O2’s Childish Mistake On Age Verification

O2 logo

Say you’re waiting on a bus or a train. It’s dead time, so to ease the boredom you grab your smartphone to check the latest post on your favourite site – this one, of course. You get a nice strong 3G signal, and hit the bookmark.

Instead of that familiar, beautifully designed opening page, you get a warning from your mobile provider, telling you that the site you’re trying to reach is only suitable for over-18s, and that you need to go through an age verification process. You’re then taken to another page which, although it has livery from your provider, seems to be from another website entirely. And this page is asking you for your credit card details.

It’s an obvious and rather lame attempt at phishing. You’re not any kind of idiot (you’re a member of The Readership, after all) so you spot it as that instantly, and sadly inform the webmaster that his site has been hacked.

Except it’s not a scam. Well, not in the true textbook sense of the word, anyhoo. The scenario above happened yesterday to O2 customers across the country, as a age verification process was extensively rolled out. It only affects their 3G and GPRS networks, and it’s really, really stupid.

The reason for the credit card charge (£1, following which you’re refunded £2.50 as a one time payment) is to ensure that the person attempting to access “adult” material is over 18. You have to be over 18 to own a credit card. QED. But you also have to be 18 to set up a Pay Monthly account, and surely it would be simpler to set up a password controlled block in the website accessible only to the bill-payer. And the over-enthusiastic filter O2 have put in place means that PAYG customers are being blocked from sites they have perfectly legitimate reasons to visit. It’s just nonsense.

What on earth was going through the O2 mind (you know, the one that’s currently TV advertised with a very badly disguised version of Mr. Tumnus in place)? Did no-one think that suddenly switching on a filter without fair warning that would direct their customers to a site asking for credit card details might not be taken as entirely genuine? O2 claim that the company in question, Bango, have many years experience and are a trusted partner. Fine. I’ve never heard of them, and have no reason to trust them on O2’s say-so.

More worryingly, O2 have yet to explain what Bango (the name that doesn’t fill me with trust, it has to be said) do with your credit card details after the verification transaction. And, for that matter, how long your payment stays in Bango’s account before you get your £2.50 refund. I call shenanigans on this. It all feels a bit suspect, a bit slippery. Why a quid, for example? PayPal do a similar thing to ensure the card you’re linking to their system is legitaimate, but they do it with payments or 3 or 4p. Stick a couple of hundred thousand pounds of your customers cash in a high interest account for a couple of days, and there’s a decent profit to be made.

It’s the mealy-mouthed, box-ticking nature of the exercise that really makes my teeth itch. The block only operates on O2’s mobile internet services, meaning that your child can easily access all the adult content they want as soon as they hop onto a wi-fi signal. That, of course, is outside O2’s remit. They’ve done their job, and been seen to be compliant with a self-regulatory agreement with no legal basis.

O2 have really dropped the ball on this one. If they wanted to worry, bother and honk off a fat chunk of their customer base in short order, then they’ve found the perfect way of doing it. The process assumes a blithe ignorance of internet safety 101, and contravenes advice that they give on their own website. The O2 forums are full of seething customers that had no idea that O2 were about to drop this on them.

I’m absolutely furious. At one point yesterday morning, I was convinced that X&HT had been hacked, compromised and retasked as a phishing site. All because some hand-wringing twonk at O2 doesn’t want to take responsibility when a 15 year old accesses questionable material on their network.

Here’s an idea. If you don’t have a credit card, you can age verify at any O2 store with photo ID. I suggest that every aggrieved customer who feels a bit uncomfortable at giving out their credit card details to a third party for access to the sites they’ve always been able to access with no trouble before does exactly that. If that happens en masse, we’ll clog up the stores and cut into O2’s profits a bit. Direct action, taking a page from the UK Uncut playbook. That’ll send a message that they can’t ignore.

Who’s with me?


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Writer. Film-maker. Cartoonist. Cook. Lover.

23 thoughts on “O2’s Childish Mistake On Age Verification”

  1. This is even stupider for customers like me on a contract. They have already done a full credit check on me, and so are thus fully aware of my age! This is terrible.

    Not to mention that can’t children get pre-pay credit cards these days?

  2. This page has also been blocked!!

    What makes me laugh is you can go to google image search, type in sex and see hard core pornographic images, yet you can’t view a page like this one that doesn’t have any adult content.

  3. This has just started on my phone too, what a bunch of idiots! Do you think I could get out of my contract because of this?

    1. Greg:
      Probably not. There’ll be all kinds of small print shenanigans at play here. But I would definitely make a noise about it.
      Call O2 Customer Services on 202 and complain. There are hundreds of people doing it. O2 need to know that they are causing inconvenience and worry to their users and the webmasters of the sites they are innocently trying to access (this one included)!

  4. Gotta say, I agree with O2 on this one. Not all pay monthly customers are over 18 (parents buy em for their kids) and they have to make some kind of attempt to stop U18s from viewing objectionable material. That overrides the hassle we face on it.

    Besides, you make £1.50 out of the deal (paid on next bill).

    1. Russ:
      I don’t have a problem with O2 complying with a policy that will prevent looking at age-inappropriate material. I do have a problem with them rolling it out without telling me or my readers, and asking us to give a credit card number to a company we don’t know anything about. in an age when Internet security is so important, it seems like an especially foolish move.

