As UK Government Considers Opt-Out Porn Censorship, Report Already Finds Overblocking On Mobile Networks

from the surprised?-me-neither dept

A few weeks ago, we noted the UK government was considering plans to bring in an opt-out form of censorship, in what would amount to a kind of porn license, and that such an approach runs the risk of blocking a far wider range of materials. Now the Open Rights Group (ORG) has released a report that shows the "child protection filters" on UK mobile Internet networks are already overblocking sites:

It shows how systems designed to help parents manage their childrens' access to the Internet can actually affect many more users than intended and block many more sites than they should. It reveals widespread overblocking, problems with transparency and difficulties correcting mistakes.
The report and an update show that sites affected are found in the realms of digital rights (La Quadrature du Net and the Tor Project), technology (GigaOM, London Ruby User Group and the start-up organization Coadec), lifestyle, community and politics.

As the ORG report highlights, this kind of overblocking does not augur well for any UK government attempts to widen filtering to include fixed-line access:

If they follow a similar blueprint of ISP level filtering as mobile operators, all the problems we have highlighted would be reproduced at a larger scale. For example, most fixed-line connections are shared by a number of people using a variety of devices. Implementing filtering in that situation would require a range of approaches from whitelisting for young children to censorship-free connections for adults.
What's rather depressing is that news that overblocking is already taking place is no surprise: it's simply inevitable when this kind of network-level approach is taken. It underlines again why filtering has to be implemented locally:
we hope that if the government does pursue such a policy it will be flexible, concentrate on users and devices rather than networks, allow the tools to be properly described as "parental controls" and above all avoid turning on blocking by default.
Despite the mounting evidence of overblocking on mobile networks, it's not clear if any of those sensible suggestions will be implemented when it comes to fixed-line access -- details of the proposed UK legislation have yet to be announced.

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Reader Comments (rss)

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    Alana (profile), May 23rd, 2012 @ 12:46am

    If anything, this is underblocking. Block everything ever! That's the MPAA way to do it!

    /sarc

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 23rd, 2012 @ 1:02am

    The Internets are the work of the devil! The Internets poison the minds and lay waste to the souls of the non-believers. They are evil, EVIL I say!

    The Internets MUST be elimiated! It is our calling and duty to all that is holy to alert the masses of the dangers and protect their souls and protect them from the evils of the modern age (even by killing them if necessary).

     

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    drew (profile), May 23rd, 2012 @ 1:08am

    Counter action

    The frustrating thing about this is, when contacting my MP about this, I just get stonewalled with the "protecting the children" argument. It's not that they don't understand the issue, it's that they're not even prepared to listen to the argument. I suppose it is seen as political suicide to be on the "wrong side" of any argument where the words "porn" and "children" appear.
    Interestingly my MEPs do appear to be slightly more aware on this subject though, perhaps the ACTA demonstrations have woken them up a bit.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 23rd, 2012 @ 1:11am

    I'm on vodafone in the UK and their filtering is ridiculous. I couldn't get on a lot of videogame related websites or websites like cracked.com with the filter on.

     

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      Ben (profile), May 23rd, 2012 @ 3:02am

      Re:

      I also use Vodafone. I first noticed content control when trying to access the web site of a local brewery. It's insane.

      I can easily avoid their content control by using wifi, so what's the point? They're just trying to avoid 3rd party liability.

      It's also easy to bypass if you google for 2 seconds.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, May 23rd, 2012 @ 1:34am

    It just doesn't work..

    This will (hopefully) be a little more reasoned than some of my normal rants..

    I come from a anti-censorship background on the web. Overblocking is the least of the problems with the censorship software.

    All (without fail) censorship software suffers from the same basic fault. That is that it can only block the 5% of the crap that they knew about yesterday. It doesn't touch the other 95%, and it doesn't touch anything which has changed since the last update. That is basically the nature of blacklists.

    They all, again, suffer from other problems too.

    They range from innocents sites being placed on the blacklist, and then unable to get themselves of it. (Secret blacklists have that problem a lot) to sites that should be on it that somehow keep on missing out.

    There also things like placing stuff on the blacklist and then just trying to ignore it ("We can't see it so it's not our problem"), rather than actually telling an ISP what's going on.

    There are many other problems too.. The short answer is that it just doesn't work.

    Even whitelisting kid's sites doesn't work properly. If you want to allow any interactivity with the site, if you want to allow any form of users being able to interact with others, then there are ways to game the system.

