Tag Archives: Censorship

No, the “UK national firewall” doesn’t block Boing Boing, EFF and slashdot

Government-mandated web filtering is a really bad idea, for reasons which should be obvious to anyone who’s used the Internet for long. I’m against them: I think it should be up to adults to decide what they see, and for parents to decide what their children see.

However, in opposing them, it’s really important that we don’t go off the deep end and cry wolf about what ISPs are doing. That’s why I find Cory’s post at Boing Boing about how “UK’s new national firewall: O2′s “parental control” list blocks Slashdot, EFF, and Boing Boing” concerning. 

Cory’s post takes it’s lead from another post by Peter Hansteen, which points at o2′s URL checker, which lets you see whether an individual site is blocked by o2′s web filters. The third setting – “Parental Control” – appears to block pretty-much the whole internet.

However, I think this is misleading, and conflating two very different sets of filters. The site checker Peter linked to is, I believe, related to o2′s mobile service, not its broadband service (which is now part of Sky). In common with most mobile companies, o2 has a default blacklist, which can you opt out of easily. It also has a set of much stricter “Parental control” setting which allows parents to tightly lock-down what a child with a mobile can see. It’s this second “Parental control” setting that’s basically blocks everything on the internet, apart from a handful of “child-friendly” sites.

I don’t think this is anything to do with the government mandated porn block. It’s just the same mobile filtering that’s always been there, and that’s common across pretty-much every mobile company. I can’t imagine why anyone would change any child’s mobile to basically block the whole of the internet, but it’s opt-in, and it should be up to the parents.

Sky, which now owns o2′s former broadband service (not the mobile network), does have a system of DNS-based filtering called “Broadband Shield” which is compliant with the government-”requested” filtering system. Although I haven’t run through it, it seems to work like this: when you sign up to Sky as a new customer, you’re presented with filtering options. The default setting is on, but you can change it at this point. (More details in Sky’s response to ORG’s questions about it). The “PG” and “18″ level filtering is, of course, as much riddled with inconsistency as any other filtering system, but it’s not the “OMG BLOCK EVERYTHING” that o2′s mobile parental controls are.

UPDATE: And now this piece on the New Statesman is making the same error, conflating pre-existing filters on a mobile network with Cameron’s “porn blocking” plans. This is crying wolf. The two things are not the same. For the love of god, people, let’s have a grown up debate that actually deals with the facts, rather than sensationalising things.

Google is not leaving China. So why pretend it is?

Jeff Jarvis is well-known for his love of all-things Google, but his latest Guardian column is probably his most hype-laden yet. I don’t think Jeff is responsible for the headline, but it sums up his position quite well: “Google is defending citizens of the net“.

The issue, of course, is China and Google’s decision to shift its search servers accessible in the mainland to Hong Kong (note for the pedantic: Hong Kong is, of course, part of China but has a somewhat-distanced relationship with regard to censorship.)

Jeff’s key paragraph is probably this:

“Next to no one has been willing to stand up to China’s suppression of speech online. Other companies – Yahoo, Cisco – have handed over information that led to the imprisonment of dissidents, or have helped China build its Great Firewall. Many more, from News Corp to the New York Times Company, have coveted the Chinese market and overlooked the regime’s tyranny to do business there.”

There’s only one problem with Jeff’s perspective: Google isn’t ceasing to do business in China. From a report in the very same newspaper:

“The company [Google] now believes it has found a legal way out, and said it intended to maintain its research, development and advertising sales business in China…”

So Google, to use Jeff’s phrase, is continuing “to overlook the regime’s tyranny to do business there”. Jeff makes the analogy with the Apartheid era in South Africa, and to stretch that analogy at little what Google is doing is like refusing to buy South African diamonds while continuing to buy South African fruit: it’s a boycott, but it’s only a boycott when it suits the company.

I’m not knocking Google for this. I think what it’s doing is actually good, and I don’t think an absolute boycott of all things Chinese would be a good approach. But Jeff, as he often does with regard to Google, over-eggs his argument to the point of absurdity. I always wish that this obviously-smart man would get a little more perspective.

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