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INTERNET SWEEP 2004 Children and mobile content services. International report from the examination of websites that advertise mobile content services aimed at minors. Content. Introduction Background Participants How the examination was carried out Main discoveries

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internet sweep 2004 children and mobile content services

INTERNET SWEEP 2004Children and mobile content services

International report from the examination of websites that advertise mobile content services aimed at minors.

  • Introduction
  • Background
  • Participants
  • How the examination was carried out
  • Main discoveries
  • Schematic presentation of the main results
  • Follow up of the Sweep
  • Enclosure: Australia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania’s own conclusions
  • On April the 28th 2004 the Norwegian Consumer Ombudsman coordinated an Internet Sweep.
  • The theme was children and mobile content services.
  • Supervising authorities in 14 countries participated.
  • The Sweep’s goal was to get an overview of advertising of mobile content services and contractual conditions when these services are sold to minors.
  • In this report the main discoveries of the Sweep will be presented.
  • Children are active users of telecommunication products and services, and the Norwegian Consumer Ombudsman has identified two main problem areas; problems associated with the marketing of services, and problems associated with the conclusion of agreements when services are purchased.
  • The Nordic Consumer Ombudsmen share the above mentioned experience, and decided to carry out a Sweep with the theme children and mobile content services.
  • At the ICPEN conference in Finland in March 2004, Sweden, Finland and Norway gave a presentation which focused on minors. Norway informed about the upcoming Sweep, and encouraged other countries to participate.
  • 14 ICPEN countries participated.
  • Australia
  • Belgium
  • Canada
  • Denmark
  • Estonia
  • Finland
  • Germany
  • Hungary
  • Latvia
  • Lithuania
  • Norway
  • Poland
  • Sweden
  • The United Kingdom
how the sweep was carried out
How the Sweep was carried out
  • The officers received a questionnaire to fill out for every website examined. The search criterias were words like mobile phone, content service, ringtone, logo etc. In addition the officers were encouraged to search well known childrens sites, mobile suppliers etc.
  • 203 websites were examined.
  • The sites examined by Australia, Canada, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are not taken into account in the above mentioned number of sites. These countries have made own evaluations of their discoveries. A short summary follows. More extensive information can be found in the enclosures to the report.
  • Australia examined 540 sites. They noted 11 websites that necessitated closer examination, and only one site worried them.
  • Canada found few sites that offer mobile content services, but assume this is because the industry has not reached a high at this point.
how the sweep was carried out1
How the Sweep was carried out
  • Estonia examined 17 sites. Only one of them targeted children,and they are satisfied with the situation.
  • Latvia examined 27 sites, but only found two were minors were the target group. The two sites gave sufficient information, and did not have any unsuitable content.
  • Lithuania did not find any sites that raised concerns, and they assume this has to do with their transparent market due to the limited number of mobile operators.
  • The officers have chosen which websites to examine, which means that the sites are not necessarily representative for all companies offering mobile content services towards minors. The figures should be reviewed in the light of this information. Despite this, we are of the opinion that the figures give an indication of the situation with regard to the theme of the Sweep.
main discoveries
Main discoveries
  • The majority of the websites are aimed at children between 12-15 years and 15-18 years.
  • The most offered services are ringtones, logoes, pictures, animations and mobile games.
  • Only 6% of the examined websites communicate an age limit.
  • 31% of the examined websites do not give sufficiently clear information about prices.
  • 30% of the examined websites do not give clear information about necessary technical adjustments to be able to use the service/product.
  • 38 % do not inform how many messages the minor will receive during the subscription.
  • 17 % of the websites reward the minors when they register personal information.
  • 46% of the sites have unsuitable content for the assumed target group.
  • 17 % of the websites reward the minors when they register personal information.
assumed target group of the website
Assumed target group of the website
  • The officers evaluated which target group each website had, and could tick off more than one target group pr. site.
  • Few of the examined websites were assumed to target children under 10 years old, in total only 22 %.
  • 77 % of the websites were assumed to target the age group between 12-15 years
  • 95 % towards the group between 15-18 years.
  • Only 6 % of the total 203 examined websites operate with age limits.
the offered services
The offered services
  • The majority of the examined sites offer ringtones, logoes, pictures, animations and mobile games.
  • 34% of the websites offer subscriptions, such as weekly jokes, horoscopes etc.
  • In general the Nordic countries’ websites offer a wider range of products/services than the other countries that participated in the Sweep.
information about price and contract terms for subscriptions
Information about price and contract terms for subscriptions
  • 31% of the examined websites do not give sufficiently clear information about price.
  • Of the 68 websites that offer subscriptions, the price is assumed to be pr. received message (sms) in 88 % of the cases.
  • 38 % do not inform how many messages the minor will receive during the subscription.
  • In addition 22 % do not give information about how the child can stop the subscription.
is information provided about necessary technical adjustments to use the service product
Is information provided about necessary technical adjustments to use the service/product?
  • 30% of the examined websites do not give clear information about technical adjustments of the phone that are necessary to use the service/product.
registration of personal data

