about this matter
  • Brian
    I dont need to say anything as its all a here being said! WiFi = uncensored access Service Provider = legal cover Why is WiFi untouchable? Im 33 & childless
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  • infamous
    This is outrageous! I can't barely view any photography or life drawing cause it's too underaged for children.. I'm 21 years old.. They have no right to put a censor wide ban on my phone. This crap about protecting children is laughable.. It's the parents job to put parental control.. What's next? Full censor on laptops and pcs and you must pay £2 credit card to get it unlocked.. What is this Japan? Why don't you just burn anything that effects children.. Like that will stop them..

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