Kids are using wireless devices today to access information and entertainment in new and expanding ways. With that expansion, though, comes increasing concerns among parents and caregivers about content that may be inappropriate for children, especially because almost all mobile phones in use today can access the internet.
What you should know about wireless devices
One way for parents to begin addressing such concerns is to understand the types of content and applications children can access from their particular devices. What's available can vary depending on the level of sophistication of the device and on the services purchased from your wireless provider.
Most wireless devices can be used to exchange messages, including instant and text messages, as well as photos and videos. If your service includes internet access, wireless devices can send and receive emails. These services can be used to request, purchase and receive content from various sources, including websites.
Additionally, regardless of age, consumers may receive offers for free downloads or use of applications. Free offers are often for one-time use, but may include terms and conditions that include options with agreements to pay fees for continued use.
Types of content that can be downloaded and purchased include: Images; games (including those used with popular gaming systems); music and ringtones; and web video programming.
What you can do
Here are some practical steps you can take to help protect your children from viewing objectionable content on their wireless devices.
- Know and understand the capabilities of your children's wireless devices and what type of content and applications are available (either included or for an extra fee) under your service plan.
- Ask your wireless service provider about filtering software or other parental controls that can be installed on wireless devices used by children.
- Talk to your children about how they use their wireless devices. Ask them what they are sending and receiving or downloading, and from where.
- If your children access websites from their wireless devices, know what sites they are accessing and the dangers associated with them, particularly social networking and chat sites and apps.
- Monitor the bill. Content or application purchases made from a wireless device and not included in your regular service plan should appear as a separate item on your bill. The FCC's Truth-in-Billing rules require telephone companies to describe the services being billed in clear, non-misleading, plain language. The billing company must identify the service provider associated with each charge, and each bill must display one or more toll-free numbers that you can call to ask about any charge on the bill. (See our consumer guide on Understanding Your Phone Bill.)
Voluntary wireless industry guidelines
CTIA – The Wireless Association has developed voluntary guidelines for wireless service providers to use in classifying content that they provide to subscribers on wireless devices. Content that you purchase from your wireless service provider – either as a single purchase or as part of a package with a monthly fee – can be classified and blocked if your provider chooses to do so. The guidelines also urge wireless providers to provide filtering software for internet content.
Service providers following these voluntary guidelines agree to use at least two content ratings, and will block content to those subscribers who wish to limit access. The ratings are:
- Generally accessible or available to consumers of all ages.
- Restricted or accessible only to persons age 18 and older, or to younger persons when specifically authorized by a parent or guardian. Restricted ratings are based on existing ratings systems for movies, television, music and games.
Learn more by visiting www.ctia.org , calling CTIA at (202) 785-0081, or writing to CTIA, 1400 16th Street, NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20036.