This could be another example of the power of blogs and social media, or it could just be coincidence...
Vodafone now allows its customers to buy underwear via their mobile internet service. I reported at the start of December that Vodafone UK had blocked access to two popular lingerie retailers Bravissimo and Figleaves for customers using their "adult content" filter, which was enabled by default on all standard connections.
Essentially, customers had to prove they were over 18 and say words to the effect of "give me porn" in order to buy bras. Having spoken to several parents in the interim I was not so surprised to hear of cases where parents had removed the adult content blocker (on non-Vodafone services) for their 14- and 15-years-old children because the block was "more trouble than it was worth."
One parent told me at one time Flickr was blocked on O2's service and twitter.com filtered as adult content on T-mobile, although neither are blocked today.
On the plus side it appears as though mobile ISPs act when a certain level of noise is made online about over-blocking. I made sure Vodafone UK, Figleaves and Bravissimo were aware of the block. I never heard back from either company, but it's certainly possible that one or both of the retailers also took the matter up privately with Vodafone, given profits were potentially at stake.
And when this blog was blocked over summer by T-mobile, Kevin Townsend made his readers aware and other blogs followed. Mark Jackson of ISPReview followed up with the ISP and my blog was saved.
On one hand the feedback loop seems to be working, on the other I worry how many websites fall between the cracks and never raise a big enough stink to get unblocked.
I'm interested whether ISPs can be held liable for losses suffered due to unfair blocking, but I'm told this is a completely untested area of law in the UK. Maybe the risk of financial penalties for over-blocking would make companies far more careful over what they do block.
I've heard reports that some blocking companies, again not directly related to the case under discussion, use the digital equivalent of "sweat shops", paying pennies per link to anyone prepared to surf the internet and classify a website as suitable or not for children.
I can imagine such arrangements find it hard to provide an inventive for accuracy. Additionally, if such classification takes place overseas, it might not take into account cultural sensitivities. In some countries even lingerie shops would not get away displaying photographs of models promoting their wares.
A big thanks to an anonymous tipster for the original story and Dominique Lazanski for a wealth of research and insight.