How to complain about mobile filtering over-blocking
The BBFC is now involved in how mobile internet filtering works. In this post we [the Open Rights Group] explain what role they have and how you should be able to get over-blocking problems fixed.
Over Christmas there was an awful lot of understandable concern about mobile filters, especially the Parental Control filters provided as an optional service by O2. We wrote about this at the time, but for now it's worth repeating that one
of the biggest lessons was that mobile networks don't do a good enough job of explaining how their filters work, why and how they make decisions about what gets filtered, and how people can complain.
I thought it would be helpful to explain what role the BBFC now has, and explain how the process for complaints about over-blocking (or under-blocking) is supposed to work.
The BBFC's role involves three things:
Setting a framework that describes what should be considered adult content for the purposes of mobile phone filtering. They have defined a set of categories and explained what content will be considered blockable.
They offer advice to the mobile networks when they are setting their filters.
They run an appeals process, which is designed to resolve disputes about over- or under-blocking.
The BBFC do not classify individual sites for mobile networks or run a first-stage complaints process. And they aren't responsible for the decisions that mobile networks make about implementing the framework. It's also important to point out that
their framework and complaints procedure only applies to networks' under 18 filters - their default safety level - and not to other services provided for different age groups. For example, they do not regulate O2's Parental Controls, which is an
optional service designed for those under 12.
How you can complain about overblocking
You should be able to complain direct to the relevant mobile operator. The BBFC have helpfully provided email addresses for each mobile network, which is where you should direct complaints about overblocking or underblocking in the first
instance. This contact information should also be on the mobile operators' websites. In some cases it isn't, however. For example, at the moment, O2 point people at their Twitter account or forum. As we saw over Christmas, those are not helpful
If you do not get a satisfactory resolution from the mobile network, you can then appeal to the BBFC. Details about how to do this are on the BBFC website . BBFC have committed to resolving the complaints they receive in five working days.
What will happen after a complaint?
If the BBFC agree that a site should not be blocked by under 18 filters, in the case of over blocking, then they will inform the mobile network, who should then remove the site from their block list. The BBFC told us that in the cases they have
handled so far, the networks have responded fairly quickly to these notifications.
The same applies for under blocking - i.e. if the BBFC decide a site should be blocked, they will inform the network and it should be added to the block list.
Things are slightly complicated with overblocking because at the moment, mobile networks are allowed to block more categories than the BBFC have set out.
So even if the BBFC decide that a site should not be blocked against the BBFC criteria for over 18 content, the mobile networks might decide that the site should still be blocked because it falls under their additional categories.
For instance, we believe most networks block information about circumvention technology, which might help people learn how to get round blocking, even though such information is not considered blockable by the BBFC. Networks also used to
block content related to tobacco or alcohol, but the BBFC framework specifically excludes sites that supply age restricted goods or services such as tobacco or alcohol. We are not currently sure if any of the networks continue to block alcohol
That may lead to a fair amount of confusion if the BBFC decide something should not be blocked but the mobile network decides it still fits one of their additional categories. This is made more tricky for consumers or website operators because
the mobile networks don't publish what categories they block, so it's impossible currently for someone to know in advance of any complaint.
Mobile networks need to be more transparent, consistent, clear and responsive
The BBFC site and process is a vast improvement on the previous code - it's clearer, more considered, and there's an added appeals process. They are taking the work seriously.
However, the issues with mobile networks' own implementation have not gone away. The BBFC's transparency, clarity and responsiveness cannot be a replacement for mobile networks' own information or process, because these networks will be
customers' or website owners' first port of call when they are looking for information or trying to complain.
It is still hard to get clear information from networks about what they block and why - for instance what categories they filter - and it is still hard to get information about their own complaints procedure. For example, O2 point people at their
Twitter account and forums, which to date have not been helpful. Three still link to the Mobile Broadband Group code of practice, rather than the BBFC. And Everything Everywhere used to provide a list of categories filtered by their two filtering
levels, but that link no longer works.
