Vodacom, MTN block Outoilet
Local mobile operators Vodacom and MTN have blocked access via their networks to controversial Russian-based Web site Outoilet, following calls by the Film and Publication Board (FPB).
The FPB says it received numerous complaints about the Web site and investigations have revealed there are possible acts of “grooming” taking place on the portal. The FPB argues that the potential for posting, distribution and possession of child pornography through the Web site is “glaring”.
The Web site is an uncensored chat service, accessed mostly through cellphones, which many teenagers and adults use to solicit and offer sex. It is also a popular forum on which a number of topics, many focusing on sex and people's sexual activity, are discussed.
As the Web site is registered in Russia, it makes it more difficult to shut down, says the FPB.
This morning, Vodacom and MTN revealed subscribers have been blocked from accessing the site through an automatic parental control system.
MTN says in a statement: “As a responsible corporate citizen, MTN has blocked the Outoilet domains, which have raised concerns in recent days. MTN can confirm these domains have been blacklisted on its network.”
The network uses a service that prevents access through its network to Web sites that contain images of child sex abuse. The operator supports the aims of the Mobile Alliance Against Child Sexual Abuse Content, of which it is a member.
Furthermore, MTN says it has a parental control service which enables users to choose and manage adult content and instant messaging activities that can be received on mobile phones used by their children, employees, and themselves.
The Internet Watch Foundation provides networks with a list of Web sites identified as containing images of child sexual abuse. This service helps protect customers from inadvertent exposure to such content and minimises the perpetuation of the abuse of the child victims.
FPB CEO Yoliswa Makhasi says the board calls on other network providers to follow suit, and take stern action in defence of children and society against unscrupulous site developers and hosts who seek to expose children to undesirable content.
“It remains within the powers of network providers to take responsible action against identified sites that contain harmful content that affects negatively our children and society by blocking such sites,” she adds.
The FPB also calls on network providers to take similar action against any other sites carrying harmful, undesirable and pornographic content.
“We will be relentless in drawing attention to such sites and will remain a constant irritation to the hosts and site developers,” says Makhasi.
The FPB says it has engaged the International Association of Internet Hotlines (INHOPE). “We are seeking ways of engaging Russian authorities (where the Outoilet site is hosted) through INHOPE to draw attention to the activities currently taking place via the site and their net effect on South African children and society,” it points out.
Women, children and persons with disabilities minister Lulu Xingwana on Wednesday told Eye Witness News that she plans to ask law enforcement agencies to investigate a Web site where men can solicit sex from minors.
“The Web site was referred to the SAPS, to explore infringements of other legislation and review if there is a need for the Web site to be shut down. We trust that the South African Police Services will soon announce and share results or preliminary findings regarding their investigations into the site,” she said.
World Wide Worx MD Arthur Goldstuck says when Outoilet was first brought to public attention a year ago, it was a mobile hub of bullying, abuse and humiliation for schoolchildren in the Western Cape - confined largely to the Cape Flats.
“Chat rooms had been set up for dozens of schools in disadvantaged areas, and the chats fell into two categories: requests for information about members of the opposite sex, with a view to hooking up; and scandalous gossip or vicious accusations about fellow learners. The gossip became so virulent, that it was blamed for destroying lives, literally and figuratively,” he notes.
According to Goldstuck, Outoilet took an even more sinister turn this year, when adults began soliciting children for sex on the site, offering airtime or money. “They also offered to share pornography with schoolchildren, and offered money and airtime for pictures of the children unclothed. In some cases, children offered their services to adults,” he adds.
Earlier this month, assistant director of Interpol's Trafficking in Human Beings unit, Jon Eyers, called on countries to communicate and work together to investigate online child abuse.
Countries involved in fighting online child abuse always begin from different starting points, he said. “However, it was only through sharing these details via international organisations, like Interpol, that the full picture was found, which can result in significant arrests and the removal of abusive Web sites,” he added.
He said it is important for people to realise that abusive images on the Internet are not “virtual”, but depictions of real physical abuse of actual children. “Blocking access to these Web sites underlines to users the illegality of the material they are trying to find and reminds them of the human cost involved.”