Why default blocking doesn’t work

Orange Safeguard by Kai HendryAs we reported in our weekly briefing, the Prime Minister has called for a consultation into proposals by Claire Perry MP that Internet Service Providers should implement a system for default blocking of ‘adult material’ with users having to call and ‘opt-in’ to receive anything that has been blocked by the filters.

This is despite many productive conversations with ISPs last year, which lead to the voluntary adoption of Active Choice, allowing users to make a clear choice when they sign up whether they want to apply filters to their connections or not. That was agreed to last October and the deadline is this October for that to be implemented. But before we even see the affects some have called for the kinds of filters currently found on mobile networks to be applied to broadband connections.

These filters are applied to ‘adult material’ and in order to have a block removed you must contact the mobile provider and provide credit card details as proof you are over 18 in order for it to be removed. These blocks are not a silver bullet. Just as when you search for terms on a search engine, some results are included that are not what you were looking for, so filters blocking content are not always accurate. Mistakes will occur and sites which do not contain adult content will inadvertently be blocked.

The Open Rights Group and the LSE Media Policy Project co-published a report this week on mobile filtering, and they found it to suffer from over-blocking, a lack of transparency and problems correcting mistakes.

Yesterday afternoon we were informed by an Orange customer that the Coadec website had been blocked by Orange’s Safeguard system on their mobile phone. Our site discusses issues facing tech startups and entrepreneurs building digital businesses. 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.

Mistakes happen, so this morning we sought to contact Orange to ensure that the site was indeed blocked across the network and not just on an individual’s device, and identify why the site had been blocked and see if it was possible to get the classification of the site reviewed or if we could identify what we needed to change on the site to ensure it can be viewed by everybody.

The process was not simple. The following outlines what steps we took to find out further information.

  • First we consulted the Orange site discussing Safeguard, however it is aimed at consumers, and therefore only discusses either imposing or removing the filters onto a specific device.
  • We then called the Orange helpdesk but they were unsure where to direct our call and informed us they could not help us because we were not Orange customers.
  • We were put in touch with the @OrangeHelpers Twitter account who initially informed us they could not check if the site was blocked and we would have to find an Orange handset with Safeguard enabled in order to check. The operator of the Twitter account subsequently checked on their own phone and discovered the site was indeed blocked but could not tell us why or how to address it. They then said that we would need to contact the Independent Mobile Classification Body (IMCB) to review this.
  • We got in touch with the IMCB and spoke to an individual who stated that IMCB’s jurisdiction ends at commercial content (photos, videos, songs that are sold) and they were not responsible for WAP and 3G access to websites. They informed us they had briefed the mobile phone operators on this some time ago but the operators were still directing individuals to them. They advised us to speak to Orange’s Third Party Services department and gave us a number, which was out of service.
  • We got back in touch with Orange on Twitter and they asked us to contact their customer complaints department, as detailed in the Codes of Practice. We informed them we are not a customer so it wasn’t appropriate and could they please advice who best to contact.
  • Waiting on a response from the Twitter account we rang the customer complaints number anyway. This took us through a number of steps we weren’t able to complete as it was designed for Orange customers to enter their details. We spoke to a customer service representative, and after explaining many times we weren’t calling as a customer requesting Safeguard to be removed, we were advised we needed to write a letter (or a fax) to the Correspondence Department.
  • Orange on Twitter subsequently responded at 17:30 informing us that they had fed this back to see if the classification can be reviewed and lifted and would inform us as soon as they knew.

We are currently awaiting further information, and while we are now able to confirm the site is indeed blocked by Orange’s Safeguard filter, we are unaware why, or how to correct it. We will update this post as soon as further information is provided.

Not only does this system of blocking sites have an effect on freedom of speech, but these kinds of blocks can be devastating to digital businesses who generate revenue through their sites. Default blocking inadvertently blocks perfectly legal and legitimate businesses and organisations, and 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.

There are clearly problems with the default blocks that are in place on mobile networks, around the initial accidental blocking but particularly around reporting and redress process. 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. ISPs have made significant advances in providing Active Choice to customers, and there are many software developers that have created easy to use filters providing device specific solutions and giving parents and care givers real choice into what sites under 18s are able to access.

[UPDATE] Thursday 17th May 2012

PC Pro have highlighted our experience on their website.

[UPDATE] Monday 21st May 2012

On Friday we were informed by an individual at Everything Everywhere that the Coadec site had been reclassified as a Non-Profit and so should no longer be blocked. [If you continue to experience problems when accessing the Coadec website on your mobile please get in touch].

We have been advised that the they are in the process of setting up an email address so customers can ask to have the classification of individual websites checked. We will update you with further information as soon as we receive it.

Coadec's Executive Director. Sara can be reached at sara [DOT] kelly [AT] coadec [DOT] com or by using the contact details on this website.

Posted in Default Blocking
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