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Thursday, 24 July 2014

Department of Dirty: is it parody if it's actually true?

As I reported nearly 3 years ago, a side effect of Vodafone UK's efforts to protect children from adult content was to block access to two popular lingerie retailers Bravissimo and Figleaves.

Vodafone customers had to literally contact their ISP, verify their age and tell them "I want access to adult content" before they could shop for bras.

Despite both retailers and Vodafone refusing my requests for comment at the time, Vodafone corrected this particular problem in just over a week.

However many readers contacted me with similar stories: an outdoor web store selling, amongst other things,  hunting knives and hip flasks; a teenage discussion forum; etc, etc.

As the Open Rights Group reports:
... a whole load of sites get blocked by mistake - from churches (they mention wine!) to political blogs that have been miscategorised as hate speech. And a lot of sites that children should have access to - such as sites on sexual health - are also blocked. Once your website is on a blocked list, there’s no easy way to get off it.
With online retailers potentially missing out on revenue (many might be embarrassed or won't find the time to change the default web block - far easier to buy knickers from a different shop) and obvious concerns about censorship it's encouraging to see the Open Rights Group bolster their campaign against "default on" web filtering with the launch of their "Department of Dirty" publicity drive.

Ultimately I'd like to see website owners who find themselves unfairly blocked by such "default on" ISP filters fight back for their lost revenue with legal action against the ISPs blocking them.

When the ISPs who voluntarily kowtow to political demands face the prospect of hefty compensation claims then just maybe they will apply proper scrutiny to the sites they choose to block.


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