Registration of personal data

17 % of the websites reward the minors when they register personal information.

13 % of the sites demand that children register personal information to get access to the services.

14 % presuppose or ask for a consent to receive marketing via e-mail or sms.

Compared with the results from the Nordic Sweep last year, the Norwegian figures have improved. Less sites demand personal information from minors. We like to think this is a result of the Consumer Ombudsman’s guidelines for gathering and use of minors personal information that were launched in January this year.

is there any unsuitable content on the web pages seen in relation to the target group
Is there any unsuitable content on the web pages seen in relation to the target group?
  • 46% of the examined websites have content that is unsuitable for the assumed target group of the site. The figures are based upon the officers own evaluation of what kind of content that is unsuitable.
  • Examples of »unsuitable content» are pornography, narcotics, violence or other frightening elements.
  • The officers have commented that the majority of unsuitable content consists of erotic and/or pornographic material.
follow up
Follow up
  • The Norwegian Consumer Ombudsman will use the Sweep results to elaborate our demands towards the companies that offer such services, for example limits on how many text messages a minor can recieve or how much money the minor can spend on each service.
  • The Sweep results will be presented during the next ICPEN meeting in London in October 2004.
  • The results strongly indicate that the industry has developed differently in the 14 participating countries. As in many other fields, this gives us an opportunity to learn from each others experience and be ahead of the problems.

Results from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC)

  • Number of sites swept – 540
  • Number of sites listed for further review – 11
  • Number of sites that raised concern – 1 (action unlikely)
  • Overview of Sweep findings
  • Australian sites providing mobile services specifically targeting children were not easily identified. In most cases the services were targeted to consumers who might be interested in downloading ring tones and other mobile phone extras.
  • No Australian site was found during this Sweep that offered children subscription services to SMS horoscopes. One site did offer SMS ‘celebrity gossip’ up dates. This site gave clear pricing details but the only option provided for unsubscribing was that at the end of the subscription period (time not stated) it would not need to be renewed.
  • Most of the children’s sites offered a free ‘join up’ option but this was for the site as a whole and was not restricted to access to mobile phone extras. These sites did require personal information including name, age and email address before membership could be activated.
  •  Such sites did include information about how private details would be handled and stated that certain information would be passed on to affiliates. Specific information was also provided for parents on sites that were for children 10 years and under. Parents were informed that in order to ensure that such information would not be forwarded children should be discouraged from entering competitions.
  • Competitions that could be entered via SMS did appear on some sites.
  • At the point of sale on most of the sites that targeted very young children (12 or under) reference was made to the age of the potential consumer with children under 14 being asked to get permission from a parent.
  • The Sweep, however, did raise a concern regarding the terms and conditions that are provided on such websites. Most sites that displayed terms and conditions limited warranty liability. This result confirms the findings of a recent study that the ACCC did on online terms and conditions. In that study the top 1000 most visited Australian sites were surveyed with 334 transactional sites being isolated for further review. From a detailed examination of these sites it was found that:
  • (i) Written terms and conditions are in widespread use by companies trading online. Of the transactional websites surveyed, 79.3% presented consumers with a written contract which they were able to view.
  • (ii) The clauses found in online contracts do appear to raise significant trade practices issues. Of the websites which contain a written contract:
  • · 54.3% have a clause attempting to disclaim responsibility for the accuracy of information posted on the site;
  • · 50.9% have a clause which attempts to disclaim warranties;
  • · 66% have a clause which limits liabilities; and
  • · 43.8% have BOTH a disclaimer of warranties clause AND a limitation of liability clause.
  • Currently the ACCC is looking in to this matter but outcomes have not been finalised.
  • Complaints to the ACCC regarding mobile phone extras.
  • These results do not necessarily apply to children’s sites as this is not always made clear but they give an indication of the types of complaints that have recently been received.
  • Total number of complaints – 23
  • Main complaints related to mobile phone extras such as ring tone/games downloads and competition entries via SMS. There were also complaints against receiving SMS spam. Complainants saw this as a nuisance, were concerned that their privacy was being invaded or were annoyed that the cost of a return SMS was needed to ‘unsubscribe’.
  • Breakdown of complaints
  • Ringtones cancellation problems - 3
  • Ringtones cost eg not ‘free’ – 1
  • Ringtones – did not receive – 1
  • SMS – competitions problems entering – 8
  • SMS – competitions unfair that only via SMS –1
  • SMS – being made to use premium rates – 2
  • SMS spam – 5
  • Games download - did not receive - 1
  • Misc - 1

