UK Mobile Operator 3UK Filtering New Class Of 'Mature Content', Including Political Satire

from the mature-content dept

Smartphones have some big advantages: they offer considerable computing power in a highly-portable form, and are available at prices that allow a broad spectrum of users to get online easily. But as we reported last year, there's a big downside, too, one that's all-the-more dangerous for being invisible to most people: overblocking of sites caused by opt-out "child protection filters" applied by some mobile operators to their Internet feed.

Here's yet another worrying example of that problem, this time involving the UK operator 3UK, pointed out by Nick Rothwell. Pride's Purge is a Web site described by its creator Tom Pride as "an irreverent look at UK politics". As he recently discovered, it's also blocked by 3UK's child protection filter. He contacted the company on Twitter, pointing out that Pride's Purge was not a porn site or anything similar, and this is what it replied:

We don't just block adult websites, websites with mature content may also be censored.
So it now seems that there is a category of material called "mature content" that is distinct from "adult content", and that is also blocked by child protection filters, at least on 3UK's network. Worryingly, political satire seems to be regarded as an example of "mature content", and therefore unsuitable for children under 18. In fact, the censorship is even worse, as Pride explains:
it's not blocked for just the under-18s. It's blocked for anyone who hasn't proven to [3UK] they are over 18 -- and that means you will have to give your full identity to 3UK before they allow you to enter this site.

Which means 3UK now officially regard political satire as porn -- and are censoring it in exactly the same way.
This very broad, default censorship is disturbing for at least two reasons. First, because many people will be unaware that this kind of "mature content" censorship is taking place at all, and therefore won't ask for it to be stopped. And secondly, even if they are aware, the fact that asking for the filter to be lifted could be seen as tantamount to wanting to access porn -- something that many will understandably be reluctant to have noted down on their Internet access record -- means that they will simply put up with a limited feed. And so the creeping, silent censorship of the mobile Internet not only continues, but probably gets worse in the absence of any significant pushback against it.

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Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    S. T. Stone, Jan 16th, 2013 @ 12:22am

    That makes for one hell of a Catch-22.

    Sneaky little bastards.

     

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  2.  
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    Zakida Paul (profile), Jan 16th, 2013 @ 1:18am

    Technology designed to 'protect children' from porn now used to block other 'undesirable' content? Did anyone else get a strong sense of deja vu?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
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    JamesF (profile), Jan 16th, 2013 @ 1:29am

    I don't think its fair to blame 3 here. The other telcos do the same thing, and given there is a cost involved, I have to assume there is a legal requirement or at least risk they are trying to mitigate. Is the system over active? Sure, they all are. But the problem that needs to be addressed here is whatever is forcing the telcos to implement this - landline ISPs don't filter by default.

    The other thing I would say is that the provider I use allows you to turn off the content settings through your on-line account management page if you are on pay monthly, yet PAYG has to prove their age? That also tells me there is something forcing the telcos hand here.

    Full disclosure - I work for a UK telco (Not 3UK), but I'm in IT and have no more knowledge of the legal requirements to filter than the next guy - this is just my opinion.

     

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  4.  
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    maclypse (profile), Jan 16th, 2013 @ 1:30am

    We already knew since before that in the UK, you weren't allowed to speak. I guess now it's also illegal to listen.

    The only silver lining about the state of censorship in the UK is that I cannot wait to see the people's revoltion - spearheaded by Mr Bean, wielding a teddybear and a golfclub.

     

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  5.  
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    Zakida Paul (profile), Jan 16th, 2013 @ 1:41am

    Re:

    There won't be a revolution. People in the UK are far to compliant.

    Take away their Corrie, Eastenders, TOWIE, Dancing on Ice, I'm a Celebrity...etc, though, and all bets are off.

     

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  6.  
    identicon
    Tim Myles, Jan 16th, 2013 @ 2:33am

    The problem with all of these systems is that someone, somewhere has to decide what is "mature" content, vs. what is not.

