United In Flight WiFi Blocks Popular News Sites

from the because-we-said-so dept

So, just last month, we wrote about United Airlines idiotic inflight video system that forces you to install DRM on your own devices to watch a movie. And, now, it appears that the company is filtering out all sorts of news sites. The EFF's Nate Cardozo was on a flight yesterday when he started noticing that he couldn't get to certain tech websites, including Ars Technica and The Verge -- instead receiving messages they were blocked due to United's "access policy." The same was true for political news site Daily Kos. Eventually he even realized that United also blocks the NY Times (via his phone after the laptop battery ran out).



Both the terms of use that United has, as well as the company's FAQ about the service warn that "inappropriate or unsuitable for inflight viewing" websites may be blocked:
Of course, it's difficult to see what kind of content on any of those news sites would be considered inappropriate or unsuitable for inflight viewing. And, you know, it's letting through plenty of much sketchier sites like, uh, us at Techdirt. Basically, this makes no sense at all, and I'm sure that if United's PR people ever getting around to commenting on it, they'll say it was a "glitch" and that it won't happen again. But this is the kind of problem that you run into when you deem yourself able to control what people can and can't access online.

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  • icon
    Chris-Mouse (profile), 28 Aug 2015 @ 3:42am

    Now that you've posted an article describing how United is screwing around with WiFi customers, Techdirt is sure to be added to the banned list.

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

  • identicon
    Yes, I know I'm commenting anonymously, 28 Aug 2015 @ 3:55am

    Until further notice, I'll assume the reason for the blockade is that these websites have not payed to be accessible while being targeted by the airline for having to make those payments. (Techdirt is not known to those who may put sites on the list.)

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Aug 2015 @ 4:00am

    Has United been asked which sites they ban and why yet? Or conversely, what is the criteria for the sites they don't ban?

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

  • identicon
    PRMan, 28 Aug 2015 @ 4:16am

    Hmm

    Yet another reason to avoid United...

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Aug 2015 @ 4:34am

    dangerous thoughts happen when you let people think for themselves which those sites no doubt encourage among their readers

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Aug 2015 @ 4:52am

    I wonder if this has anything to do with ad bloat on those sites.

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

  • identicon
    rick, 28 Aug 2015 @ 5:14am

    Doesn't that violate net neutrality?

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

    • icon
      orbitalinsertion (profile), 28 Aug 2015 @ 11:33am

      Re:

      No, that is like having filtered internet access in your place of employment, another person's home, or some business providing free (or not) wifi. Not that it doesn't suck.

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

  • identicon
    Chris, 28 Aug 2015 @ 6:08am

    Meh. That's what VPN's are for - amongst other things.

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

  • identicon
    United Wifi Content Police, 28 Aug 2015 @ 6:09am

    What?!?

    Oh shit, we forgot to block Techdirt!

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

  • icon
    DannyB (profile), 28 Aug 2015 @ 6:14am

    Dear United

    Do you block my SSH remote login to my home computer which has a static IP address?

    If not, then consider.

    I have an app on my phone and my tablet that builds an encrypted tunnel to my home computer.

    (android app: Proxoid. On my Linux computer: sshd, which enables remote SSH login.)

    I haven't used this since back in the day when I needed to routinely do 'tethered' browsing from a netbook using my non-rooted phone. But it still works.

    As long as Proxoid can SSH to my box at home, then all my browsing is tunneled through that login. If I browse to TechDirt, the connection appears to TD to originate from my box at home.

    If the need existed, this kind of setup could be made much simpler for non geeks to use.

    In short: in the long run, if you allow any kind of way to communicate packets to the outside world, people will find ways to build an encrypted tunnel through it. Even if the only form of communication were plain HTTP to, say, google. I would use a Google AppEngine app to be the endpoint of a tunnel where my Http requests/responses contained encrypted content in the body that tunneled any other kind of TCP or UDP packets through.

    Unless you're going to block everything and only whitelist your preferred sites, you're going to lose this game.

