Digital Privacy

New reports of overblocking on mobile networks

Since we launched our new research about Mobile Internet censorship on Monday, there’s been a rise in the number of reports to our website of what people consider to be incorrectly blocked sites. The 19 new reports include technology news sites such as GigaOM, a style and fashion magazine, the website of political party the BNP, and a local community discussion forum. To clarify, we are talking about blocking that happens under mobile operators’ child protection filters. These are in many cases ‘on’ by default. And they can, usually through mistaken categorisations, block too much content. 

These new reports help underscore two important points. First, that the 60-odd reports we noted in our report do not represent the sum total of inaccurately blocked sites – they are the sites that we had reported to us through January to March this year by the group of volunteers who were helping us monitor mobile filtering. The publicity this week has led to an upturn in reports of overblocking.

Second, the sites blocked fall into a far broader set of categories than adult sexual content. As with all the reports we receive, we aren’t suggesting all are categorically suitable for all young people. But for many of the sites, mobile networks are making decisions that should best be made by parents – in discussion with their children – about the scope of content that young people may have blocked on their phones. This is especially problematic when the debate is so focused on the blocking of adult sexual content. Much broader judgements are being made about what people under 18 should be accessing.

So here is a quick update on what’s been reported this week. 

New reports of blocked sites

We had a couple of, for want of a better word, lifestyle sites reported, too:

  • – A magazine of style, fashion and celebrity. Content appears at first glance no racier than many daily newspaper websites. Blocked on Orange
  • The wine societies aim is ‘to introduce members to the best of the world’s vineyards at a fair price.’ Blocked on Vodafone / Orange

The blog of author Dr Brooke Magnanti, better known as Belle du Jour.

We were also told about a group of forums that do not offer adult content. Orange do state that they block forums under Safeguard (see their list of categories

We also received as number of reports about sites that are likely blocked as they are considered ‘hate sites’. For example, O2 classifies the BNP website as a hate site. You can argue that hate sites should be blocked, or that the BNP should be blocked. And some parents may wish to block hate sites. But the blocking of ‘hate sites’ does not tend to be part of the debate – which usually focuses on adult sexual content. Should ISPs be blocking, for example, a political party’s website at all? At the very least, ISPs need to be absolutely clear that under child protection filters, political content may be blocked under their filters.

Whatever you think about the BNP’s politics, political speech is at the core of the activities protected by freedom of expression rights. So long as they remain within the law, political parties’ websites should never be blocked by ISPs. Schools and families are of course able to install their own blocking software if they want to make this choice.

In addition to the BNP site, we’ve had four reports of sites that may broadly be described as being, in some sense, ‘anti-feminist’ – and apologies to the sites if that description is inaccurate.

We also received seven reports this week of technology related news or discussion sites. Coadec have this week been attempting to get their site unblocked from Orange’s filters – and I wold strongly recommend reading their blog about the experience they’ve had trying. It emphasises the point that mobile networks do not offer an easy enough way for sites to get themselves unblocked.

We haven’t comprehensively tested these reports across all networks yet, so the may be blocked on more networks than those noted here. Please do let us know in the comments if you find these sites to be blocked or not blocks on your child protection filter enabled account.

We’ll be posting the list of reports sent to between April and May next week. Please do continue to send reports of inappropriate blocks you come across to us through