Smartphones are taking over the world, and mobile internet usage continues to shoot up. But there’s a real and growing problem with that, even in our own backyard, as a new report published today by the Open Rights Group reveals: the over-zealous site-blocking carried out by mobile networks. Whatever happened to net neutrality?
While a court ruling forcing fixed line broadband ISPs to block The Pirate Bay this month racked up headlines and even earned the wrath of Anonymous, an even more serious problem has been quietly brewing in the background: mobile censorship.
A report published by the Open Rights Group NGO and the London School of Economics (LSE) this week highlights just how recklessly mobile
operators are censoring sites with their child protection filters.
Examples of perfectly safe and non-explicit sites being blocked over 3G abound, including the homepage of a Sheffield church (blocked by O2): in fact, the authors found 60 reported instances between January and March 2012 alone.
“We think there are a number of serious problems with how these systems work,” the report says. “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.”
Anecdotally, these accusations ring true. T-Mobile UK for instance blocks almost every single website that publishes UK Lotto results, alongside adult content. The problem is that though mobile internet usage is on the up, it’s still not as broad-ranging in use as on a desktop computer connected to home or office broadband: it’s transactional in nature, people look up stuff they read to know or read regular sites, so the issue has flown under the radar for so long.
To make matters worse, say the authors, the code of conduct that mobile operators adhere to does not even provide criteria for what should be blocked.
You can read the whole report here: (PDF). It makes for worrying reading, especially when you consider that wireless 4G (LTE) in the UK is being seen as a replacement for fixed line broadband in many areas. Are we going to have to get used to yet more site blocks?