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Summary:

British mobile operators have come in for criticism recently for ‘overblocking’ — incorrectly identifying sites as adult content and censoring them from ordinary web users. After GigaOM fell foul of one network’s filters, we asked for answers. And now they’re trickling in.

British mobile operators have come in for criticism recently for the practice of “overblocking” — misidentifying websites as adult content and preventing ordinary web users from using them in the name of child protection.

This de facto censorship is largely unregulated, happens a lot, and can hit closer to home than you may think. In fact, last month we were shocked to discover that GigaOM had been blocked by Orange, one of the country’s biggest networks. It effectively meant that our site was screened off from millions of U.K. mobile users and accused of carrying adult content — all because of an overblock.

What was worse was that we discovered that not only was the process for blocking entirely opaque, but the process for getting unblocked was essentially non-existent.

A week ago I reported that the block on GigaOM had been lifted, Orange had still not answered a series of crucial questions about what had happened. Why did we get blocked? Who decides? And what procedure was there for anyone else who wanted to complain about being overblocked?

Now Orange has answered… sort of.

Here are their unedited responses. Make of them what you will.

 How did the block come to be put in place? How does Orange’s block work?
“The IMCB provides a framework for operators to self-classify content. The filter used is called Orange Safeguard which is a mobile content filter and is in place to protect any customers who are U18 from viewing inappropriate content and not for any other reason.”
 
What’s the normal complaints procedure for others hit by the same problem?
“For the small number of websites who feel they have been incorrectly categorised, we aim to investigate these and rectify any problems as quickly as possible. Whilst no filtering system is 100% all of the time, we believe that we offer the best solution available and that it meets the highest industry standards.”
 
Please can you confirm if the block has or will be lifted and why this has happened?
“We can confirm that the GigaOM site has been reclassified and is now accessible on mobile devices. We would like to apologise for any inconvenience caused. The reason this particular site was blocked was that our third party monitoring system had categorised this site incorrectly, this has now been rectified.”

I’ve asked for further clarification, since these comments don’t really address the pertinent issues. For example, what are the criteria for blocking and censorship?

However, there is a little bit of good news: Orange said it is now offering anyone affected by an overblock a more obvious way of making a complaint — by emailing.

“Customers who believe they have been misclassified” are now able to send a message to safeguard@everythingeverywhere.com and they should be contacted by somebody.

Let’s see if it works.

Photograph copyright Shutterstock/Pixel 4 images

  1. Let me translate:
    We (Orange) use a statistical model we don’t understand based on Keywords our system does not understand. So please monitor your website through our network and send an email in case of problems you don’t understand to which we might or might not respond.

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  2. Orange is an indiscriminate Internet censor.

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