Comcast Protected Browsing Blocks TorrentFreak, Showing Why Site-Blocking Sucks Out Loud Always

from the voluntary-overblock dept

While site-blocking is now a global phenomena, every country appears to be on a different trajectory in how it does this new flavor of censorship. Russia, for instance, looks for any excuse to block the availability of a website on its soil, resulting in absolutely hilarious amounts of collateral damage. Italy is slightly more judicious, but still does its site-blocking sans due process, whereas Ireland has just begun to open the door to site-blocking, with all kinds of major media companies just waiting to barge through it. Here in America, site-blocking is typically reserved for streaming sites during major sporting events and the voluntary blocking companies like Comcast offer with its “Protected Browsing” service.

But let’s be clear: all of these points on the spectrum suck out loud. Collateral damage is the rule, not the outlier, and these efforts at justified censorship always creep, if not dash, towards the other line of reasonable behavior. As an example of this, let’s go back to the site-blocking Comcast performs for customers who enable its “Protected Browsing” feature. This feature is supposed to protect internet users from malware, unwanted pornography, and pirate sites. It also apparently keeps people from being able to access news sites like TorrentFreak.

A reader alerted us that, when he tried to access TorrentFreak, access was denied stating that a “suspicious” site was ahead. A pirate logo on the blocking page suggests that there’s copyright-infringing activity involved. While it’s no secret that we cover a lot of news related to piracy, it goes a bit far to label this type of news reporting as suspicious.

There are a million possible explanations for how something like this happens. Perhaps the filter is way too aggressive, saw the word “torrent” in the name of the site, and simply blocked it. Perhaps something is being picked up either in the subject matter of the posts at TF, or in the comments, resulting in a block. Perhaps links to other sites contained in the posts are a factor. Or, least likely of all, perhaps someone at Comcast has it in for the folks at TorrentFreak and blocked the site maliciously.

Here’s the thing: none of that matters. The only thing that matters is that TorrentFreak is not a malicious site, is not a pirate site, is not a suspicious site, and yet it has been blocked by this feature anyway. The ultimate answer to the question “why?” is that site-blocking like this always sucks, always goes wrong, and always carries out collateral damage. Whether its done through abuse or ineptitude doesn’t really matter when the result is the same: innocent sites being blocked.

And if you happen to think TorrentFreak does something nefarious enough to make any of this warranted — about which you’re wrong, by the way — even more innocuous sites have been caught up in this as well.

Previously, Comcast users reported that this system prevented people from accessing PayPal as well, which is a bit much, and others reported that it stopped the Steam store from loading properly.

So, for proponents of site-blocking as a solution to piracy and all the internet’s ills, why in the world would I trust government to do this better than Comcast does it on a voluntary basis?

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Companies: comcast, torrentfreak

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Comments on “Comcast Protected Browsing Blocks TorrentFreak, Showing Why Site-Blocking Sucks Out Loud Always”

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43 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Two out of three is pretty good

They blocked TorrentFreak, which was wrong.

They blocked Paypal, a company infamous for clever ways of depriving users of funds stored in Paypal accounts.

They blocked Steam, a company that carries an extensive catalog of DRM encumbered works (and some non-encumbered ones).

So, two out of three seems pretty good.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: THREE out of three is accurate because Torrrent Freak is pro-piracy.

If goal is keep people from inadvertent piracy, that’s a good place to start.

Here at Techdirt you WILL get the notion that piracy is legal, harms no one and is even your “natural” right to take for free what others have made.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: THREE out of three is accurate because Torrrent Freak is pro-piracy.

Or maybe Atlantis.

Thought crimes relate to the imagination, and who knows what anyone elses imaginations are imagining? Then if the thought crime cop gets caught up in someones imagining, who’s to say that that thought crime cop didn’t commit a crime by thinking about what the target of the thought crime was thinking about?

Does this make the perpetrators of thought crime crimes laws complicit in thinking about thought crimes?

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: THREE out of three is accurate because Torrrent Freak is pro-piracy.

“If goal is keep people from inadvertent piracy, that’s a good place to start. “

Erm, he mentioned the major place to buy digital games legally and the place most commonly used by a lot of sites to process the money used to legally buy products. If avoiding piracy is your goal, these are actually some of the worst places you can block.

But, the fantasy world in your head still doesn’t mesh with observable reality now, does it?

“Here at Techdirt you WILL get the notion that piracy is legal”

Only if you’re a lying prick who’s unable to deal with what people actually say.

