Swisscom mobile phone plan for kids under fire

Swisscom mobile phone plan for kids under fire
Photo: Mehdi Fedouach/AFP
A Swisscom campaign to lure children as young as six years old to sign up for a cell phone plan has come under attack from consumer advocates.

The ”easy start” plan from Switzerland’s largest telecom company is described as a prepaid package that offers free calls to parents and two other numbers, even if the phone runs out of credit.

“A natel (cell phone) has no place in the hands of a small child,” Mathieu Fleury, secretary general of FRC, a consumer’s group for French-speaking Switzerland, told 20 Minutes.

“I think to set an age of six (for phone plans) sends a wrong signal.”

Fleury said the “easy start” plan flies in the face of positive efforts Swisscom has made, such as offering a media course to advise parents on how to accompany their child when they first use the internet.

“Now they are going backwards.”

Swisscom spokesman Christian Neuhas defended the plan, saying it “responds to a real demand” from the public, 20 Minutes reported.

The telecom company notes that 40 percent of children in primary school already have a mobile phone, according to studies.

“Other parents want their children to be able to reach them at any time and so give them a mobile phone,” Swisscom says on the section of its English-language website explaining the “easy start" program.

Swisscom underlines the fact that the plan is prepaid so children cannot spend more than the credit provided.

Internet access can be blocked by text messages to screen out undesirable content.

“Content filters” and “app blocks” are also provided.

Swisscom offers downloadable brochures in addition to offering workshops to help parents accompany their children when they go online for the first time.

The company’s plan for small children follows a similar one introduced by Sunrise, another Swiss cell phone service provider, which is aimed at children nine and over.

Even that is too young for some experts.

Franz Eidenbenz, a specialist in technology dependence, believes children should not have a mobile phone before they are 12.

“Parents must absolutely limit their access to the internet,” Eidenbenz told 20 Minutes.

“Violent or pornographic content can be traumatic.”

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