ORG’s Blocked project finds almost 1 in 5 sites are blocked by filters

  • Open Rights Group Blocked project finds almost 1 in 5 websites tested are blocked by web filters

  • High level of variation between ISPs suggest filters are not consistent in protecting children

  • Overblocking is affecting bloggers, businesses and web users

A Porsche broker, a political blogger and a mum hoping to read an article about post pregnancy care are among those that have been affected by filters designed to protect young people from adult content.

The extent of overblocking has been revealed by Open Rights Group Blocked project, which is documenting the impact of filters. Web users can use a free checking tool on where they can instantly check to see if a website has been blocked by filters. So far Open Rights Group has tested over 100,000 sites and found that over 19,000 are blocked by one ISP or another.

Executive Director of Open Rights Group, Jim Killock said: “Through the Blocked project we wanted to find out about the impact of web filters. Already, our reports are showing that almost 1 in 5 websites tested are blocked, and that the problem of overblocking seems much bigger than we thought. Different ISPs are blocking different sites and the result is that many people, from businesses to bloggers, are being affected because people can’t access their websites.”

One of the blocked sites is the political blog, Guido Fawkes whose Editor Paul Staines said:

“We would really appreciate it if TalkTalk would remove us from their block list. The only people who block us are them and the Chinese government.”

ISPs have been criticised for the lack of information about how to get sites unblocked. Mum-of-one Marielle, said she was “humiliated” when she visited the Three store to find out how she could order to access an article about post-partum care on her phone: “The manager told me that I couldn’t access filtered articles without entering a 4 digit pin every time I wanted to read a filtered article because I had a PAYG plan.” Marielle submitted a report to Three saying that the article had been incorrectly blocked but didn’t get a response.

Other sites that have been incorrectly blocked by filters include: – this feminist rights blog was blocked by TalkTalk in April 2014. Editor-in-Chief says that as advertising revenue is generated by the number of site visitors, being blocked, ‘directly impacts our bottom line. But, more than that, we are concerned with the message that blocking our site sends: that pro-woman, pro-equality, pro-human rights subject matter is somehow offensive, inappropriate or otherwise problematic.’ – Philip Raby, who sells and services Porsches, only found out that his website was blocked by O2 when one of his customers told him. Philip says that it’s difficult to measure the financial impact of being blocked but, ‘we must have lost some business and, of course, it doesn’t look great telling people the site is not suitable for under 18s!’

About the project

Blocked is funded by Open Rights Group’s supporters and also sponsored by Bytemark and Andrews & Arnold Ltd

Technical volunteers built the tools that allow users to check urls. We have deployed a number of probes on both mobile and fixed-line ISPs. These probes test whether a particular URL is blocked on the networks to which they are connected.

Some ISPs offer different levels of filters. To find out more about the levels tested, go to our FAQs