Steam, Proud Adopters Of Hands Off Games Policy, Very Hands On When Banning All Of TorrentFreak

from the freak-out dept

The calls for internet platforms to actively censor content one group or another doesn't like has slowly risen to a cacaphony as of late. Even the most well-meaning arguments calling for internet platforms to be more heavy-handed in moderating the sources of content are invariably stupid, showing little understanding of just how hard it is to do this without creating all kinds of collateral damage, how hard it is to properly define for a large subset of humanity what sources are acceptable and what sources aren't, and a near complete misunderstanding of just how much human error goes into this overall. We have helpfully cited several exmaples of platforms sticking their feet in crap as they try to attempt this.

But the case studies in how badly this always goes keep rolling in. You may recall that we recently discussed how Comcast's protected browsing options managed to disallow access to TorrentFreak, a news site. Well, Comcast doesn't exactly have a reputation for being hands-off when it comes to managing its network. Unlike, say, Valve's Steam platform, which just made a bunch of news with a new games policy championing its hands-off approach. How Steam handles links shared on its platform are obviously in a different timezone compared with the games its allows, but it's still a bit odd to see that Steam is apparently very much hands on when it comes to blocking TorrentFreak as well.

Here at TorrentFreak we’re used to censorship. Every few months we’re contacted by readers trying to access our news articles on public WiFi, only to find that the site is blocked alongside various warnings, none of which are true. It’s almost as if the word ‘torrent’ in our URL has been blindly blacklisted for some reason.

Sadly, this week we’ve discovered that Steam, the popular digital game distribution and social networking platform, has jumped on the “let’s censor TorrentFreak” bandwaggon. A tip from a TF reader and Steam user highlighted the problems he’d experienced when trying to read TF articles via Steam’s chat interface.

As has often been the case in the past, the likely culprit in all of this is a combination of an overly aggressive filtering and blacklisting system combined with the simple fact that TorrentFreak's name has the word "torrent" in it. Still, as non-nefarious as that explanation is, assuming it's even true, that almost perfectly highlights just how terrible even large internet platforms are when it comes to correctly censoring undesirable content.

Just to make this clear, nothing about TorrentFreak makes it a valid target for censorship of this kind. It's purely a news site, covering topics related to digital marketplaces, piracy, and filesharing. And, yet, the site is depressingly used to finding itself on all kinds of blacklists. In this case, however, users are being told that TorrentFreak is something it absolutely is not.

Steam has banned our entire platform and put up a warning that’s not only completely false but also damaging to our reputation.

“https://torrentfreak.com has been flagged as being potentially malicious. For your safety, Steam will not open this URL in your web browser. The site could contain malicious content or be known for stealing user credentials,” the warning reads.

Of course, on its own platform Steam is fully entitled to block resources that it believes can harm its users. Some might even argue that it has a duty of care to do so, in order to keep its community safe. However, making blatantly false statements while blocking access to accurate news reporting shouldn’t ever be part of that.

It's an obvious point, but one that needs to be repeated to every person out there shouting for websites to do more site and source blocking. Because going down that road is always going to lead to this kind of collateral damage, particularly for larger platforms that need to do this kind of censorship in an automated fashion. Perhaps for some, blocking valid news organizations is worth the larger outcome of blocking content they don't like.

For us, however, it's quite obvious how horrible a deal that is for free and open speech on the internet.


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  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    John Smith, 30 Oct 2018 @ 9:58pm

    Private companies can do what they want unless it stops piracy.

    Censorship is their right if it's GAB but not if it's this.

    What you create belongs to pirates the seconds you create it.

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

    • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
      identicon
      John Smith, 30 Oct 2018 @ 10:42pm

      Re:

      Again, Techdirt is keen on facilitating efforts to humiliate and ridicule me by mobilizing fake posters, acting like a foolish moron to insinuate negative inferences on my mental health.

      This is why Section 230 is a plague on this nation. The sooner the police apprehend those responsible for this obvious smear campaign and nuke this piracy cesspool to oblivion, the better. Along with PaulT and all those Anonymous Cowards who made fun of me.

