Britain’s mobile networks have regularly come in for criticism for their habit of censoring legitimate online content. While they may have good intentions — protecting children from unsuitable content — the reality is that they’re poorly applied, leading to a phenomenon known as “overblocking” in which hundreds, or even thousands, of sites are being unfairly blocked for mobile readers.
But although we can write reports on how poor mobile content filters are, there’s nothing that brings their inadequacy home quite like being on the end of an overblock yourself — as we discovered a couple of weeks ago.
That’s when we were informed that Orange was stopping users from reading GigaOM on their mobiles due to “restricted content”, something that was clearly ludicrous and potentially damaging.
I got in touch with Orange and complained about the filtering, and — hooray — can now confirm that the company is no longer overblocking GigaOM for its U.K. mobile subscribers.
But even though we got our problem fixed, the bigger issues still remain.
Block overturned, questions unanswered
Here are four questions I asked Orange two weeks ago. The company promised me a response on several occasions, but I have still not received any answer:
As of the time of writing, Orange has so far failed to give me any answers or explain its actions on overblocking.
This is not unusual, says Peter Bradwell of the Open Rights Group, which recently produced a study on overblocking that sparked closer examination of the practice.
“I think they underestimated the number of sites that are affected by this practice,” he told me. “These filters were developed by the Independent Mobile Classification Body [a cross-industry group founded by the major networks in 2005] but they developed a system for walled garden content; the code of conduct for internet content, The networks can interpret that any way they want.”
He also pointed out that while GigaOM was able to get the block removed we are obviously not your run-of-the-mill website, and we have contacts inside the Orange publicity team. Many others who are incorrectly blocked have no easy way to complain or get the block removed.
“The networks have in the past been more responsive at unblocking sites that have a profile,” he said. “And while they’ve been helpful and open with us, they say it’s hard for them to make the changes we recommend.”
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