Mobile network operators block political websites

A report from the LSE and the Open Rights Group shows default filtering on mobile devices blocks political websites without users' knowledge

Mobile operators have been put under the spotlight today for their filtering of content on mobile devices.

A report released this week by the London School of Economics (LSE) and the Open Rights Group (ORG) showed the default settings of internet filtering was blocking sites with political points to make, such as the "biased BBC" as well as general news sites, including St Margarets Community Website.

The filtering is meant to block content such as porn to protect children, but the report claims the filtering is blocking sites unnecessarily without users' knowledge.

“There are serious consequences to badly implemented, default child protection blocking systems,” said Peter Bradwell, author of the report and member of ORG.

“They include restrictions on markets, censorship, a failure to address young people's diverse needs and a false sense of security for parents.”

ORG is calling on operators to rethink their approach and allow the handset user – or user's parent, with children – to make their own decisions in blocking content.

“Some simple changes to how mobile operators run their filtering services would help address many of the problems with mobile filtering - including better ways to choose to activate filtering on an account, more transparency about how the filtering works and simpler, more effective ways of addressing mistakes,” added Bradwell. 

He also claimed there should be a long-term goal of moving away from filtering at the ISP level to filtering on individual devices.

“We hope the report helps contribute to a sensible child protection strategy, rather than one based on the overly-simplistic, albeit emotionally appealing, proposition that children need to be protected from seeing things parents don't want them to see,” concluded Bradwell.

“We need tools for parents that help them manage, through responsible and engaged parenting, their children's access to the internet - that does not have to mean unresponsive and broad network-level filtering.” 

Hamish MacLeod, chair of the Mobile Broadband Group, agreed changes needed to be made and that filtering should move to a device by device process, but claimed the market was “just not there yet.”

“How to offer appropriate protection to children on the internet is a challenge that policy makers have been wrestling with for many years,” MacLeod said.

“It is necessary to navigate a path that does not unnecessarily restrict personal freedoms, is technically simple for customers to implement (or remove), can be executed via numerous distribution channels, across a range of devices, and can be applied with reasonable accuracy and consistency across hundreds of millions of websites.”

Computer Weekly contacted all the UK’s major mobile operators but none had returned our request for comment at the time of publication.

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