    Of course the only real solution to the problem, teaching kids how to use the net properly (and adult supervision for young kids) just doesn't appeal to all that many people.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, May 23rd, 2012 @ 1:57am

      Re: It just doesn't work..

      "Of course the only real solution to the problem, teaching kids how to use the net properly (and adult supervision for young kids) just doesn't appeal to all that many people."

      WHAT???? Proper educations and proactive parenting??? We can't have that, how dare you even think about suggesting that!!! Better to put kids in front of TVs/consoles/computers than to actually spend time talking to them and educating them.

      \end sarc

       

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    Anonymous Coward, May 23rd, 2012 @ 2:01am

    This has nothing to do with porn , everything to do with control.
    The freedom on the internet is a threat to the government propaganda machine.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 23rd, 2012 @ 2:04am

    'if any of those sensible suggestions will be implemented'

    the coalition government in power in the UK hasn't done anything sensible since it took control of the country, so dont expect anything different any time soon. it has lied more and more on the policies it was going to change and those it has actually changed. it obviously either collectively or through some governmental individuals has a serious tie to the entertainment industries, considering it is going ahead with things that were recommended against by it's own investigator, professor Hargreaves.

    as she seems to think that it is a piece of cake to implement, with no side affects, why not get Claire Perry, the thick bitch that is introducing this, to sort it all out? she must have more networking and internet technology knowledge than anyone else on the planet. she says it can be easily done, so it must be right!!

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 23rd, 2012 @ 2:17am

    When you have MPs saying publicly that gay couples should not be allowed to marry because they cannot procreate, you can expect this kind of sensationalist bollocks when it comes to porn censorship.

     

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    Mike, May 23rd, 2012 @ 3:01am

    @drew

    "The frustrating thing about this is, when contacting my MP about this, I just get stonewalled with the "protecting the children" argument."

    The reason they won't listen is because the politicians and beurocrats that control the country are from the pre-internet generation. To them, the internet is something that kids use and where troublemakers lurk, not a vitally important structure to be protected and taken seriously.

    "When you have MPs saying publicly that gay couples should not be allowed to marry.."

    It depresses me that people with these opinions are in positions of power over others in the 21st century.

     

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      Ben (profile), May 23rd, 2012 @ 3:10am

      Re:

       

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      Call me Al, May 23rd, 2012 @ 3:29am

      Re:

      "The reason they won't listen is because the politicians and beurocrats that control the country are from the pre-internet generation. To them, the internet is something that kids use and where troublemakers lurk, not a vitally important structure to be protected and taken seriously."

      A thousand times this. I find myself in the unpleasant situation of waiting for that generation to die so that we can move on. Its not just their ignorance but it is the way they seem to revel in it and have no interest in trying to fill the vast gaps in their knowledge of the net and the net's potential.

       

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    Ninja (profile), May 23rd, 2012 @ 3:34am

    OpenDNS, Blockaid, Google Public DNS etc etc

    Awareness about the alternatives to this mild censorship is key, they won't do it in the IP level, unless they want to throw shit in the fan.

     

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    lfroen (profile), May 23rd, 2012 @ 4:07am

    I actually prefer blocked porn

    As match as I love free and open internet - I prefer porn blocked at home.
    Now, since my kids are accessing net from variety of devices (iPad, laptop) - locally installed software is not suitable. And I don't have time to mess with it anyway.

    I'm fully aware that 1) it won't block everything 2) it will block some legitimate site 3) it can be bypassed.

    My response to those concerns is simple: 1) I would like to block accidental access, not deliberate search. I my kid is actively _searching_ for nude ass - good luck. 2) until wikipedia and local news sites are up, that's OK; for the rest I would like to here specific complain 3) when my kid _can_ bypass it by its own (or learn it somewhere), I will remove all filtering.

    Parenting is not only physical presence. It is also locking things and punishing for breaking the lock.

    P.S.
    Kids in question are about 7.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, May 23rd, 2012 @ 4:42am

      Re: I actually prefer blocked porn

      You should be able to get child friendly browsers (read whitelist only browsers) for the iPad easily enough, you certainly can with Android. I would suggest something like that with 7 year old's anyway, regardless of if there is a filter or not.

      You mention that you know it won't block everything, as I said, about 5% max. Be aware that when the filter comes in it will degrade access for most users, it won't block most of the crap, it will block sites that you probably use everyday, and (of course) politicians will mention a lot of number that don't have all that much to do with anything to try to justify it.

