Digital advocacy site blocked by Orange filter

Orange’s adult content filter has blocked the website of a digital advocacy group that works on tech issues such as net neutrality.

Digital advocacy site blocked by Orange filter

The Coalition for a Digital Economy (Coadec) was told its website was blocked on the mobile network yesterday, and has since struggled to find out who to report the issue to and why the site was erroneously blocked.

“Our site discusses issues facing tech startups and entrepreneurs building digital businesses,” said policy manager Sara Kelly in a post on the Coadec blog. “It does not contain any adult content, does not host a forum, and any comments made on blog posts are moderated and must obtain approval before being posted on our site.”

Earlier this week, a report from the Open Rights Group said it was aware of 60 sites that had been blocked in error by mobile operators – including a church and community site – and called for the industry to make it easier to report such flaws.

Indeed, Coadec found it difficult to simply confirm the block and find out what to do about it. Kelly said the group first called the Orange helpdesk, but was told it only dealt with customers – not websites.

We can understand mistakes, and we can understand if there’s a reason for the site being blocked, we just would like to know what the reason is in order to be able to address it

Coadec then asked Orange over Twitter, receiving a confirmation that the site was blocked when the person running the account checked it on their own phone. That person couldn’t say why the site was blocked, or offer advice what to do next, telling Coadec to talk to the Independent Mobile Classification Body (IMCB).

The IMCB was set up by mobile operators to create a framework for classifying content as not suitable for children – but it only applies to operators’ own content, such as portals. It wasn’t designed to be used across the wider web, although mobile operators have suggested to PC Pro they do use it as a basis for their adult content filters.

The IMCB told Coadec “they were not responsible for WAP and 3G access to websites” and that “they had briefed the mobile phone operators on this some time ago but the operators were still directing individuals to them,” Kelly said.

After more calls, Coadec was told to write a letter or send a fax to Orange. Instead, it headed back to Twitter and was told the case would be dealt with; it is still waiting to hear back.

“Unfortunately the tools for reporting or redress either don’t exist or aren’t up to scratch,” she told PC Pro. “We can understand mistakes, and we can understand if there’s a reason for the site being blocked, we just would like to know what the reason is in order to be able to address it.”

Orange is looking into the issue for us, with its press office initially advising us that anyone affected in such a way should contact the IMCB or Orange customer service.

Wider issue

Kelly pointed out that such a block not only raised freedom of speech issues, but could hurt digital businesses. “[A] reporting and redress process that is complicated, and lengthy, could seriously inhibit a business who launches their site to discover it has incorrectly been blocked,” she said.

The incident comes as the Prime Minister is considering a network-level pornography ban across the wider internet, not only mobile phones.

“It is our position that applying similar style default blocks to broadband connections would present a significant risk to digital businesses inadvertently caught in these filters,” Kelly said.

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