May I See Your Mobile Porn License, Please?
By Mike Masnick, Tue Dec 21 02:30:00 GMT 2004

Porn was supposed to lead the way for mobile operators to cash in on data. However, the ramifications of providing porn has many struggling to figure out a way to offer porn without being viewed as pornographers. If only the garden walls weren't so high.


Pornography is often seen as leading the way for new technologies. It was the original "killer app" for the video rental business, and has pushed forward and pioneered many internet offerings as well from payment processes online to streaming video. Still, however, many operators are continuing their love-hate affair with porn. They want it to drive user adoption and to boost data revenue, but don't want to be associated with the porn business at all.

Of course, a big part of this problem is self-inflicted. If the operators didn't control the gates so strictly, they wouldn't have this problem at all. These days, no one blames ISPs for the fact that there is porn on the Internet. They realize that the ISPs have nothing to do with it -- they are just providing the connection. However, with mobile operators acting as gatekeepers, they are caught in a tricky situation.

Down in Australia, operators are being told that they will soon need to block out mobile porn from anyone under the age of 19. In order to do this, users will need to present proof-of-age with a written request to access pornographic content. While there are still some who wonder whether or not there really is that much demand for mobile porn, this should be sure to kill off much of the remaining demand. How many people want to go through the process of applying for such a "porn license?"

A similar scheme was tried by Vodafone in the UK earlier this year, and it failed miserably. First, the mobile porn filter started blocking all sorts of legitimate content, including Sky News and some Blackberry email accounts. While this may give an "excuse" for people to apply for their porn license ("I just need to get my Blackberry mail, seriously...") it also shows just how troublesome the whole concept of filters really can be.

While the Internet certainly isn't perfect, it does represent an environment where there is a certain balance. The service providers aren't responsible for the content, but an entire industry has been built up around providing "safe surfing" features to those who want them. Parents have many options at their disposal to help children, from various tools to teaching them how to surf safely. This lets all of the various industries evolve as the market dictates, rather than putting the whole system on the gatekeepers to decide what the market wants and how to provide it, while trying to figure out the best way to avoid upsetting absolutely everyone at the same time.