UK Mobile ISP Censors The Telegraph

It’s the gift that keeps on giving for opponents of internet censorship. As the list of censored websites grow, so does the list of websites that don’t deserve to be censored. This time, the public relations nightmare continues as a mobile ISP blocks The Telegraph as a pornographic website.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

Let’s face it. ISP level censorship is a very bad idea. The UK mobile ISP industry is proving the point in a rather tragic, yet beautiful way. UK mobile ISPs are selling cell phone plans with porn filters automatically turned on as part of an effort to protect children from pornographic material. What has ensued was a string of websites that clearly should never have been blocked.

Our coverage started at the beginning of the whole fiasco when mobile ISPs blocked websites like Tor, La Quadrature Du Net, and political websites. Later last week, the bad news continued with the additional blocking of Gigaom, other news sites and advocacy organizations. Next up, as we already reported this morning, one ISP blocked TorrentFreak. Now, one ISP was discovered to be blocking (are you freaking kidding me?) British mainstream news outlet The Telegraph as a pornographic website.

The discovery happened as a result of one of the fans wanting to access one of the blogs at the Telegraph while talking to one of the Telegraph bloggers. The fan then saw that the website was blocked because the website was allegedly a pornographic website. What ensued was the reporter from The Telegraph contacting the ISP in question and explaining to them that The Telegraph is not a pornographic website and to please unblock it for their customers. From the commentary:

You can draw what conclusions you like from the above. First, maybe the phone company was right: maybe my writing is just too filled with dangerous and seductive ideas, like building a science-fiction spaceship or listening to the Bee Gees, for people’s wives and servants to be allowed to read it. Maybe the prose itself is so beautiful that it might cause a breakdown in public morals. It’s all possible.

Another explanation, of course, might be that the phone company’s pornblock software is just a bit crap. I once had a similar experience trying to access the jokes-and-memes-and-such website b3ta, which while much less safe for work than the Telegraph site is still some distance away from being Pornhub. That led to a conversation with an O2 call-centre worker, in which I had to ask them to turn off their porn filtering software. I felt like Alan Partridge in the hotel: “Hello is that reception? Hi Susan, can you make pornography come on my television, please?”

So I agree wholeheartedly with Sarah Hunter, Google’s head of UK public policy, who says that introducing a web porn filter as the default setting, forcing parents and indeed everyone else to opt out if they didn’t want it, is a bad idea.

If you ask me, I would be impressed if this whole fiasco were to be made any worse. What’s next? blocking the official website for the British government as a hate site? I’ll apologize now if I gave anyone ideas just now.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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