On Friday afternoon, I clicked on a link on my mobile phone. Rather than being forwarded to the expected website I was instead surprised to find the site had been blocked. There was a warning, purportedly from my mobile services provider.
This website contains potentially offensive material, said the warning. You may only pass if you give us credit card details. To confirm your age, you know.
(I’m paraphrasing; the actual message had been parsed through multiple boards of lawyers and marketeers.)
My initial reaction was that my connection had been hijacked, and I had been redirected to a credit-card-number harvesting operation. I mean, if I ran a credit card harvesting operation, that’s exactly the sort of thing that I would write on my website. Besides which, I have viewed material that was in a similar category of “objectionable” on my phone before. And my phone company knows my birth date, hence my age. Why would they need my credit card number to confirm it?
Totally a scam.
But when I attempted to confirm that it was actually a scam, I was shocked that O2′s own support page describes exactly what happened:
To protect children and young people, some types of content are classified by the mobile industry as suitable only for people aged 18 or over. You will need to verify your age in order to gain access to such content.
If ‘Parental Control’ is activated on your mobile and you don’t want it anymore, you’ll need your PIN to remove it. If you don’t have the PIN that you set-up on activation, you’ll need to verify that you’re over 18. You can do this either via WAP/WEB, by visiting an O2 store or by contacting Customer Service using the ‘Email us’ or ‘Call us’ link below.
This is necessary to ensure that children and young people are only allowed to access WAP/WEB content, which is suitable for all ages.
To verify your age at an O2 store, you’ll require official documentation such as a passport or a photocard driving licence. To verify your age remotely, you’ll be asked to enter the following details:
Credit card details
We need to confirm that your card is valid and that you are who you say you are and, for this reason, £1 will be debited in order to process this. This can be paid for with a credit card that is registered to yourself. Once this transaction is complete we will reimburse you with £2.50 on your Pay Monthly account or to your Pay & Go credit.
I also confirmed that they do, in fact, know my date of birth. Assuming they can do basic maths, or own a computer, they can presumably make the determination that I am over 18.
While the possibility of a quick and easy £1.50 are obviously tantalizing to the average adult during these days of austerity, I am nevertheless aggrieved.
First, that somebody else is deciding what I can and cannot view through my own internet connection. Once my ISP starts saying “sorry, we do not want you visiting that website”, where does that end? Will negative reviews of the company be off limits? Can Bob’s Boot Boutique pay O2 money to place Buck’s Boot Bonanza on the block list?
And who is this person deciding that the page I was visiting contained material flagged as inappropriate? Is there something particularly grievous about visiting a comic about an owl? Is Dilbert blocked too?
Even should I be visiting pages about breasts and the women who expose them — such pages are also blocked, it’s not all about owls — the person making these calls does not share my values. Otherwise the restrictions would be limited pretty much to child pornography and photos of Yaks. Which, I suppose, would also include Yak Porn. Which is not blocked.
Second, having decided that only customers above a certain age are permitted to view these pages, O2 then completely ignores the birth date that they have had on file for the last three years, and instead ask me for credit card details. At this point, rather than being a service they provide (unasked) for parents, it instead becomes an extra chore for me … and I am apparently paying them to force me to do it.
Finally, the manner in which they set up this gateway makes it look like a scam. Much like banks that cold call you, then ask you for your confirming details (what’s your secret word?) before they will talk to you.
O2 possesses sufficient detail about me to debit money from my bank account and send me bills, and a good deal of other personal information about me besides. Things that I wouldn’t necessarily want to share with hackers or identity thieves. And they are training their customer base to see this sort of interaction — oh look, a webpage I didn’t intend to go to. They want my credit card details! — as something that is normal and OK.
Fuck that. Fuck them.
O2, you’re fired.
I have long hated that you took away my limitless 3G data plan, though I never really butted against the new cap. In principle, I will sooner-or-later really like some sort of bandwidth-heavy phone application, and you will have screwed me over.
But that was OK. I only have to give you a thirty-day warning that I am leaving.
Now you have piled on — censoring my connection, too? Encouraging your customers to play fast-and-loose with their credit card information online? Not realizing that you already have every pay monthly customer’s age on file?
It’s too much. I refuse to be your customer any longer.
Where to go?
With O2 out the door, the question becomes — who will I choose as my next provider?
Cost and coverage will play into the calculation, of course, and here at the Big Bad Blog, we are quite comfortable making these kinds of comparisons. But what we really want from our mobile phone company is decent customer service.
Things go wrong. We understand this. We want a phone company where you can call somebody about it; a person who will listen to your problem and has the authority to take corrective action.
Foreign readers may be unaware exactly how rare this is here in the UK. BT’s customer service will not listen to what you say, and claim that you that you need to pay a £175 fee because the phone you are calling them on is not connected to the grid. Sky’s customer service will listen and say “that sucks. We should fix it. But we can’t. I’ll get fired if I pass your complaint along to somebody who can actually fix a problem.” Orange’s customer service will listen, say “that’s awful, I’ll fix it for you,” and then not fix it.
But O2 is different — this is why I have been with O2 for so long. Each and every time I called customer service, I got an actual person. That person listened to my problem, and either fixed the problem while I waited or told me “I’ll take care of it. This will fixed by Tuesday.”*
But O2 cannot be the only ones with good customer service, and good customer service doesn’t matter if the service itself is disappointing. Your blogger has already been unimpressed by Orange, and has been told that Vodafone has similar issues with censorship. What mobile phone provider would you recommend? Why would you recommend them?
*Or some other day in the near future.