      I actually put filters into the same sort of category as what I put DRM. Those who is isn't particularly aimed at will have to suffer the consequences and those who it is aimed it learn to just bypass and ignore it.

       

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        lfroen (profile), May 23rd, 2012 @ 4:55am

        Re: Re: I actually prefer blocked porn

        How do you remove Safari on iPad again? Ah, I see.

        Did you actually read when I say "when my kid _can_ bypass it by its own (or learn it somewhere), I will remove all filtering". Idea is to block accidental access - if child is mature enough to actually _search_ for porn (or circumvent access) - it's time to remove filtering talk about birth control measures.

        Every tool have its use. Even "evil" DRM - see iPhone success.

         

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          Anonymous Coward, May 23rd, 2012 @ 5:40am

          Re: Re: Re: I actually prefer blocked porn

          You can use the iPhone as an example of DRM success if you wish, though it's a locked platform which is not the same thing as DRM, though DRM is part of it..

          When it comes to DRM just about any game disaster of the last five years can be traced back to DRM. I knew people in the 90's who used to buy thousands of dollars worth of software and then run the pirate version anyway because it was just less hassle than dealing with DRM that didn't work.

          By some reports the first destructive (Amiga) virus was DRM gone wrong. DRM has never being anything but an annoying hassle. For the pirates though it's not even that, they just deal with it, then it's gone, and they go on from there.

          I put the filter in the same category. It won't work, it will affect 'law abiding people going about there law abiding business' and the people who it is aimed at, including curious kids, will be able bypass it quite easily.

          The last time I installed a filter on a machine for someone it failed to block the first 15 sites I could think of to try with it, which btw shocked even me.

           

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      drew (profile), May 23rd, 2012 @ 5:57am

      Re: I actually prefer blocked porn

      Ifroen, and this is entirely your choice, but it should be an active choice. Let's face it, you're on techdirt, you probably know a little bit about technology and from your comments you plainly know about your kids so all's good there.
      The problem with making it a default option is that some people who don't know so much about technology will assume that because it's filtered at network level everything will be fine.
      Then we get to the whole slippery slope around what goes on the blacklist. Today it's porn, tomorrow it might be sites extolling religious extremism, by the end of the week* it might be sites that are critical of the encumbent government.
      In summary, filters are fine, but they should always be opt-in.

      * This is a metaphorical week obviously :)

       

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        lfroen (profile), May 23rd, 2012 @ 7:05am

        Re: Re: I actually prefer blocked porn

        >> In summary, filters are fine, but they should always be opt-in.
        If opt-out work as intended, I don't see an issue here. My cellphone company have all their SMS-commercials enabled by default. When I've got fed up, I called and requested this crap removed. No problem since.

        >> what goes on the blacklist
        Some providers here block _everything_ except handful list of sites. They also have customers. Until this black/white list is not government-mandated, nobody-can-resume - no problem.

        If your government censoring critics this way - time to put keyboard aside and take a gun; time for lawful, non-violent protest is over. Sorry, life sucks and unfair.

         

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          drew (profile), May 23rd, 2012 @ 7:49am

          Re: Re: Re: I actually prefer blocked porn

          "If opt-out work as intended, I don't see an issue here."
          2 things on this, 1) they probably won't work as intended because of the technical hurdles to overcome (see other comments for details) and 2) I dislike (and I fully appreciate that this is solely my opinion) both the concept of censorship by default and the delegation of personal responsibility that comes with it. I'm in the UK and we appear to be doing a fine line in creating a culture where everyone knows their rights but not their responsibilities, everything is someone else's fault no-one takes ownership of their actions. Proposals like this feed that behaviour.

          "If your government censoring critics this way - time to put keyboard aside and take a gun" Well, probably, but I'd rather we stopped them at the top of the slope rather than when they're halfway down and accelerating.

          Basically, this kind of opt-out filter isn't needed, is unlikely to achieve its objectives and is likely to cause a reasonable amount of collateral damage.
          That makes it a bad idea in my book.

           

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    Rabbit80, May 23rd, 2012 @ 4:52am

    Orange UK

    I've been on the end of the overreaching filters on Orange UK. Had problems accessing torrentfreak only a few weeks ago - despite the fact that in the past I had asked for the filter to be lifted, they applied it to my new tablet anyway!

