Developing and implementing a strategic approach to ethics
A Vodafone case study

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Page 4: Ethical responses

Vodafone's ethical approach drives its response to changes in the environment. Whilst described above in self-contained sections, many issues crossover, e.g. the advent of 3G technology and video content is related to society's concern about adult material reaching under 18s.

Vodafone UK's research has revealed that parents do not know the types of content available via mobile phones. A survey of all adults showed, however, that they believed restricting access to adult content on mobile phones was very important. Together with other UK mobile phone operators, in July 2004 Vodafone UK launched a joint Code of Practice for self-regulation. The Code requires operators to stop under 18s from accessing commercial content classified as being unsuitable for them. Operators must also offer parents the opportunity to apply a filter to Internet access services. When developing this Code of Practice for content, Vodafone gave phones to researchers working for children's charities. The charities could see the sort of content available. They could also check that the restrictions were effective.

Vodafone was the first company in the UK to introduce a network bar that effectively blocks access to all forms of content that has been rated as 18. This bar, called Content Control, was introduced in 2004. This prevents access to 18 rated content for children and young people. It is automatic and the bar is lifted only if customers can demonstrate they are 18 or over.

Vodafone led the UK mobile industry in ensuring that proper restrictions and controls are in place for its customers to prevent access to adult content by under 18s.

While working on the Code of Practice, which is self-regulatory, Vodafone had the opportunity to consider what its ethical stance should be. It could interpret the requirement to block access as having either an:

  • opt in policy - i.e. everyone would be barred from accessing over 18 material and would have to make a conscious choice to receive this content or
  • opt out policy - everyone could access the material and request to have the bar applied to 18 rated content.

Vodafone, through its work with the children's charities determined that an opt in policy was the more appropriate and responsible position to take in the UK. Vodafone seeks to reduce spam text messages by locating their source. Its customers can help by sending these messages to Vodafone on the company's VSpam service. Vodafone also watches network traffic for the sources of unwanted messages. The efforts in this area have led to a very significant fall in customer complaints.

In the UK Vodafone works in partnership with the government, police and others in the industry to help combat mobile phone crime. It also advises customers and the broader community on how to protect their phones and prevent fraudulent use. Actions taken include setting up a register of equipment to block stolen phones. For a number of years, prior to the ban on holding a phone while driving, Vodafone UK has strongly discouraged this practice. The company devised practical actions to help its customers, which included discounts on car kits to allow them to use their phones legally and clear advice on the research relating to the use of mobile phones in cars.

Vodafone | Developing and implementing a strategic approach to ethics