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re: Two out of three is pretty good

You got there before I did, Thad. What is it with this guy that he whinges like the king of Whingeland over his drivel-filled posts being hidden by people like me clicking the report button but cheerleads site-blocking on principle? If I didn’t know better I’d assume he thinks that only his rantings are worth keeping online and everybody else can go to Hell. /s

Anonymous Coward says:

A quick review of the history of site-blocking will show that unwanted ‘special interests’ always seem to weasel their way into the mix, skewing the originally intended mission.

A big question is how Comcast comes up with its blacklist of bad sites. Does someone search through logged DNS entries looking for any site with the name “torrent” in it?

Since Comcast is owned by NBC-Universal, it should not surprise anyone that the company might be on a crusade to clamp down on copyright infringement, as doing so (no matter how sloppily) would probably be in the company’s own financial interest.

Anonymous Coward says:

Of course you pirates won't admit that Torrent Freak is a PRO-PIRATE site! Oh, they put on better front than Techdirt, but have distorted view of law that always favors piracy, and their weekly "Top 10 Films Pirated" is clearly to promote more.

Why is it you pirates are always so blatantly wrong that I end up defending Comcast? HMM? I have ALWAYS tried to be impartial. But after read Masnick’s "can’t compete" piece and found that he simply ignores "sunk (or fixed) costs" so can argue that bandwidth is the only relevant cost, I simply can’t go along with any of your sleazy little attacks on productive industries, even when it’s Comcast!

Perception fail; filters are aggressive, do not see: ‘Perhaps the filter is way too aggressive, saw the word "torrent"’.


For the epic thread that CHANGED MY VIEWS after I READ Masnick, argued with, and chased him off his own site, and then re-writer Geigner attacked ME for no visible reason:

http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20110621/16071614792/misconceptions-free-abound-why-do-brains-stop-zero.shtml#c1869

Unprovoked, not at all engaged with me, Geigner trots out the vile filth: "There are white people, and then there are ignorant motherfuckers like you…."

To say the least, after finding Masnick trivially wrong, Geigner tipped me over to adamant anti-piracy. — And then they have the chutpah to advise!

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Of course you pirates won't admit that Torrent Freak is a PRO-PIRATE site! Oh, they put on better front than Techdirt, but have distorted view of law that always favors piracy, and their weekly "Top 10 Films Pirated" is clearly to promote more.

Damn, Blue. I didn’t realize that you’d been on this site for so damn long — and still can’t understand basic context, despite it being explained to you multiple times.

Here’s a thought: perhaps the problem is on your end? Everyone else seems to get it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Of course you pirates won't admit that Torrent Freak is a PRO-PIRATE site! Oh, they put on better front than Techdirt, but have distorted view of law that always favors piracy, and their weekly "Top 10 Films Pirated" is clearly to promo

This reminds me of someone who was a persistent pest in a usenet newsgroup for over a decade. A long-time ‘regular’ who knew him in real life said he was a schizophrenic who had spent years in a mental hospital.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Of course you pirates won't admit that Torrent Freak is a PRO-PIRATE site! Oh, they put on better front than Techdirt, but have distorted view of law that always favors piracy, and their weekly "Top 10 Films Pirated" is clearly to promote more.

When it comes to sunk costs, how many Authors, song writers and script writers never managed to get a decent work published? Heck, J.K Rowling almost didn’t make it, and it was only because a member of staff took the manuscript home to entertain her kids that it got pushed as far as an editor.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Of course you pirates won’t admit that Torrent Freak is a PRO-PIRATE site!

Assume that someone here says what you want them to say, either willingly or by threat of having to listen to you all day and night until they do. “Torrentfreak is a pro-pirate site”, they say. You sit back in smug satisfaction as you got them to say those exact words.

My question, then, is this: So fucking what?

orbitalinsertion (profile) says:

Re: Of course you pirates won't admit that Torrent Freak is a PRO-PIRATE site! Oh, they put on better front than Techdirt, but have distorted view of law that always favors piracy, and their weekly "Top 10 Films Pirated" is clearly to promote more.

Is Torrent Freak pro-infringement? Perhaps. And that is completely irrelevant. The word “torrent”? Also irrelevant.

We are all pirates and pro-infringement? Well OK then. I am glad you know each and every one of us better than we do ourselves, and what we say repeatedly should be ignored i suppose.

Have a nice day.