    Plus, I hope the FCC nails you for this.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 28 Aug 2015 @ 6:40am

      Re: Dear United

      You have now been put on the No-WIFI-List

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

      • icon
        Bergman (profile), 28 Aug 2015 @ 7:01am

        Re: Re: Dear United

        And probably the No-Fly list, given how Luddite FBI agents tend to be, his explanation probably went right over their heads.

        But he said the Bad Word™ "encryption" so he must be a terrorist!

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Aug 2015 @ 6:15am

    Everyone overlooked the simplest explination

    Terrorists!

    Yes Terrorists, the boggey men that don't exist yet everyone is afraid of.

    Imagine, your on a United flight and you visit the nytimes.com and there is breaking news "This just in....Terrorists have taken over several United flights.... 911 style plot....."

    The passengers flip out and decide to restrain anyone who looks like they might be from the middle east, then suddenly someone remembers "Oh crap, the PILOT looked muslim! Get Him!"

    Yes I think that explains it, its the only possible explination.

    Got a better more plausible explination?

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 28 Aug 2015 @ 6:41am

      Re: Everyone overlooked the simplest explination

      Greed?

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

    • icon
      Bergman (profile), 28 Aug 2015 @ 7:05am

      Re: Everyone overlooked the simplest explination

      And yet, if there had been such an announcement back in 2001, naming flight numbers, and a belief the hijackers intended to use the planes as flying bombs, the World Trade Center would likely still be standing.

      Getting cut up by someone with a knife when you don't know their ultimate intentions or believe you will be held for political ransom? Crowds tend to be sheep. Knowing you will die -- guaranteed -- if you don't resist? The passengers storm the cockpit, seize the hijackers and shove those knives where the sun doesn't shine.

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

  • identicon
    KB, 28 Aug 2015 @ 6:32am

    United's Free Inflight Entertainment System?

    Is this article only about United's free inflight entertainment system? If so, nothing I read on the flight or from the site you visit indicated the WiFi was for anything more than watching those movies. Personally, I was thrilled with the system. A free selection of 30+ movies and even more TV shows (many of which are geared towards kids) that I get to choose from and watch on my tablet, phone or laptop instead of having to watch the one show over the crappy drop-down video screen.

    I could not access any off-plane websites, but I honestly did not try too hard either. Maybe you could to some extent, but nothing I read presented the system as anything more as an expanded entertainment system.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 28 Aug 2015 @ 6:41am

      Re: United's Free Inflight Entertainment System?

      Nice try United

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

    • icon
      nasch (profile), 28 Aug 2015 @ 10:06am

      Re: United's Free Inflight Entertainment System?

      If so, nothing I read on the flight or from the site you visit indicated the WiFi was for anything more than watching those movies. Personally, I was thrilled with the system.

      I couldn't get Alaska Airlines' to work. :-(

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

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 28 Aug 2015 @ 6:38am

    How many of the blocked sites did coverage not glowing of United?

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

  • identicon
    IP Lawyer, 28 Aug 2015 @ 6:53am

    I also cannot get to Pandora on Amtrak

    Which is similarly bonkers.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward, 28 Aug 2015 @ 7:47am

    What was their motto?

    Fly the friendly sky's, United!

    Not so friendly anymore, eh?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Aug 2015 @ 8:39am

    I missed it...

    Do passengers pay for this? If yes, then they should demand their money back at the end of each flight telling the flight attendants that they weren't even able to read the news.

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

  • identicon
    Scott R, 28 Aug 2015 @ 8:39am

    Works for me

    I'm on a United flight right now and was able to access these sites with my phone by paying for wifi. It might have been a screwup on their content filtering system. Whatever it is, it doesn't appear to be a problem on my flight from Detroit to Denver.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous, 28 Aug 2015 @ 4:02pm

    Panera used to block access to certain news sites, too. I got around it by installing Tor. https://www.torproject.org/

    I'm pretty sure this will work on United as well.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Sep 2015 @ 1:18pm

    How is this not a free speech issue?

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

    • icon
      nasch (profile), 2 Sep 2015 @ 2:56pm

      Re:

      How is this not a free speech issue?

      Depends. If you mean generally an issue with people being able to speak however they want and access any information they like, it is that kind of issue. If you mean a 1st Amendment issue, it isn't because the government is not involved.

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


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