    One of our (terrible in my opinion) newspapers here in the UK, The Daily Mail, is now apparently the top news site in the world - http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/greenslade/2012/jan/25/dailymail-internet

    If I go to the home page today, under the terrible story of the helicopter crash, is a picture story called "Tamara parades her killer bikini body in photoshoot", which will not surprise anyone who's visited the Mail website before. How does that not get classed as "Mature"?

    Or how about the story "Let's just hope they used protection! Steamy footage of couple romping at Exeter University Safer Sex Ball spreads across campus"?

    On the other hand, I have had to unlock my mobile as I wasn't allowed to look at the review of a pub online.

    These systems are always only as good as the gatekeepers. Which makes them intrinsically flawed and open for abuse. It encourages over-censorship for fear of letting something "dangerous" through.

    We know the argument - better training of children is far more effective than censorship, unfortunately, that doesn't go down well as a political argument, so until someone challenges them, we'll continue to see this trend towards locking down services.

     

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  7.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 16th, 2013 @ 2:39am

    Re:

    IT's a legal requirement, rather than a 3UK-only issue. The requirement is a bank card PLUS photographic proof of identity (Passport, Driver's license, Proof-of-age card).

    It was initially designed to reduce the likelihood of younger people getting access to porn. And I gotta say, it's harder to get around, seeing as it's SIM-based, rather than phone-based.

     

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  8.  
    identicon
    Stev4586, Jan 16th, 2013 @ 2:43am

    Thank you 3 !

    You've helped me find a amusing and interesting blog I was not aware of.

    You've gotta love censoring....

     

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  9.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 16th, 2013 @ 3:18am

    Protect the children is becoming protect the existing powers by NOT teaching the children that the status quo can be questioned.

     

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  10.  
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    AG Wright (profile), Jan 16th, 2013 @ 4:10am

    What about Tor?

    Since I'm not in the UK so I can't tell but there are Tor programs for Android that work well can not anyone that is interested use them thus routing around the telco's DNS and filters?

     

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  11.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 16th, 2013 @ 4:35am

    Re:

    More of a

    "I told you so" vibe if you ask me

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
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    Ninja (profile), Jan 16th, 2013 @ 4:43am

    Shall we stop treating children like retards in the first place? (no offense meant)

    So this is basically saying kids should leave politics to adults and not meddle in what they can't understand? You see, this is one of the main problems of the "for the children" chorus nowadays. They simply exile children from getting in touch, understanding and develop anything they believe to be too mature. NEWSFLASH if you don't get in touch with an issue you will not develop maturity to handle with it.

    What this creates is a horde of alienated, immature adults once these kids grow up. I will make sure my kids will not be rendered complete retards once they grow up by some collective moralist hysteria. And hopefully they can fight it and spread awareness too.

     

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  13.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 16th, 2013 @ 4:43am

    Censorship in bad - mmmkay?

    I doubt the implied good intentions here, looks more like a heaping steaming pile. Corporations do not do things for the benefit of their customers, they do things for the benefit of the bottom line. More likely this is another move on their part towards a walled garden in which the customer is "guided" to used their services rather than those of the competition.

     

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  14.  
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    Ninja (profile), Jan 16th, 2013 @ 4:44am

    Re:

    deal with it was what I was gonna say and wrote handle so.. derp

     

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  15.  
    identicon
    JarHead, Jan 16th, 2013 @ 5:27am

    Re:

    Nope, the "protect children" is still the same and hasn't turn/becoming anything else. Let's see:

    • Adults voicing dissent/questions will lead to the ruling power to browbeating them, hence they'll lose all energy/resources to do anything else other than fight a losing battle. Who's the victim here? The children of course, either for lack funding to education, emotional distress, etc.

    • If it is indeed children (for whatever legal definition thereof) who voice dissent/questions, well, the ruling power must protect them from their (the ruling power's) own abuse.


    So you see, it's all "for the children".

     

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  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 16th, 2013 @ 5:37am

    Our competitor's websites also qualify as 'mature' content, because a 'mature' user might switch to them to get around our filters.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 16th, 2013 @ 6:14am

    good old UK. if you cant bring it in directly, bring it in covertly. the guy needs to contact his MP and see what he has to say, although he may be one of the subjects on the site. what i find so annoying is the fact that a company can just do something like this without telling or asking their customers and when the sites are not breaking the law. just because someone at 3Uk doesn't like something shouldn't give them the right to impose their dislike on to anyone else!