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

      • identicon
        Rocky, 31 Oct 2018 @ 12:33am

        Re: Re:

        You do realize that without section 230 you wouldn't able to post anything online because the cost of active moderation due to liability control would be prohibitive. In essence, free speech online would be dead.

        That means you would not be able to complain online about the pirates all the while they keep sharing stuff and ignoring the law.

        Considering your history of posts here you would gladly cut off your nose to spite the face.

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

        • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
          identicon
          J0hn Smth, 31 Oct 2018 @ 1:27am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Wow, another mouth on this one. Where do you find these Internet tough guys, Masnick? The police will bev ery interested to know which lawyers are on your payroll to shout me down.

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

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 31 Oct 2018 @ 3:25am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Do you even know what the phrase "internet tough guy" means? Rocky is simply describing the situation, there's no "itg" going on here at all.

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

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 31 Oct 2018 @ 12:08pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Ohh more threats from JHno “I can’t even spell my name right” Smith. You gonna get your big brother to beat us up next?

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

      • identicon
        Not John Smith, 31 Oct 2018 @ 2:14am

        Re: Re:

        Why should they ridicule you, you do a good job of doing that to yourself.

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

      • icon
        Gary (profile), 31 Oct 2018 @ 6:16am

        Re: Re:

        Again, Techdirt is keen on facilitating efforts to humiliate and ridicule me by mobilizing fake posters, acting like a foolish moron to insinuate negative inferences on my mental health.

        Since you are not logged in, it is in fact you that are the "Fake poster" with no verifiable identity. Register with a valid email address and (one of the Smiths at least can) claim to be the real one.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 31 Oct 2018 @ 8:46am

        Re: Re:

        Hi, MyNameHere! How's that John Steele defense fund of yours coming along?

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

      • icon
        Stephen T. Stone (profile), 31 Oct 2018 @ 9:01am

        Now now, you don’t need us to insinuate the problems with your mental health.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 31 Oct 2018 @ 12:12pm

        Re: Re:

        We’re you actually crying when you wrote this? Because your done suggests very much that tears were streaming down your face.

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

    • identicon
      Too Much Coffee Man, 3 Nov 2018 @ 1:18pm

      Re:

      Of course it does, because I'm a pirate.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Oct 2018 @ 10:53pm

    If Steam really has a "hands off games policy" then why are so many banned?

    https://steam.madjoki.com/apps/banned

    That long list does not even include some of the more notorious banned (or never accepted) games like the school shooting game "Active Shooter" that came out a few months after the Parkland massacre. As it now seems likely that someone will probably submit a synagogue shooting simulator to Steam in the near future, it's a near certainty that Steam will reject that game too. Even non-violent games like those Japanese "lolicon" and rape simulation games are probably also banned by Steam (not that there's necessarily a problem with that).

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

    • icon
      Seegras (profile), 31 Oct 2018 @ 4:26am

      Re:

      A lot of the banned games are not banned because of the contents, but because of what else they do:
      - trojans, typically cryptocurrency-miners
      - handing out thousands of steam-achievements
      - doing bollocks with the DLC system
      - being completely non-functional

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

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    tp, 31 Oct 2018 @ 2:44am

    Obviously it's their own fault, if they get blocked...

    Given that torrentfreak has chosen dubious site name, usually associated with illegal activity, it's no surprise that they get banned and blocked from various networks and platforms. The naming choice corresponds very well with the intent of the site. This same reason is why piratebay gets bad reputation, while google search or youtube has better reputation. People simply choose their site whenever they want to see something illegal, given that all the legal services would choose something appropriate for the use case.

    Putting semi-legal news site to such awful name is always big surprise that they don't get more angry emails from parents of some kids who browse the web.

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

    • icon
      wereisjessicahyde (profile), 31 Oct 2018 @ 2:55am

      Re: Obviously it's their own fault, if they get blocked...

      What are you talking about? It's fully legal news site.

