Telkom's mobile arm, 8ta, will launch parental control in the first quarter of 2012.
“8ta believes children should be protected from harmful content that can be easily retrieved from their mobile handsets, and parents should be equipped with the necessary tools to protect their children.”
The operator adds that it is reviewing several options that are at the forefront of technology with regards to parental control.
It plans to introduce a comprehensive solution soon.
Some local operators have already developed ways for parents to block their children from accessing adult content via their handsets, explains the Wireless Application Service Providers' Association (Waspa).
“As the industry body for the mobile applications industry, we encourage our members to provide parents with tools to protect their children.”
Vodacom's parental control can be accessed by dialing 111*123# from the cellphone a user wants to block, or by calling Vodacom customer care on 082111.
To block an MTN handset, users should dial *101# from the handset that needs to have restricted access to adult content and follow the menu prompts.
Cell C and 8ta do not yet have this kind of functionality.
However, Waspa says Internet access can be de-activated on any mobile, by simply requesting this from the service provider.
It says all the cellular providers are able to block access to specific sites, but it would be up to users to decide. Sites that are found to operate illegally may be blocked for everybody. Sites that contain adult content will be blocked for those phones with parental controls activated.
The association says these controls are important because the problem of children and teenagers accessing pornography via their cellphones is becoming widespread.
“Although no recent statistics exist for mobile devices, when one combines the overall porn statistics (for example, 90% of eight- to 16-year-olds have viewed porn online, often by mistake when doing homework) to the near ubiquity of cellphones, one gets an idea of the problem.”
It adds that a study by the Youth Research Unit at Unisa shows there is a high incidence of active online solicitation of youth in the 12 to 25 age group on the Internet.
“There is evidence that mobile phones are being used as an extension of that type of behaviour.” Waspa makes mention of the infamous “Outoilet” sex chat site that is run from Russia and is popular with South African teenage mobile phone users.
It says another key fact is that the mobile porn industry is growing strongly.
“Mobile phones are a great boon, not least because they empower users so effectively,” says Russel Stromin, head of Waspa's Code of Conduct Committee.
“The problem comes when that device is operated by somebody who is not yet an adult and so is vulnerable in a number of ways.”
Stromin notes that parental controls on handsets are measures that can help parents prevent their children from accessing adult content on sites, but they do not affect other inappropriate use of cellphones, for example sexting.
Sexting is the practice of sending flirtatious SMSes that contain explicit pictures of the sender.
“Again, the statistics are frightening for parents. Twenty-two percent of teen girls and 20% of boys have sent nude or semi-nude photos of themselves over the Internet or their phones,” says the association.
WASPA's Web site contains a link to the Cellphone Safety Web site, which includes additional ways to block access to adult sites using third-party applications.