Phone operators say no way to stop bullying


THERE IS no technological solutions at present which would prevent bullying by mobile phone, the mobile phone operators have admitted.

The four operators in the state, Vodafone, O2, Meteor and 3, appeared in front of an Oireachtas committee yesterday following concerns from politicians that they were not doing enough to address the issue.

Tommy McCabe, the director of the Irish Cellular Industry Association, the Ibec group that represents Irish mobile phone operators, said the industry took the issue seriously, but bullying was a society-wide problem.

He told the Joint Committee on Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the mobile phone operators had introduced a number of measures which allowed numbers to be blocked, dual-access controls for parents and a dedicated spam reporting line.

Committee members called in the mobile phone operators after hearing last month from an Irish company called Sentry Wireless. It has developed KidSafe, a mobile technology which blocks unauthorised numbers and texts and is currently being trialled in Singapore.

O2 head of corporate affairs Majella Fitzpatrick said the operators had examined KidSafe as an option, but it was not viable. She said if a parent lost his or her phone and wanted to contact their child through another number, that number would be barred.

It did not prevent bullies from leaving voicemails, it rebooted when somebody who was not authorised tried to get through and it did not stop multimedia messaging service (MMS) which was used to send pictures, she explained.

She also said it worked only on Samsung handsets which made up a small percentage of the market in Ireland.

"From a corporate responsibility point of view, we need to find something that is applicable, accessible and appropriate to as many of our customers as possible. That solution right now does not exist," she said.

Vodafone brand manager Cara Twohig said focus group research found the technology was unacceptable to children because they felt it would mark them out, and to parents because they felt the technology was aimed at children who were too young to have mobile phones.

Fine Gael communications spokesman Simon Coveney said he was not satisfied that the industry was taking the issue seriously enough and could be compelled to do so through legislation.

Fianna Fáil senator Maria Corrigan said the mobile phone operators were in a competitive market and, if they were really interested in coming up with a solution, they would have done so by now.

Fine Gael deputy spokesman on communications Noel Coonan told the operators he was very disappointed with the presentation, and he said the operators were more engaged in doing down possible solutions instead of coming up with some of their own.

He said none of the mobile phone operators had admitted bullying by mobile phone was a major issue for them, or that they were committed to doing something about it.

He also pointed out that the issue of the rebooting flaw in KidSave had been resolved five months ago. and the industry needed to come to the committee with more up-to-date information.