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

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 31 Oct 2018 @ 4:39am

        Don't expect sense from that one, at best they're a poe/parody, and to say their opinions on copyright law are 'novel' is an understatement of immense proportion.

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

    • identicon
      MathFox, 31 Oct 2018 @ 3:18am

      Re: Obviously it's their own fault, if they get blocked...

      I wonder why a person like you, who seems to think that website names should be held to high standards, would post comments on a site with the lowly name Techdirt.

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

      • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
        identicon
        tp, 31 Oct 2018 @ 4:33pm

        Re: Re: Obviously it's their own fault, if they get blocked...

        > why a person like you, who seems to think that website names should be held to high standards, would post comments on a site with the lowly name Techdirt.

        The name of the site usually is good agreement with the state of mind of the person who created the site, at the site creation time. Techdirt's name clearly communicates that the site author thinks everyone in tech industry are scumbags, so obviously if I also think that tech people are dirt, techdirt would be a good place to post this type of comments. Posting this kind of information about dirt to other sites would be bad; so I wouldn't go to stackexchange and post their dirty secrets in such respected forum.

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

    • identicon
      ryuugami, 31 Oct 2018 @ 5:09am

      Re: Obviously it's their own fault, if they get blocked...

      Given that torrentfreak has chosen dubious site name, usually associated with illegal activity, it's no surprise that they get banned and blocked from various networks and platforms. The naming choice corresponds very well with the intent of the site.

      Welp, time to ban Coca-Cola, I guess.

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

    • identicon
      Michael, 31 Oct 2018 @ 8:40am

      Re: Obviously it's their own fault, if they get blocked...

      It is fitting that you posted a rant about naming choices pinpointing purpose using the name "tp".

      Mike - a roll of comments would be useful and probably generate some sales in the Techdirt store.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 31 Oct 2018 @ 4:20pm

        Re: Re: Obviously it's their own fault, if they get blocked...

        We could call it a fitting end for blues best efforts. Or Blues Bog Roll.

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

    • icon
      Uriel-238 (profile), 31 Oct 2018 @ 1:32pm

      Torrentfeak = dubious site name.

      First off, torrent is a data transfer protocol, the same thing that the Steam service is.

      Secondly, it shouldn't matter. Even if it was childporndistributors.gov or wesellpeople.tv

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

  • identicon
    John Cressman, 31 Oct 2018 @ 5:52am

    Another explanation

    Is it possible the type of advertising they allow got them banded?

    More than once, I've gone to sites that use a "cheaper" type of include advertising and some of the ads use malicious code - things like modal pop-ups that tell you your PC is infected, etc.

    I've actually been surprised at the number of "legit" sites that allow that sort of advertising.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Oct 2018 @ 8:14am

    Steam's filters have some weird on-again-off-again thing going on. There were a few months when 4chan image links (my friends like to share the goofy pictures we find, sue me) were censored. Luckily we had discord to fall back on, but it was annoying as hell all the same.

    For the record, Steam is back to not blocking those image links again.

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

  • identicon
    Anomalous Crowbar, 31 Oct 2018 @ 8:34am

    Stupid question . . . .

    Stupid question . . . .

    Not being a Steam user, I'm not clear on how Steam is in a position to censor? Are they an ISP and I wasn't aware of it, or do they have some kind of proxy or filter that gets invasively configured on your devices?

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

    • identicon
      Rocky, 31 Oct 2018 @ 8:39am

      Re: Stupid question . . . .

      Steam censors things posted on their community boards or on their chat system, even if it happens to be a private conversation.

      So if you don't use Steams social functions this will not impact you.

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

  • identicon
    Old Dos Guy, 31 Oct 2018 @ 8:50am

    Steam Chat? -Reallly...

    Someone actually uses Steam's new chat system? Talk about self flagellation... <yes - its awful>

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

  • icon
    nerd bert (profile), 31 Oct 2018 @ 9:08am

    Malicious defamation?

    Steam has banned our entire platform and put up a warning that’s not only completely false but also damaging to our reputation.

    https://torrentfreak.com has been flagged as being potentially malicious. For your safety, Steam will not open this URL in your web browser. The site could contain malicious content or be known for stealing user credentials,” the warning reads.

