UK porn filters ‘wrongly blocking fifth of all internet’

03/07/2014

Adult content filters implemented by the UK's major internet service providers are blocking one in five websites (19%), with critics claiming the technology is not fit for purpose.

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New research from the Open Rights Group shows that ISPs are blocking harmless sites and blogs in an effort to prevent children from accessing potentially harmful content.

A study of 100,000 websites has found that nearly 20,000 of them are blocked, with political blogs, car dealerships and feminist rights websites all wrongly censored.

Feminist rights blog Sherights was blocked by TalkTalk in April, and another site selling and servicing Porsches was blocked by O2, causing both sites to lose custom and potential advertising revenue, the project said.

Paul Staines, better known as political blogger Guido Fawkes, pleaded with TalkTalk to unblock his Order-Order.com website after it was found to be blocked.

Blocked, developed by online advocacy organisation the Open Rights Group, scanned the web filters of major UK ISPs and mobile phone networks including BT, EE, O2, Plusnet, Sky, TalkTalk, Three. Virgin media and Vodafone.

The Open Rights Group figures show that of the 100,000 websites so far checked nearly one fifth of them are blocked, often incorrectly.

"We would really appreciate it if TalkTalk would remove us from their block list. The only people who block us are them and the Chinese government," he said.

Jim Killock from the Open Rights Group said that that so-called "overblocking" of non-adult sites was a bigger problem than anyone had imagined: "Different ISPs are blocking different sites and the result is that many people, from businesses to bloggers, are being affected because people can’t access their websites," he claimed.

The government ordered web filters, championed by prime minister David Cameron, are designed to protect children from pornographic websites and other adult content online.

The default-on web filters are being rolled out by BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media with people required to actively turn them off if they don't want websites blocked.

With all the UK's biggest ISPs signed up to the goverment scheme, it is expected that 95 per cent of households will be asked if they want the filters turned off by the end of 2014.

Analysis: ‘Like asking a GP to perform heart surgery’

Andrew Goode, COO of ad tech provider Project Sunblock, comments on why censorship simply isn’t the right approach and why we need to rethink how we seek to protect children and prevent illegal websites from flourishing:

“It is little wonder that ISPs are finding it incredibly difficult to block the right sites and content, after all, the internet is open 24/7 and so blocking harmful or illegal content is a full-time job.

“Asking ISPs to perform the complex task of blocking potentially harmful content is like asking a GP to perform heart surgery, it’s a different job role entirely and it’s clear that this method isn’t working. What’s needed is to flip the issue on its head and begin thinking about how these sites operate; through the ad revenue that is being ploughed into digital ad buying by the UK’s household brands.

“In the advertising industry, awareness of where digital ad impressions end up is incredibly low. Many big brands are appearing on pornographic and illegal websites without their knowledge. We’ve even seen instances where ISPs themselves are appearing on these websites without their knowledge, so they cannot be expected to prevent this from happening. For any initiative like this to succeed, it must be a joint effort, including advertisers, government and technology providers.”

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