Digital advocacy site blocked by Orange filter
By Nicole Kobie
Posted on 17 May 2012 at 16:09
Orange's adult content filter has blocked the website of a digital advocacy group that works on tech issues such as net neutrality.
The Coalition for a Digital Economy (Coadec) was told its website was blocked on the mobile network yesterday, and has since struggled to find out who to report the issue to and why the site was erroneously blocked.
"Our site discusses issues facing tech startups and entrepreneurs building digital businesses," said policy manager Sara Kelly in a post on the Coadec blog. "It does not contain any adult content, does not host a forum, and any comments made on blog posts are moderated and must obtain approval before being posted on our site."
Earlier this week, a report from the Open Rights Group said it was aware of 60 sites that had been blocked in error by mobile operators - including a church and community site - and called for the industry to make it easier to report such flaws.
Indeed, Coadec found it difficult to simply confirm the block and find out what to do about it. Kelly said the group first called the Orange helpdesk, but was told it only dealt with customers - not websites.
We can understand mistakes, and we can understand if there's a reason for the site being blocked, we just would like to know what the reason is in order to be able to address it
Coadec then asked Orange over Twitter, receiving a confirmation that the site was blocked when the person running the account checked it on their own phone. That person couldn't say why the site was blocked, or offer advice what to do next, telling Coadec to talk to the Independent Mobile Classification Body (IMCB).
The IMCB was set up by mobile operators to create a framework for classifying content as not suitable for children - but it only applies to operators' own content, such as portals. It wasn't designed to be used across the wider web, although mobile operators have suggested to PC Pro they do use it as a basis for their adult content filters.
The IMCB told Coadec "they were not responsible for WAP and 3G access to websites" and that "they had briefed the mobile phone operators on this some time ago but the operators were still directing individuals to them," Kelly said.
After more calls, Coadec was told to write a letter or send a fax to Orange. Instead, it headed back to Twitter and was told the case would be dealt with; it is still waiting to hear back.
"Unfortunately the tools for reporting or redress either don't exist or aren't up to scratch," she told PC Pro. "We can understand mistakes, and we can understand if there's a reason for the site being blocked, we just would like to know what the reason is in order to be able to address it."
Orange is looking into the issue for us, with its press office initially advising us that anyone affected in such a way should contact the IMCB or Orange customer service.
Kelly pointed out that such a block not only raised freedom of speech issues, but could hurt digital businesses. "[A] reporting and redress process that is complicated, and lengthy, could seriously inhibit a business who launches their site to discover it has incorrectly been blocked," she said.
The incident comes as the Prime Minister is considering a network-level pornography ban across the wider internet, not only mobile phones.
"It is our position that applying similar style default blocks to broadband connections would present a significant risk to digital businesses inadvertently caught in these filters," Kelly said.
T-Mobile's filtering system is a pain. I've found it to block any website related to alcohol, including websites for breweries. As a CAMRA member, it's irritating to find this sort of perfectly legal site blocked. It's also impossible to removed the content block - the online credit-card system doesn't work, and I've been told by T-Mobile staff not to bother with the in-shop option, as they don't know how to do it either...
By piphil on 17 May 2012
Are we going to get a "[Insert ISP] filter blocks [random site]" stories every day now?
Anyone who runs a corporate firewall with web filtering knows how hard it is to get it right 100% of the time.
It's not a right-wing conspiracy, it's just glitches.
By Stiggy on 17 May 2012
it's not the issue that it does not work as you pointed out false positives are much a part of every system. It's having this false positives corrected. Instead of an email to the network admin to put the site on a white list it looks as if there are no properly published procedures to rectify issues.
By SimonCorlett on 17 May 2012
I think the main issue here isn't so much that it was blocked. More the difficulty the website is facing in getting any sort of a sensible result out of Orange over something that should be easily solvable when a company is filtering the internet
By palorx on 17 May 2012
Re: Enough already?
It's not that the mis-classification of a site is newsworthy. It's that the process for classifying a site is opaque and there is no procedure to fix it when it's wrong.
The more that this is pointed out, the more that everyone will come to realise that filter-by-default on customer connections will impose a huge administrative burden with consequent increases in cost to consumers.
By TBennett on 17 May 2012
I'm not surprised ...
that whoever is making these censorship decisions is reluctant to institute formal processes. Can you imagine how that would play out? They'd be sued right and centre by businesses for loss of earnings, by parents for letting something through that should have been blocked. Then they'd get swamped by culture-wars claims and counter-claims from ideological and religious groups over what should and should not be banned.
By JohnAHind on 18 May 2012
Why not get one of the government sites blocked so that they can see how hard it is to get it unblocked.
Any suggestions on a good government site to get blocked?
By wlm42 on 18 May 2012
Slow news day
Surely something of note must have happened.
By tirons1 on 18 May 2012
I'd suggest getting HMRC's website getting blocked.
The story of thousands of taxpayers being unable to make basic queries or file tax returns over the internet should do it... :-)
But seriously. Whilst I realise web filtering is a juggling act, the companies should put clear procedures in place to allow accidentally affected sites to request they are cleared.
If they don't, then the government should legislate. Perhaps giving the companies doing the blocking a period of grace (say 14 days) to process legitimate requests, without getting their arses sued.
By Penfolduk01 on 19 May 2012
- Hands on with the new Google Maps
- Nokia Lumia 925 review: first look
- Why I won't subscribe to Creative Cloud
- GoPro camera strapped to a remote-control helicopter: the ultimate boy's toy
- Acer Iconia A1 review: first look
- Acer Aspire P3 review: first look
- Acer Aspire R7 review: first look
- How we produce the PC Pro podcast
- Google Now draining iPhone battery
- The government website that doesn't work with IE, Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Macs or smartphones
- How to fix Facebook: Social Fixer
- Taking the stress out of WordPress updates
- Where to download free web fonts
- Turn your tablet into a Sky+ remote control
- How to measure the success of a new IT system
- Three years on: the state of the tablet market
- Windows 8: what works and what doesn't
- Yes, I write down my passwords
- How to make money from apps
- Hack your own radio transmitter