    Maybe it's because we see so much very dubious legal action talked about on this site, but it seems to me that TorrentFreak at least has a reasonable case if they allege defamation given this warning being shown to Steam users.

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

    • icon
      Thad (profile), 31 Oct 2018 @ 11:11am

      Re: Malicious defamation?

      I think that's a stretch.

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

    • identicon
      Kevin Hayden, 1 Nov 2018 @ 12:08pm

      Re: Malicious defamation?

      Not just defamation, but possibly also damages for lost revenue for being wrongly branded as malicious/illegal. I wonder how many other filters, etc. are preventing folks from reaching the site. All those missing hits could be making a dent in their ad revenue in addition to their reputation. Perhaps they should send a polite letter to Steam and any others doing the same thing asking to be unblocked before they are forced to take legal action.

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

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Justin T Facts, 31 Oct 2018 @ 11:23am

    No coincidence. Torrent Freak advocates piracy.

    It's more subtle doing so than Techdirt, but it's better advocacy too.

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

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Oct 2018 @ 12:33pm

    What kind of dork still reads Torrentfreak? omg lol

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Oct 2018 @ 1:02pm

    Steam chat?

    WTF, why would anyone use it? It's okay for Steam related stuff but their entire UI is somewhat ham-fisted. It's just a poor man's browser.

    Borrow a quarter, get yourself a real browser so you can set your OWN black list.

    Don't forget to blacklist that smith clown.

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

    • icon
      Uriel-238 (profile), 31 Oct 2018 @ 1:48pm

      Habit

      Really, I keep in touch with my friends by steam chat. It was one of the early available chat clients, was right there and served well enough.

      We haven't switched out of habit, even though it doesn't provide current emoji support (or have a very good emoji font).

      Steam voice chat became intolerable, so we all switched to Mumble, though.

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

  • icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 31 Oct 2018 @ 1:44pm

    Really this indicates a lack of confidence on Valve's part.

    The primary thing Steam sells is its distribution service on the premise that it is actually better than other distro-vectors, including piracy.

    So blocking sites that allegedly provide torrents for games or are even only related to torrents for games is kinda like Amazon blocking www.alibaba.com

    Ultimately this kind of restriction draws more people towards those sites by way of the Streisand Effect.

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

  • icon
    CypherDragon (profile), 31 Oct 2018 @ 11:12pm

    Likely a filtering false positive

    I work in infosec, as support for a global antivirus product. Part of our feature set is web filtering, including blocking known malicious sites. I can't tell you the number of times I've had to send a given site to our URL team for manual verification and unblocking, but it probably averages out to at least once a day, if not more. Most of the triggering for malicious sites is handled by automation, since the flood of data coming in from various sources (anonymized data from users (opt-in, of course), honeypots, web spiders, etc) is simply too large for every site flagged as malicious to be manually checked in any kind of timely fashion.

    As a company that's responsible for our end user's security, we tend to take the more conservative stance that if our automation platforms have a reasonably high confidence that some kind of malicious activity is going on at a given URL (eg, click-jacking, malicious ads, drive-by downloads, etc) the URL will be marked as malicious as soon as it crosses the confidence thresholds. If a customer reports that it's a false positive, and there is no actual malicious behavior (eg, someone had multiple tabs open and one of them had bad behavior, all open tabs would likely be tagged in the confidence algorithms since determining the actual source becomes quite difficult at that point) then it will be manually checked and removed from the malicious DB if it's clean.

    Sorry for the vagueness, but proprietary info and all that. That's likely the cause of both TorrentFreak being tagged as malicious, and the 4chan images referenced by the AC above. An algorithm picked up some suspicious behavior on a TorrentFreak or 4chan URL (which is completely believable on either site - either by ads or other means) and it was auto-flagged as malicious. This likely isn't something that a person that Steam/Valve set, but much more likely to be a algorithm or semi-AI decision made without human intervention.

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


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