Families should be in a position to make informed choices about what their children can access via mobile phones. At the moment, it's not really possible for a parent to get a clear idea about what a mobile networks' default safety filters do and
It also should be possible for someone who runs a website that is blocked by a mobile network for no good reason to get that problem fixed quickly. They should be able to find out easily if their site is blocked on different networks. Again, at
the moment that process is not clear enough and happens too slowly.
It shouldn't be too difficult to fix these problems - it's more a question of whether mobile networks consider it important enough to spend time and resources really addressing it.
Public concerns seem lifted straight from feminist PC campaign literature. These are then presented as a series of 'factors' that predictably only the BBFC can arbitrate on. The rules are supposed to let websites and ISPs decide for themselves
Research carried out on behalf of the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) confirms public demand for putting certain types of glamour imagery behind adult filters on mobile devices.
The BBFC has been the provider of the Mobile Classification Framework used by Mobile Network Operators in the UK to calibrate their filters since September 2013. This Classification Framework, along with the policies that underpin it, is
consistent with the standards used to classify film and videos.
Very broad patterns about the kinds of images that were thought to be unacceptable for those under 18 are highlighted in the research . An overwhelming majority of participants indicated that images containing sexualised full frontal nudity, sex
acts, or explicit sexual poses were unacceptable. Conversely, images deemed acceptable by the majority of participants tended to depict models who were wearing more clothes, or less explicitly sexualised poses.
Participants in the research showed concern for protecting children aged nine to 13 years old, because they were considered to be the most impressionable. The lack of context for glamour images is also perceived as problematic, in addition to the
nature of viewing content on devices, where parental oversight is less likely and sharing capabilities amongst peers is easy to achieve.
David Austin, Assistant Director, BBFC, said:
The public has given a clear indication of what sort of glamour imagery they would like to see restricted to adults only. We have responded to the research by publishing a policy response which we will apply when considering glamour content
under the BBFC's Classification Framework for mobile content.
Hamish MacLeod, chair of the Mobile Broadband Group, commented:
Mobile operators in the UK have been placing adult content behind access controls since 2005, in accordance with established, independent standards. The BBFC's latest research provides robust and up-to-date evidence to ensure that the standards
used will remain consistent with other media and will continue to meet public expectations
The research reflects wider attitudes around protecting children from inappropriate sexual imagery highlighted in, for example, the independent 2011 Bailey review Letting Children be Children.
The BBFC Mobile Classification Framework, adopted by the UK's four Mobile Network Operators in September 2013, defines content that is unsuitable for customers under the age of 18 and is based on the BBFC's published Classification Guidelines,
which are updated every 4/5 years and based on large scale public opinion research. The last review of the BBFC Classification Guidelines, in 2013, involved more than 10,000 members of the public from across the UK.
The BBFC's policy response to the research (outlined below) covers situations where the BBFC is considering where to draw the line in relation to the classification of glamour content at the adult category or below the adult category, delivered
via mobile networks. The policy takes into account that the content generally features little or no context. The BBFC's consideration is relevant to whether that content sits behind or in front of adult filters operated by the UK's Mobile Network
About the research 'Filtering Glamour Content on Mobile Devices for Under 18 year olds'
The research was carried out by Ipsos MORI on behalf of the BBFC. The methodology of the research comprises an online quantitative survey plus qualitative focus group based research.
The online quantitative survey showed 1,000 participants 30 images and four short video clips. Quotas were in place to ensure participants were a representative spread across Great Britain and includied those with children in their household; 25%
with children at home and 75% without children at home, to reflect the proportion of households in the UK with children under the age of 16 years. The participants were asked whether each should be placed behind an age filter so only 18+ year
olds could access it on mobile devices.
The second qualitative stage of the research comprised of eight single gender mini focus groups in four locations across Great Britain, plus a trio interview. The qualitative stage recruited a mixture of ethnicities, ages, demographics and
lifestages (e.g parents with children at home, non-parents, parents with children who have left home). The focus groups took place in London, Portsmouth, Leeds and Edinburgh.
