UK's Web Filters Blocking Nearly One-Fifth Of The World's Most Popular Websites

from the no-edgy-web-commentary-for-you,-kids dept

Remember UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s China Lite® web blockade, the one that was set up to keep British children from stumbling across Internet Pornography™ and other assorted subjectively objectionable material? While being ostensibly “for the children,” the default settings (applied by ISPs at the request of the Foster State) are blocking a whole lot of non-porn.

Nearly one in five of the most visited sites on the internet are being blocked by the adult content filters installed on Britain’s broadband and mobile networks.

A Porsche car dealership, two feminist websites, a blog on the Syrian War and the Guido Fawkes political site are among the domains that have fallen foul of the recently installed filters.

The Open Rights Group, which campaigns for digital rights, surveyed the 100,000 most popular sites as ranked by digital marketing research firm Alexa, and found that 19,000 of them were blocked by at least one fixed line or mobile internet service provider.

By the end of 2014, every internet user in the UK will have the opportunity to browse the truncated web, with porn and other assorted nastiness blocked by default. Users will have the opportunity to opt out (oddly by “opting in” to an uncensored web) or, if they really want the ultimate in sanitzation, flip further switches to filter out even more content.

But what’s being blocked by default on most services goes far beyond pornography. Following close behind porn is the blocking of “copyright infringement sites,” something usually the result of a secret court order. At this point, every single mobile provider offers some sort of web filtering, in many cases switched on by default.

So, while the UK works hard to keep porn and piracy blocked, the blocking of actual technical threats (malware, phishing, etc.) to users’ devices still remains completely optional and, in most cases, unimplemented. Compliance with the government’s wishes has basically disappeared a full fifth of the most popular sites on the internet, of which pornography only contributes 4% of the total.

Torrentfreak, a site that doesn’t have anything (directly) to do with file sharing or porn, reported being blocked (a situation that was straightened out once the BBC got involved). Numerous other false positives are sure to be uncovered in the coming weeks by the Open Rights Group web blocking test, which runs submitted URLs through a variety of ISPs and returns blocked/unblocked results.

As was pointed out repeatedly when Cameron began pressing the issue, what’s being asked of ISPs is both censorious and impossible. False positives were a foregone conclusion, as was the fact that objectionable content would still sneak past filters. While ISPs are generally willing to investigate incorrect blocking, there’s only so many employees they can throw at the problem. ORG’s investigation turned up 19,000 sites being incorrectly blocked, and if each is subject to its own investigation at every ISP that’s blocked them, it will be a long time before the situation is corrected. In the meantime, more sites will find themselves snagged on filters meant to stop other content.

One of the other problematic aspects is that the filtering system is actively being made worse in order to service a few choice industries. Adding corporate pressure to an already terrible idea is a recipe for full-blown disaster.

On a more personal note, Techdirt still seems to be available everywhere in the UK, the word “dirt” and all that might conceivably imply notwithstanding.


It appears TalkTalk (the service provider with the most restrictive filters) blocked it at some point in the last few days but is entirely cool with it for the time being. (The time listed seems to coincide with the release of this post [which has the word “sex” in its title] or possibly this slightly earlier one [which deals with Tor].)

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Comments on “UK's Web Filters Blocking Nearly One-Fifth Of The World's Most Popular Websites”

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33 Comments
PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“Story would read better with a little less sarcastic slagging.”

Does that change the point, or the actual story? A story that covers a result that many of us were attacked for accurately predicting when this scheme was first considered, by the way.

“It’s not desirable, but it’s a potential reality.”

Exactly. Which is why we complain and lobby against them NOW, not after that sad reality blocks our ability to do so.

Whatever (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Does that change the point, or the actual story?

When there is that much snark in the first paragraph, I have to assume the writer has a very slanted view of the subject, and as a result I assume that the rest of the story is equally slanted and likely not telling me the whole truth. It’s not just a Techdirt thing, it’s an every day thing. It applies as much to the slanted crap in a site like Breibart – and they make it worse by sort of claiming to be news rather than commentary.

Which is why we complain and lobby against them NOW

I don’t think it’s something you can just campaign against and make go away. There is a keen understanding by governments all over the world that the internet could usurp many of their powers, and create all sorts of legal nightmares. It’s not unusual or even unexpected to see them attempt to regulate the internet in the same manner and to the same standards as everything else in their country.

In internet terms, it’s not desirable. In real world terms, it’s almost inevitable.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“as a result I assume”

I’ve noticed you do that a lot. You also seem adverse to admitting you made an incorrect assumption, which is a surprisingly common occurrence.