Three specialist of the Estonian Consumer Protection Board inspected in 28th April 2004 seventeen Internet websites, offering mobile services concerning the theme “Children and mobile content services”.

  • In Estonia, there is only one website offering mobile services only to children ( There is possible order the logos, ring tones, picture messages and watch the cartoon. From this webpage only POP phone card owners can have access to offered services. The target group of this phone card is children at the age 7-14.
  • Other inspected websites haven’t set any service subscription limits to the different mobile packages or mobile service provider exploiters. But some service subscriptions arrangements can be used only on specific trademark mobile phones. Majority of websites offer ring tones, logos, picture messages. On the diverse web pages can found following mobile services: horoscopes, forecast, poems, prank messages, mobile postcard, SMS Chat, SMS Photo Chat, SMS Treff. There is no an age limit set for use of websites, but the logos in subscription page have divided into categories and have marked what kind of logos are meant only for adults.
  • The service price is the same for all mobile phone owners and do not depend on communication operator. Likewise have been noticed that value of the service reverberate on the next month bill. Mobile services can be ordered without restraint. For ordering, the subscriber has not to become a member of webpage in order to gain access to the services, while offering the register facility also. On the inspected websites there is no consent asked for to send advertising by e-mail or SMS, also consent to receive advertising is not the condition for gaining access to the mobile services.
  • The circumtance, that in the controlled web pages did not discover any illegal actions, no logos, picture messages or SMS games which ones encourage the minors to violent activity and to use drugs, is good indicator.
  • For conclusion we can say that Nordic Internet Sweep 2004 was successful in Estonia.
  • The Consumer Rights Protection Centre of Latvia (hereinafter – the Centre) participated in the Sweep on Wednesday, 28 April 2004 from 10:00 am – 15:00 pm. Due to lack of staff only one person was participating in Sweep from the Centre.
  • I was using the search engine, which is quite popular in Latvia. Using this search engine and different search terms I tried to detect websites marketing mobile content services targeted to children or offering enter in to the agreements exploiting naivety of children.
  • During the sweep appeared that most of the mobile content services in Latvian websites are not targeted to children. I checked 27 websites and found only two sites were the mobile content services could be targeted to children but both of these websites were very correct and full information was given on the services, prices, ordering procedures etc.
  • On 28th of April The National Consumer Rights Protection Council participated in Nordic internet sweep 2004 program concerning children and mobile content services.
  • During the sweep which was carried out according to the sweep guide, any misleading websites for children and teenagers which are offering mobile content service were found. All information about the services is true, comprehensive and correct.
  • The actual situation today in Lithuania in terms of marketing and contractual conditions when mobile content services are sold is good, there are only three main mobile services operators (Omnitel, Bite GSM, Tele2) which offer all those services with all available information to buy them and there are some but not many companies which also offer that mobile services based on the same rules like main operators do. So this might be the reason that no suspicious websites were found during the sweep. Anyway, we are attaching four completed sweep forms, so that you could see the search results.