Italy Targets Youth Gambling Through SIM Card Controls

Posted on: November 21, 2023, 06:51h. 

Last updated on: November 21, 2023, 12:49h.

Italy is taking a novel approach in its attempt to curb adolescent online gambling and access to other restricted content. It’s going after teenagers’ mobile phones and devices instead of putting the onus on gaming operators to follow age verification procedures.

A user explores his cell phone apps
A user explores his cell phone apps. Italy is introducing controls that will prevent teenagers from accessing controversial content, including gambling apps. (Image: Rohde & Schwarz)

Italian minors will no longer be able to browse the internet freely from their mobile phones if they don’t have parental control activated on their devices. Tuesday marks the first day of a new regulation that requires mobile telephone operators to block access to a variety of material from the SIM cards of users who have not reached the age of 18.

There are eight categories of web pages the government considers inappropriate. These include sites with content related to the sale of weapons, gambling and betting, pornography, religious sects, violence and incitement to suicide, hatred and intolerance, or that promote anorexia or drug use.

The New Net Nanny

It’s estimated that 85% of Italian adolescents between 11 and 17 years old use a smart mobile phone every day, while 72% surf the internet daily. By way of comparison, according to the Pew Research Center, 97% of U.S. teens surf the internet daily. Pew also points out that only 30% of parents monitor their children’s online content consumption.

The Authority for Communications Guarantees (Agcom, for its Italian acronym) introduced the proposed changes at the beginning of the year, later choosing November 21 as the launch date. It has followed through, explaining that this “safe browsing” option on minors’ mobile phones can be activated free of charge. It added that the blocking doesn’t affect web pages that talk about prohibited categories in an informative or preventive context.

The teen won’t come across a walled garden when, for example, he or she tries to consult a web page on which an artistic nude appears. Agcom has said that, in most cases, the blocking isn’t activated by a single instance of the prohibited content, but at the level of the domain or web subdomain.

In Italy, the minimum age to have a SIM card is eight, although many telephone operators require that the customer be at least 15 years old to have a contract in their name. The regulations promoted by Agcom provide that when these teens turn 18, they will be able to cancel this service by contacting their provider.

Not a Perfect System

This new system designed to protect minors has some flaws. For one, it doesn’t prevent users from continuing to have contact with inappropriate content through social media, in which young people and adolescents are so active. It also can’t control online advertising, where sportsbooks and iGaming platforms have a strong presence.

A good number of those under 18 years of age will also be freed from the block by using SIM cards registered in the name of their parents. It’s common practice in Italy, where rates for minors tend to have uncompetitive prices and features.

As a result, most parents choose to buy a second number as if it were for themselves and then give that device to their children. There are parental control applications that can be used in these circumstances, such as Kaspersky Safe Kids, Mobicip, Net Nanny, and others. However, the parents are responsible for adequately configuring them.