Again – is there anything wrong about the story’s facts or the points being made, or are you literally now arguing the toss over writing style? If the latter, why do you choose to come here instead of using a source that writes the way you wish?

“I don’t think it’s something you can just campaign against and make go away.”

It’s an ongoing struggle for sure, but sitting back and keeping quiet because it’s “not unusual or even unexpected” is not an acceptable option. In fact, that makes the fight even more important, because you know that they’re nowhere near their end goals, and they’ll point to a lack of opposition on the smaller stuff as implicit permission to go ahead with the truly damaging censorship.

“In real world terms, it’s almost inevitable.”

So, sit back and do nothing while you watch it happen. Just lie back and accept your censored and restricted fate. While whining about those who do oppose it, no less. What a brave soul you are.

Whatever (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

You also seem adverse to admitting you made an incorrect assumption

Who rattled your cage? It’s my opinion, nothing more. That in the end he came through with a reasonable story got past the rough, TMZ style start. That’s all, nothing more. There is no right or wrong about an opinion on that sort of thing. Are you always right?

is there anything wrong about the story’s facts

No, as I said, the story would read better with the slagging. That is all. Do you have a problem with opinions?

So, sit back and do nothing while you watch it happen.

Where did I say sit back and take it? I only said it is inevitable that governments will go down this road, considering that they are charged with retaining the sovereign nature of their country and it’s laws.

It’s not about sitting back and just taking it, it’s about not being surprised about where they are trying to take it, that all.

Are you always so angry about thing?

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

“There is no right or wrong about an opinion on that sort of thing.”

Then why are you complaining? If the facts are correct, there’s not a problem. Go find a source that writes the way you want them to if this is all that’s bothering you.

“Are you always so angry about thing?”

People who either deliberately troll or consciously try to detract from the topic being discussed annoy me. I’m yet to find a thread you’ve commented on here where your haven’t tried to do one of those things. I’m not angry, just a little annoyed that people can;’t have an honest discussion without someone trying to derail it.

Anonymous Coward says:

It’s fucking ridiculous. I added an extension to my browser which is basically a button to toggle a proxy so I can bypass the filters if I ever need to, and you can bet everyone involved in setting up the filters knows or was informed that bypassing the filters would be that simple. Fairly certain this pitiful attempt at censorship exists purely for political reasons rather than any sincere belief in its practical value.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The Daily Mail is a popular newspaper in the UK, despite its well deserved reputation for not only distorting the truth to push an obvious set of agendas, but also for outright lying to its readers on a regular basis. Another popular newspaper is The Sun, whose reputation was built on pictures of topless teenagers and bingo games rather than any actual journalism. Yet, millions of working class Britons turn to these as their primary, if not sole, source of information.

Given this, why do you think that an attempt at censorship needs to be practical? You just need to keep real information out of the sight of those too ignorant to look for it anyway, and you have a depressingly large number of the populace free of any facts you don’t wish them to know. Those people then outnumber those with the will or intelligence to discover the truth.

Anonymous Coward says:

It was never about porn really. That was the excuse to get the blocking filter installed. The real and unspoken reason for it is blocking anything the government doesn’t really like.

I can understand they would use it for blocking things terrorists might use it for such as insurgency training or something similar. There have been cases in the past in other countries where a political opponents site was blocked simply to eliminate some of the competition. Since the block list is always secret, who is to really know what the problem is at first.

Porn was just the sales pitch to the public, not the real reason why it was installed over the objections of the majority of net users.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

You obviously believe in censorship, as your proposal can only make matters worse.
By the way I rely on mobile dongles for Internet connectivity, and is trivial to get the filter lifted, just ask when you buy it. It must be a common request as the shop staff have no trouble doing it and seemed quite practiced at doing it.

rs101 (profile) says:

A couple of factual errors...

There’s no mandatory filtering happening in the UK.
The largest ISPs have implemented optional filters controlled by the end users. These are what’s tested by the blocked.org.uk site.That test site has been returning odd results which don’t reflect other users tests.
The 7 largest ISPs also block a small number of torrent sites – they had a court order served on them to do so.
Most ISPs do block extreme child porn content on a list from the IWF.
Many other ISPs in the UK can supply a completely unfiltered connection – I’m using one to type this comment.

Anonymous Coward says:

Why do people here have such trouble reading articles, this is an optional filter (albeit with dubious reliability) to block porn for concerned parents, and is easily switched off.

Most ISP’s already provide this kind of service.

As someone else said: There’s no mandatory filtering happening in the UK.

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