  5. i was confused at this little trick from o2,i turned my computer on thinking i could look at my usual sites.
    not havin any warnings or messages telling me that there was any change.
    i just thought it was a virus or some thing wrong with my pc,i have been using a dongle and had no issues at all,so i started looking at what people have to say about it,and o2 have really lost my support after this.
    age verification should be made clear at the beginning,not just when they feel like it.
    and not everyone has a credit card.this issue has made me very angry and annoyed with o2 and im sure there are many more who feel the same.

  6. Simple, simple answer to this. Just leave, like I’m going to when my contract omes up in June. Bye O2, hello 3…

  7. This is absolutely ridiculous ! I mean seriously people can have a family and be married at age 16 so why the hell are there restrictions for U18’s fair enough U16’s , this country has seriously went to the dogs! Absolute nonsense! Though the reason there are so many rules&regs is just to keep someone in a job! F*ing pathetic !!!

  8. Suddenly today my iphone web browsing was restricted
    I paid my pound weeks ago to release the bar and suddenly today again
    I would’t have realised without comments above
    Grrrr to O2

  9. just like the rest of you i’m thoroughly pissed off at o2 especially since as there was no warning and also they want you to put in your credit card details, but who the hell has a credit card when they’re 18?! i can’t beleive people have to give out there credit card details to unknown companys just for a wank, it’s awful and i’m going to go to the nearest o2 store as soon as possible and complain!

  10. Does this happen on any other carriers?

    This annoys me so much. Apart from all the phishing-like dubiousness and the way it was snuck in, why should I have to ‘verify’ myself to anybody to look at websites on the internet? O2 acting as some kind of moral guardian, give me a break.

    And anyway, I haven’t tried looking at ‘adult’ content on my phone, this only seems to come up when I click on links others have posted or search results, and always seems to be pretty innocuous pages when I check them out on my home computer. Clunky, heavy-handed and generally a very awkward idea. Definitely going to complain.

  11. I ve just got connected after weeks of getting financially straight and thought id sit down to some ‘no holds barrred’ browsing. Should of known really cos nothings that easy these days, o2 age verification!! i topped up from a friends card who is 54 for story s sake and can do nothing more than play poker and chat. Im not on contract and have been known to bite my nose off to spite my face so im going to get a 3 chip today..job done! How very dare you O2

  12. I think o2 and other companys should be responsable and rather than letting anyone pick up a pay as you go sim in any shop, that they should use mobile phone shops to sell or give away their sims. That way they can get your details, check your age and act responsabily, whats to stop someone picking up a pay as you go sim for 99p and sending threatening messages or bullying someone, then throwing the sim away. Lets tackle underage viewing of what o2 consider unsuitable for under 18s and bullying at the same time. that way if someone gets bullied or threatened then the mobile providers can give details to the police.

    I agree with an earlier post, someone should set up a facebook page/group and organise a mass walk into an o2 shop on the same day at the same time for everyone to get their phones unlocked. I dont watch porn but i do make website and certain sites that sell templates are blocked for no apparent reason,just to point out, proxy servers and oogle translate are blocked too, so if you want to look at a say french website you can not translate it usin google translate. I am just against the censorship out of principle. I may just set up o2 censorship page on facebook, that way o2 may get the message.

  13. Went to 02 shop and was told the age restritction would be gone in 24 hours and by day 3 I gave up trying and returned to the shop..

    You just need a credit card I was told..

    Well I haven’t got one, I reply..

    Shop worker said to ring 02 on my mobile..

    I haven’t got one of them either..

    Finally they said it was being sorted and to be patient..

    No I dont any of that either I say…

    Tomorrow will be day 6 and no sign of it being removed…

    02 is just messing with me and I need a new provider before I crack up(Again)


  14. i think its disgraceful. i should not have to verify my age to a mobile phone company. I compained about this to 02 and i am also leaving. I don’t know what they were thinking, but i hope they lose the majority of their customers.

  15. Screw you O2 !!! Scamming bastards (censor that!) I’ve got an iPhone and downloaded Opera mini. Now I can view all the filth and blow jobs I desire! Stick your 18 verification up your ass!

    Opera Mini = Wank material!!

    1. Despite the lairy tone, Johnny makes a good point. I’ve downloaded and tested, and can confirm that Opera Mini does circumvent the age block. Available for Android phones as well, free-browsers!

  16. My website has nothing to do with adult material, gambling etc. yet it all of a sudden requires age verification, Effectively 02 are damaging my business without any justification. The only place to seek help is apparently on their forum or twitter. Completely ridiculous. An open forum helpdesk, WTF?

  17. I’m 58 and pissed off only debit not credit cards. O2 website no use at all. O2 phone link not working. O2 help line operator can see billing info on my contract phone account can see I’m 58 years old but tells me to take a photo ID to an O2 shop which involves a thirty mike round trip and a minimum £2.50 parking charge.

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  19. Just had this problem trying to look at a how to guide on a car forum. When I got blocked I just went to a different website to try to find the information I needed. 40 mins of web browsing and youtube video guides later I got a message saying I was nearing my data limit and when I checked I found wifi was not working, no networks visible at all which for a housing estate is a little odd. Yet again hit a website with the block (may have inadvertantly been the same forum again further down the results) I decided to fill out the details and unblock it. After the restart wifi is working again with about 6-7 available networks in the list!

    It may be a coincidence but I don’t think so, never had a problem before and then suddenly today it stops working. Oh and my laptop wifi was fine throughout. I can’t see how O2 have the right to stop me using my phone, on my home internet for whatever I want. They can do whatever they want on their network, I strongly feel it should be an opt in service but there we go that’s up to them. But there are so many issues with what they have done here….

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