UK gov't concerned about BlackBerry porn

The regulator says parents of Blackberry owners should be able to block access to porn

Techworld –

BlackBerry maker Research in Motion (RIM) was summoned to a meeting with the UK communications regulator Ofcom yesterday, after it emerged that children are able to view pornography on its smartphones.

According to a report in The Telegraph, the problem is to do with the way the BlackBerry operating system works. While mobile operators have been able to apply adult filters to other handsets such as the iPhone and Android devices, they have been unable to do so on the BlackBerry, because data flows through RIM's own servers rather than those provided by the networks.

Ofcom told the newspaper that it is "very concerned" about the issue, and is keen to get it resolved "as quickly as possible". As well as Ofcom and RIM, the meeting was attended by all the UK mobile operators and the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF). A second meeting has been scheduled for the New Year to check on progress.

Once seen as a tool for business executives, the BlackBerry has become a popular choice among teenagers, thanks to its free BBM instant messaging service. A significant proportion of its eight million users in Britain are now believed to be under 18.

In a statement emailed to Techworld, RIM said that it is committed to child protection and an is active member of the IWF. The company offers its own content filtering solution to operators free of charge, enabling them to perform content filtering for BlackBerry smartphones. T-Mobile has been using this solution since 2006, when the operator first started selling the Blackberry in the UK.

"Operator partners around the world have implemented content filtering, including operator partners in the UK," said a RIM spokesperson. "Any reference to content filtering having been turned off is inaccurate."

However, an Ofcom spokesperson explained to Techworld that, although RIM has succeeded in blocking access to those URLs flagged up by the IWF, it does not currently prevent access to adult content by default.

RIM explained it is now working on new parental control features that will give parents the ability to control and restrict their children's use of various services and applications on BlackBerry smartphones. Integrated parental control features will be provided in future versions of BlackBerry 7, and BlackBerry App World 3.1 also offers content rating and filtering options for applications based on the CTIA Wireless Association's "Guidelines for App Content Classification and Ratings".

Ironically, RIM's decision to route BlackBerry data through its own enterprise servers has been one of its greatest selling points. The information is encrypted in transit so it is extremely difficult to steal - making it an attractive options for enterprise users who send and receive confidential information on their smartphones.

For some governments, indeed, Blackberrys are too secure. In August 2010 the United Arab Emirates announced it was planning to block RIM's BlackBerry handsets from sending emails, accessing the Internet, and delivering instant messages, and Saudi Arabia also said it would prevent the use of the BBM.

Other countries, including India, Indonesia, Turkey, and Lebanon have also been negotiating with RIM over the same issue. These governments say the device could be a security risk because its instant messaging, email and SMS use a level of encryption that prevents the security services from monitoring users.

During the riots in London earlier this year, for example, BBM was used widely to organise protests and avoid police, prompting Tottenham MP David Lammy to demand that RIM suspend its instant messaging service to keep protesters from communicating.

Despite all this, however, RIM is struggling to keep up in the smartphone race. In November the company was forced to pay a $365 million (£233m) charge for unsold PlayBook tablets, and yesterday it announced that the launch of its QNX smartphones would be delayed until the latter half of 2012, rather than being out by March.

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