     

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  18.  
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    monkyyy, Jan 16th, 2013 @ 7:52am

    Re: Re:

    its more of a "we all saw that coming"

     

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  19.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 16th, 2013 @ 7:58am

    Remember, everyone:
    once the mechanism for censorship is in place, it is very easy to expand the definition of what is censored.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
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    Jesse (profile), Jan 16th, 2013 @ 8:58am

    Re:

    The silver lining is that now you have a legitimate reason to opt-out of the filter...that is, you don't have to broadcast to the world that you want to look at porn.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 16th, 2013 @ 9:19am

    This child protection filter lie is fucking bullshit. First off, that is the parents responsibility, and secondly, this is a coup on your privacy and deciding what is acceptable free speech or not. Fuck the UK if this moves into the US we are screwed.

     

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  22.  
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    nobody, Jan 17th, 2013 @ 3:06am

    We do anything for the money, lalalalala

     

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  23.  
    identicon
    Fuxy, Jan 17th, 2013 @ 3:48am

    This happens to me all the time

    Oh it's worse then you think. I have T-Mobile company phone and i run into that damn filter at least once a month while reading Hacker News(news.ycombinator.com) and it's not like i could ask my boss to remove that crap.

    So they're not just blocking political content they are blocking just about anything that can be considered objectionable by a small subset of the population.

     

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  24.  
    identicon
    Fin, Jan 17th, 2013 @ 9:40am

    Re: Re:

    Or just use the opera browsers and go via their proxies (admittedly another potential issue in itself but still it makes it trivial to circumvent).

     

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  25.  
    identicon
    Fin, Jan 17th, 2013 @ 9:40am

    Re: Re:

    Or just use the opera browsers and go via their proxies (admittedly another potential issue in itself but still it makes it trivial to circumvent).

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
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    Tex Arcana (profile), Jan 17th, 2013 @ 5:49pm

    Re:

    Read the fucking article first: 3uk is owned by a Li Ka-Sheng, who owns another Chinese company buying up all of the UK's water, gas, and water. And so, because his blog mentions this little connection, he's censored because censorship helps further Li Ka-Sheng's nefarious ends. We already know the Chinese government doesn't like opposing voices, and if they can't censor them, they kill them.

    So I guess they're coming after us next.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
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    Fergus, Jan 19th, 2013 @ 4:30am

    And another thing

    In order to get such controversial sites unblocked on your phone, you need to wade through pages of porn on the 3 site, with much of the milder stuff being freely visible to anyone whether they're over 18 or not.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
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    bobchewie, Jan 21st, 2013 @ 10:34pm

    3 blocked me

    I drew attention to tom pride when I noticed his site was blocked to me. Seems others had it too. It don't stop there. Hacks in Msm are threatening to sue blog sites even though it them having a go at what's written on them. Oh and some rich lord is threatening to sue anyone on the net.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
    identicon
    Alan Edwards, Feb 8th, 2013 @ 1:00am

    Backed out the block

    Looks like the block has been removed. My tablet is on a Three prepay SIM, and can get to the Pride's Purge site OK.

    Thanks for the pointer to that site BTW, it's brilliant.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
    identicon
    Alan Edwards, Feb 8th, 2013 @ 1:00am

    Backed out the block

    Looks like the block has been removed. My tablet is on a Three prepay SIM, and can get to the Pride's Purge site OK.

    Thanks for the pointer to that site BTW, it's brilliant.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
    identicon
    David, Feb 25th, 2013 @ 11:48am

    Togther to fight porngraphy

    Thank you so much for fighting porn sites, i am David and i'm also work to fight porn sites, this is my blog Block Adults Websites

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
    icon
    Tex Arcana (profile), Feb 25th, 2013 @ 1:44pm

    Re: Togther to fight porngraphy

    BWAHAHAHAHAH!!!

    Spammer spamming "adults[sic] websites" blocking software, when the ENTIRE thread is about the ISP doing the blocking!

    Idiot spammers being idiots. And spammers.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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