PUBLIC ACCEPTABILITY OF GLAMOUR IMAGES ON MOBILE DEVICES:
THE BBFC'S POLICY RESPONSE
Research carried out on behalf of the BBFC in 2014 demonstrates that members of the public are concerned by children and young people accessing certain "glamour" content which, in their view, is inappropriate and even has the potential
to cause harm. The public was concerned in particular by glamour content, both still images and videos, that features a sexual invitation and/or an intention to sexually arouse the viewer. The public argued that the sexual invitation may consist
of either one strong sexual element or a mixture of less individually salient elements that combine to make a sexual invitation.
There is support for the use of adult filters to prevent, as far as possible, those under 18 accessing such content.
Some members of the public participating in this research noted the specific nature of viewing content on a mobile device. They considered that the nature of these devices enables children and young people to evade parental oversight, to
decontextualise images and to share them among peer groups. These issues are more problematic in glamour content than other genres, as there is no context or narrative provided for the viewer. Respondents therefore urged the BBFC to take into
account the particular nature of viewing glamour content on mobile devices.
B. The response of the BBFC
The response outlined below covers situations where the BBFC is considering where to draw the line in relation to the classification, delivered via mobile networks, of glamour content at the adult category or below the adult category. This
content generally features little or no context. The BBFC's consideration is relevant to calibrating the filters used by the UK's Mobile Network Operators to restrict access to internet content.
The response does not cover the classification of sex, sex references and nudity in other contexts (for example narrative or documentary films) which may involve richly contextualised material.
The BBFC is unlikely to classify below 18 glamour content, both still images and video, featuring:
A sexual invitation
An intention to sexually arouse the viewer
The following content is unlikely to be acceptable for under 18 year olds to view on a mobile device in a glamour context:
Full frontal nudity in a sexualised manner, or exposure of the genitals
Sexual poses that imply readiness for sex or draw attention to sex organs whether exposed or not, (for example a woman bending over and/or spreading her legs) which heighten the sexual invitation or the arousing nature of an image
Unambiguous sexual fetish themes in an obvious or sustained manner
Beyond these elements, the public remains concerned by the cumulative impact of layering of sexual elements that it wants the BBFC to take into consideration alongside other factors. These include images that:
Play to male fantasies, such as 'girl on girl'
Objectify women and which are primarily about sexual arousal for the viewer, evoking ideas about female exploitation and inequality
Convey an obvious sexual invitation, such as 'come hither', sultry and sexual facial expressions
Feature non explicit but clearly sexual poses
Link sex and with other adult themes, such as drinking or gambling
The BBFC will take account of these factors in considering the classification of glamour material featuring such content.
The BBFC has just published a very short list of adjudications responding to website blocking complaints to mobile ISPs during the last quarter of 2018.
There are several cases where innocuous websites were erroneously blocked by ISPs for no apparent reason whatsoever and a quick check by a staff member would have sorted out without the need to waste the BBFC's time. These sites should get
compensation from the for grossly negligent and unfair blocking.
The only adjudication of note was that the general archive website archive.org which of course keeps a snapshot of a wide range of websites including some porn.
The BBFC noted that this was the second time that they have taken a look at the site::
The BBFC provided a further adjudication when we viewed the website on 10 October 2018. As in September 2015, we determined that the site was a digital archive which hosted a range of media including video, books and articles. We found a range
of pornography across the archive which featured explicit images of sexual activity, in both animated and non-animated contexts. The site also contained repeated uses of very strong language. Additionally, out of copyright film and video
material which the BBFC has passed 18 was also present on the site.
As such, we concluded that we would continue to classify the site 18.
It is interesting to note that the BBFC have never been asked to adjudicate about similarly broad websites where it would be totally untenable to come to the same 18 rated but correct conclusion, eg google.com, youtube.com, twitter.com. They
would all have to be 18 rated and it would cause untold trouble for everybody. I wonder who decides 'best not go there'?