K`Tetch (profile) says:

Re: Of course you pirates won't admit that Torrent Freak is a PRO-PIRATE site! Oh, they put on better front than Techdirt, but have distorted view of law that always favors piracy, and their weekly "Top 10 Films Pirated" is clearly to promote more.

Hang on – we ‘put on a better front than Techdirt’?

Damn. I don’t know quite what to say to that…

I’ve been working for TorrentFreak for a while now, sometimes as researcher, some as the community manager. No-one told me there that I had to put on a front.
also, that reminds me
Hey Mike! your editorial guidelines totally missed out the bit about ‘not putting on as much of a front as TF.

Or maybe I need to see a shrink, because the front is now ingrained into my being, and I’m doing it automatically.

K`Tetch,
Lead researcher and community manager, TorrentFreak, also an occasional contributor to TechDirt.

Rekrul says:

To be honest, I’m surprised that government mandated site blocking hasn’t been implemented in the US yet. The government really doesn’t care about whatever “rights” are keeping it at bay. I figure it’s only a matter of time before it shows up in one form or another.

The will of the Holy Church of Copyright will not be denied!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

That’s probably, in part, because we have stronger protections for free speech. Based on previous rulings on the CDA (which, with the exception of §230, was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court) and attempts by lower governments to impose such blocks, such a law would clearly be unconstitutional, as Congress surely knows.

…At least that’s what I’d like to say, but given what bills have gone through, I am surprised there hasn’t been more of an attempt to push for one. At the very least, I’m surprised no one proposed such an amendment to SESTA/FOSTA, even if it was voted down.

CHRoNoSS says:

why i am ok with torrent freak going poof

A) it rats too much about everythng pirates do and thus gives hollystupid new ways and reasons ot remove rights and such

B) i got banned when a good chunk of there posters were in favor of incest porn , ( YES there are some seriously sick fucks behnd this site )

IT is B that i would consider this not to be a block about pirating but one to protect actual kids form the sick shit they seem ok to advocate for using piracy as a screen

bhull242 (profile) says:

Re: why i am ok with torrent freak going poof

  1. Double-check your spelling and grammar. “IT is B that i…”? Random caps, not capitalizing “I”, and using “is be”? That’s no good.

    2. More importantly, what do you mean by “posters”? If you mean commenters, that’s not TorrentFreak’s fault. If you mean writers for TorrentFreak, when have they done so? I’m being honest here; please show me where they have supported incest porn.

    3. Please don’t bring kids into this without explaining why they’re relevant here. Other people use the internet besides kids, you know.

CHRoNoSS says:

@K`Tetch

no real drug dealer would stand out front of a police station advocating for drugs while peddling it ….

same is true of most real pirates they hate the site cause everytime you turn around one of those rats is telling everyone what is being used and then allowing hollywood to fire on all thrusters removing more civl rights and screwing more ways

IT ALSO ADVOCATES FOR INCEST PORN and most of the bans handed out on that site are or were people that confronted them on it

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: @K`Tetch

Either of those aren’t my cup of tea, but portrayals of things that I might think are "sick things" are fine by me so long as that nobody’s being harmed or killed in reality.

Nobody put a gun to my head to make me watch fantasies I dislike. I do have the ability to ignore and not buy things I find disturbing. Will you choose to do the same?

tp (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Video games cause violent crime apparently. Perhaps that’s why Steam was blocked?

This is why we started a community (modelled after GNU) for creating video games based on pink colours and rainbows and unicorns. Also we refused to give the results of this work to steam for distribution. This is guaranteed to fix all violent crime, guns, nazi symbols, screams for more frame rates, horror scenes and birds from games. And we’re going to build all this from scratch, following principles like copyrights and encryption based DRM schemes designed to overtake the world using spambots similar to facebook.

bhull242 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

IKR?

I think the idea is that, normally, you’d pay someone other than the ISP to install a filter on your computer and/or browser, so Comcast figures that they should be paid for doing the same thing, only they block it before it gets to your computer (I think). It’s far from the worst thing Comcast has ever done to earn a little extra cash, even if it seems questionable.

Patrick (profile) says:

When I was in law school, I was quoted in an article on TorrentFreak talking about YouTube’s copyright policies. Someone in the law school administration saw the article, and included a link to it in an email newsletter they sent out with media mentions of their students. When I tried to view the article while on the campus network, it was blocked by the school’s content filters.

I contacted the school’s IT department and tried to explain the situation to them, and was stonewalled with the answer, “the site has torrent in its name, so it’s a piracy site.” Nothing could make these people see how absurd this was.

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