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Report Slams Default Porn Filters On Mobiles

Max 'Beast from the East' Smolaks covers open source, public sector, startups and technology of the future at TechWeekEurope. If you find him looking lost on the streets of London, feed him coffee and sugar.

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Report uncovers over-blocking of mobile Internet

A report by the Open Rights Group and the LSE Media Policy Project has criticised the widespread over-blocking of mobile Internet in the UK, justified by the desire to protect children from harmful content.

The report entitled ‘Mobile Internet censorship: what’s happening and what we can do about it‘, published today, reveals that political commentaries, personal blogs, restaurants’ sites and community websites were among the websites blocked by porn filters, which some of the UK’s mobile networks turn on by default.

The methods used in filtering are the same that MPs have suggested to use for broadband connections, an effort vehemently advocated by Claire Perry MP.

Better safe than sorry?

In December 2011, the Open Rights Group launched Blocked.org.uk, a website that gave people an easy way to report when sites and services are ‘blocked’ on their mobile network. In the period from January to March, Blocked.org.uk received over 60 reports of erroneous censoring.

The inaccessible websites included:

The report called on mobile operators to give parents an ‘active choice’ to turn filters on, rather than have them working by default. TalkTalk introduced such a feature last month, asking its new customers whether they wanted a filter or not during the registration procedure.

The report suggested that fixed-line Internet filtering should concentrate on users and devices rather than networks, be properly described as ‘parental controls’ (because the content blocked is far broader than adult sexual material) and above all involve an ‘active choice’.

According to the Open Rights Group, the drawbacks of a default filter include restrictions on markets, censorship, failure to address young people’s diverse needs and a false sense of security for parents. Additionally, lack of transparency in the filtering process means that once the legitimate sites are blocked, they may be unable to get themselves removed from a blacklist.

“This report shows how child protection filters can actually affect many more users than intended and block many more sites than they should. These blunt blocks effectively add up to a system of censorship across UK networks,” said Peter Bradwell of Open Rights Group, one of the authors of the report.

“The lessons for ‘porn filter’ proposals are clear. Default-on blocks can have significant harmful and unintended consequences for everybody’s access to information.”

The authors hope the report helps contribute to a sensible child protection strategy, rather than “one based on the overly-simplistic, albeit emotionally appealing, proposition that children need to be protected from seeing things parents don’t want them to see”.

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