The UK's New Internet Porn Filters Block Much More Than Pornography

Monday, January 06, 2014 - 08:43 AM

(sky blocking software)

TorrentFreak sounds like a place to download stuff illegally, but it’s not. It’s actually a news site whose focus is internet piracy, copyright, and filesharing. I read it a lot - as an On the Media producer I find it to be an invaluable source of information. The UK disagrees. On Friday, the site published an article saying that it had been blocked by Sky, the UK's largest internet provider.

What happened? The broader context is that the UK government’s launched a war on internet porn, with ISPs blocking porn sites unless users specifically opt-in to access them. but TorrentFreak says that lots of other sites are getting caught in the censorship net - "hate sites," gore, dating sites, and TorrentFreak itself.

When you navigate to TorrentFreak with Sky's default settings on, you get a splash page that says it violates the filter’s categories on "anonymizing, filesharing, and hacking."

Anonymizing, filesharing, and hacking? Isn’t this a porn filter and not a hack filter? TorrentFreak reached out to Sky for a comment, and were told that Sky was just doing what the customers want.

“Our customers have told us they want the option to control the content that enters their homes. As part of this, they have also told us what sort of content they would like included in Sky Broadband Shield,” a Sky spokesperson told us.

The provider further points out that account holders have the option to turn the filter off or allow certain sites to be unblocked.

“We know that no single setting will suit everybody, so our product allows customers to make their own decisions about individual websites, overriding the pre-defined categories to unblock a particular site if they wish. This gives any Sky home the ability to fully customise their filters.”

When new customers set up their internet the, the filter's "PG-13" setting will be ticked by default.

I understand wanting to protect kids from harmful things on the internet, and I don't have a problem with an ISP having filters on offer. I also believe that they should be as robust as possible, so that parents can decide what they want to block.

But it seems like the burden should be on the customer who wants to restrict access, not on the customer who simply wants to continue browsing the internet like they always have. Even as a former IT geek, I tend to accept most defaults when configuring my internet connection. And I would, apparently, be unwittingly cutting myself off from news outlets I find useful and informative.

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TLDR is a short podcast and blog about the internet by PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman. You can subscribe to our podcast here. You can follow our blog here. We’re also on Twitter, and we play Team Fortress 2 more or less constantly, so find us there if you like to communicate via computer games from six years ago.

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