Few opportunities in the mobile sector are so fraught with risks. Yes, it’s a large and growing source of revenue; but the possibility of under-age access makes it a real minefield. Nigel Hawthorn thinks it’s time for some serious thinking.

There are several reasons why the debate about mobile adult content must be brought out into the open.
Over the years, operators and industry commentators have attempted to mine some obscure commercial veins in pursuit of a convincing business case for increasing non-phone call services. Yet adult entertainment is clearly a far from obscure proposition. Fixed Internet experience indicates that it could be placed amongst the top m-commerce contenders.
However, adult content comes with more than its fair share of baggage. Most operators want a piece of the action, while at the same time regarding such offerings as a PR minefield.
The importance of adult entertainment to the mobile industry cannot be overlooked. It is essential that mobile content drives data consumption over mobile devices, and adult content is now viewed by many industry leaders as part of that drive. It is one of the few entertainment sectors to withstand economic pressures and move with technological advances without witnessing a decline in revenues.
The analyst group Visiongain believe adult content over mobile will generate over £2 billion per year by 2006. This is in the context of a current total annual spend in the adult market of around £45 billion.
The potential for revenue growth cannot and will not escape the attention of operators and content providers. But these opportunities bring with them something of a moral dilemma that must be addressed if the sector is to polish its image and show that it is capable of bearing certain social responsibilities.
The challenge for operators and providers lies in restricting the ability of minors to view adult mobile content.
This is not only due to well-intentioned government regulation but also the potential for damaged brand image – perhaps in the event of a media organisation exposing the use of adult services by underage mobile users.
"These opportunities bring with them a moral dilemma that must be addressed if the sector is to show that it is capable of
bearing social responsibilities"
Regulation aside, the appearance of porn in the playground is an immediate danger that must be prevented from becoming an everyday reality.
Differing cultural norms also make the job difficult. Where an agreement cannot be reached in order to harmonise these across national borders, allowances must be made for the differing legal conditions. US online gambling laws provide a strong example of contrasting national or regional attitudes towards adult content and who is entitled to view it.
Thankfully, unfettered access to the Internet via mobile phones is not a right. This means that technologies can be deployed to enable growth in revenue while at the same time keeping the network safe and productive.

The first action of providers who want to take this path is to ensure that customer terms do not offer completely open access to the Internet, and that the provider is clearly within rights to allow and disallow content and applications.
The provider then needs to ensure customer details (date of birth, customer type) of the handset owner are available to the network so that decisions on content can be made.
Systems are available that make possible the implementation of policies across an entire network – including the blocking of VoIP applications – and correlate with a customer database in order to restrict access based on the age of the customer, country of residence, the country the handset was in at the time the request for access was made, and a range of other parameters.
Once these technologies have been installed to validate and control access, the provider can then offer premium rate services to individual users. Implementing this type of equipment can not only keep customers free of undesirable content, but can also be used to generate additional revenue.
Due to the large number of possible users, service providers cannot manage each individual user profile. These systems must allow users to self-select their options via a web front-end.
Operators in the UK are among those leading the way in taking the first steps towards collective self-regulation. In January 2004, Orange, O2, T-Mobile, Virgin Mobile, Vodafone and 3 all signed up to a code of practice designed to ensure that adult content stays out of the hands of children.
The code came into force in the fourth quarter of 2004 and an independent content board was charged with developing guidelines to determine what should be classified as suitable for over-18s.
Mobile adult content issues are now commanding the attention of national governments and regulators.
The good news is that the wireless industry is finally beginning to confront these issues and may just be able to do enough to stave off potentially draconian legislation.

Nigel Hawthorn is VP of Blue Coat Systems, provider of intelligent appliances and associated software that give organisations the ability to control security and performance for users and applications.  
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