Filter: Telstra against block notifications

Filter: Telstra against block notifications

Summary: Telstra was the only major organisation to advise the Federal Government against notifying internet users when a web page has been blocked by its mandatory internet filter because it believed that such action could increase the accessibility of Refused Classification (RC) content.


Telstra was the only major organisation to advise the Federal Government against notifying internet users when a web page has been blocked by its mandatory internet filter because it believed that such action could increase the accessibility of Refused Classification (RC) content.

Stephen Conroy

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy
(Credit: NBN Tasmania)

"We do not support the option of using a blocking notification page to indicate that access to particular content has been blocked because we believe that it will have the perverse effect of making RC content more easily available," the telco said in its submission.

Minister of Communications Stephen Conroy today announced the release of 174 submissions in response to the Department of Broadband Communications and the Digital Economy's consultation paper — Measures to increase accountability and transparency for Refused Classification material.

Telstra's concern was raised in response to the proposed introduction of a standardised "block" page under option three of proposed transparency measures, which would advise end users that the content they have attempted to access is blocked by the filter. DBCDE noted that such a measure would be "a key component to ensuring transparency of the filter regime".

The telco said a technically adept user could "phish" the blocked URL and could then go on to create directory of "harmful content" that could be used by people accessing the internet overseas.

Instead, Telstra has recommended a page "time out" option, which would be returned as an error, similar to the system employed in the UK under the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) scheme. "The advantage of this alternative is that there would be no opportunity for users to phish a blocking notification page and learn the URL of the blocked content," it said.

The telco's submission starkly contrasted Google's, which noted that the blocking notification page was crucial to help users understand why a URL was blocked, how the process worked and to provide links that would direct users to authorities where they could instigate a review process.

"This will greatly aid transparency and ensure that members of the public are able to challenge a decision," Google said.

Microsoft did not offer a submission on the blocking page notification; however, it and Yahoo broadly agreed with Google on this issue. "We would note the transparency enhancing value of such a measure for both consumers of information on the web and site owners who may not otherwise be alerted to the inclusion of material on their sites on the RC content list," Microsoft said.

Even the Australian Christian Lobby supported the blocking page notification and wanted the page to inform the user that any inquiry or request for a review of the content should be directed to the Australian Communications and Media Authority.

Internet civil liberties group Electronic Frontiers Australia (EFA) took its lead from Canadian editor of technology news site BoingBoing Cory Doctorow who in 2008 suggested improvements to the IWF's 404 error message system. The EFA wants the page to state that the URL was blocked, the reason it was blocked and what the user needed to do if they believed the classification had been incorrect.

Topics: Censorship, Google, Government AU, Microsoft, Telcos, Optus, Telstra, Tech Industry

Liam Tung

About Liam Tung

Liam Tung is an Australian business technology journalist living a few too many Swedish miles north of Stockholm for his liking. He gained a bachelors degree in economics and arts (cultural studies) at Sydney's Macquarie University, but hacked (without Norse or malicious code for that matter) his way into a career as an enterprise tech, security and telecommunications journalist with ZDNet Australia. These days Liam is a full time freelance technology journalist who writes for several publications.

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  • I think if this filter is going to get introduced we at least have the right to know why a website cannot be accessed. I can just imagine all of Telstra's subscribers flooding HellDesk with phone enquiries when they come to the conclusion that the Internet ain't working because under Telstra's proposal that is certainly the impression that its subscribers are going to get.
    Mel Sommersberg
  • Just the type of dumb response we expect from Telstra. What I don't understand is why do all these companies & individuals offer the government ways to improve Conjob's dumb filter. It gives him the impression they are not objecting to it!

    They should all be telling him in no uncertain terms...

    "Stop spending millions on inquiries and committees for your fatally flawed filter proposals. It will fail miserably!. "

    The dumb submissions from Telstra & the Christian lobbies, is only encouraging this idiot politician.
  • Telstras idea that a standard timeout will prevent blacklisted URLs from being discovered is rubbish. Simply test the URL in question from another country (e.g. via a proxy, VPN, URL checking website, even IM a friend overseas to check it).
  • Telstra and Conboy, now there's a team to be reckoned with.

    And who will save us from these turbulent priests (of religion-based paternalistic fundamentalism)?
  • I think some people are confusing the validity of Telstra's statement with their own general opposition to the filter. I do not think the filter is a good idea, and I am certainly not a Telstra supporter usually but in this case Telstra have a point. I think some of those opposing the Telstra idea in the article are deluded into thinking that the filter will make it impossible for people to reach blocked sites. The reality is that the filter will be very easy to go around. What Telstra is saying is that if you give notice that a site is blocked then it is very easy for an automated process to pick this up and know 100% that this is a site on the blacklist. The timeout option slows that process down as it has to wait for the timeouts and makes it more difficult (noone said impossible) to know if that site is on the list or just simply down.

    Personally I dont like Telstra's implementation either but that doesn't make what they are saying incorrect.