     

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    Mike, May 23rd, 2012 @ 4:59am

    @ 14
    Ifroen, politics aside for a moment, I truly respect your concerns as a parent. You want your kids to grow up the 'right way' and not be drug-dealing miscreant rapists cajoled into suicide bombings by taliban extremists.

    I get it, I really do. But I also find your comment: "locally installed software is not suitable. And I don't have time to mess with it anyway" - TRULY disturbing.

    If you don't understand and can't control the technology in your own house, you shouldn't allow it to be there in the first place. What are your children doing with iPads if you don't even know how to filter internet content using your home router settings (which I presume all of their devices connect to)?

    Instead of trying to push the responsibility of protecting your children onto the state, get online and DO SOME LEARNING. Just from poking around in my router's menus, I know for certain that I can set it to block ALL traffic bar a selection of sites that I choose to allow through (BBC, educational sites etc.)

    Do you want your children to grow up witnessing their role-model refusing to learn or adapt to change?

     

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      lfroen (profile), May 23rd, 2012 @ 5:27am

      Re:

      Oh, I DO understand and CAN control technology more than you thing. Amusingly, my day job is engineering at some $big_name network hardware company.

      What is disturbing in fact that I don't have time to be "home IT" person, I do not know. What's wrong in paying for a service? Should I also fix my car?

      My home router can't do context filtering, otherwise ISP service would be unnecessary. I don't need to learn "poking around in my router's menus", I can re-write its firmware if needed, but don't want to.

      Now, since _I_ control whether or not filtering is applied I'm not "pushing it to the state". And, btw - ISP is private enterprise, so state is not involved here anyway. I choose to enable it, I chose filtering categories and so on.

      >> Do you want your children to grow up witnessing their role-model refusing to learn or adapt to change?
      Wwwwhat? What does it have to do with "adapt" or "change". I find porn inappropriate for 7yo kids. I my son will accidentally click on wrong link while poking with family iPad I prefer questionable stuff blocked. 7yo, remember? As he grows up, and start asking "why this is blocked", it is a sign to remove filtering.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, May 23rd, 2012 @ 5:13am

    I am in UK and I have a pay as you go 3g dongle and I can't go to any betting sites, nor change the settings for this without upgrading to a contract. This seems a bit extreme given that I can't actually place a bet without having an account and the rules for account creation with betting are very strict in UK with age checking.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 23rd, 2012 @ 5:22am

    Well do you think this should be an opt in or opt out service? I completely agree about the issues with iPads and so on (there are routers that can block out these things but from what I've seen they aren't very good)

     

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    tigger, May 23rd, 2012 @ 5:35am

    my WTF moment

    For me the real WTF moment came when I tried to access TED talks on my T-mobile phone only to find it blocked as adult content.

    I mean really? TED talks are adult content? I'd list it as a great site for kids to visit.

    I could have requested an unfiltered feed, instead I changed supplier. I've never had anything at all blocked through my '3' mifi device.

     

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    lrobbo (profile), May 23rd, 2012 @ 5:44am

    Oh man, EU cookie directives, filtering ect ect, makes my blood boil at the incompetence of these morons . . .

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 23rd, 2012 @ 6:43am

    its hilarious that the UK is worried about the internet just like every other country. Weird how they do it at the same time right? When all our economies are failing they are worried about porn. What a lame distraction from the upcoming second "recession".

     

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    squirrel (profile), May 23rd, 2012 @ 11:53am

    I'm confused by something and maybe someone can explain it to me. What are the filters looking for that are blocking websites? Is it an actual person deciding what is blocked or just an algorithm (algorithm might not be the right word)? Is it the amount of skin tone colors on the site or human forms that trigger them? Is it text or video? If I linked to a site that was a full page of html color #FFE0A3 (skin color-ish) would it be blocked? Just curious.

     

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      John Fenderson (profile), May 23rd, 2012 @ 12:14pm

      Re:

      Is it an actual person deciding what is blocked or just an algorithm (algorithm might not be the right word)?


      It depends. With the better services, there's a human being that reviews the site and determines which category it goes in (different customers want to block different categories). With the cheaper services, they do keyword blocking. Keyword blocking is awful and worthless.

       

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    PrettyPornstar, May 28th, 2012 @ 7:22am

    stop killing porn!

    as a porn performer i am saddened by these developments. already our industry is suffering from all the free porn, if on top of that access is restricted, what are we as performers going to do?

     

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