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.
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].)