Mobile porn filters catch innocent content, says report

Mobile porn filters catch innocent content, says report

Summary: Filters for adult content on mobile networks are blocking innocent websites, according to a report by the Open Rights Group and the London School of Economics.Technical measures such as blacklists, designed to filter content that is inappropriate for children, have captured a number of websites that have been misclassified as 'adult' by mobile operators, the Open Rights Group (ORG) said in a report (PDF) on Monday.

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TOPICS: Security
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Filters for adult content on mobile networks are blocking innocent websites, according to a report by the Open Rights Group and the London School of Economics.

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Technical measures such as blacklists, designed to filter content that is inappropriate for children, have captured a number of websites that have been misclassified as 'adult' by mobile operators, the Open Rights Group (ORG) said in a report (PDF) on Monday.

"We think there are a number of serious problems with how these [blocking] systems work," said the report. "These include a lack of transparency, mistakes in classifying sites and the difficulty of opting out of the filtering. Together, these problems mean that people often find content is blocked when it shouldn't be."

One of the main problems with site misclassification is the difficulty for sites to be reclassified, said ORG. In a field test, a number of operators offered to unblock the site for a particular device owner, but not to completely reclassify the site.

The report gave the example of a number of instances of blocking, including the Tor privacy project website being blocked by Vodafone, O2 and Three in January. Orange blocked La Quadrature du Net on 2 February, and together with Everything Everywhere co-partner T-Mobile, blocked St Margarets Community website in March.

The report called for a move away from ISP-level filtering, to filtering at the device level.

The Mobile Broadband Group (MBG) gave a response on behalf of the operators on the ORG site. MBG chair Hamish MacLeod said out of the the number of websites operators had to classify — over 644 million — 60 misclassified websites cannot be classed as censorship.

"Even allowing for the ORG missing a few, 60 misclassified websites does not amount to anything that could reasonably be described as ‘censorship’, particularly when mobile operators are happy to remove the filters when customers show they are over 18 and will re-classify websites when misclassifications are pointed out to them," said MacLeod.

The UK government is to consult with ISPs about automatic UK web-filtering plans currently wending their way through parliament in the form of the Online Safety Bill.

Topic: Security

Tom Espiner

About Tom Espiner

Tom is a technology reporter for ZDNet.com. He covers the security beat, writing about everything from hacking and cybercrime to threats and mitigation. He also focuses on open source and emerging technologies, all the while trying to cut through greenwash.

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  • Not surprised. I once used the methods to let my firewall just notify me of breaches. Not one single logged event was genuine. Once, we all eagerly sat around waiting for an eastern european housewifes site to be displayed by the "main perpetrator" only to find it was a peugeot 205 owners club website homepage somehow mis-triggering the alerts. Sure enough, up came the alert. I even went through the source looking for the cause, all to no avail.
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