Smartphones have some big advantages: they offer considerable computing power in a highly-portable form, and are available at prices that allow a broad spectrum of users to get online easily. But as we reported last year, there’s a big downside, too, one that’s all-the-more dangerous for being invisible to most people: overblocking of sites caused by opt-out “child protection filters” applied by some mobile operators to their Internet feed.
Here’s yet another worrying example of that problem, this time involving the UK operator 3UK, pointed out by Nick Rothwell. Pride’s Purge is a Web site described by its creator Tom Pride as “an irreverent look at UK politics”. As he recently discovered, it’s also blocked by 3UK’s child protection filter. He contacted the company on Twitter, pointing out that Pride’s Purge was not a porn site or anything similar, and this is what it replied:
We don’t just block adult websites, websites with mature content may also be censored.
So it now seems that there is a category of material called “mature content” that is distinct from “adult content”, and that is also blocked by child protection filters, at least on 3UK’s network. Worryingly, political satire seems to be regarded as an example of “mature content”, and therefore unsuitable for children under 18. In fact, the censorship is even worse, as Pride explains:
it’s not blocked for just the under-18s. It’s blocked for anyone who hasn’t proven to [3UK] they are over 18 — and that means you will have to give your full identity to 3UK before they allow you to enter this site.
Which means 3UK now officially regard political satire as porn — and are censoring it in exactly the same way.
This very broad, default censorship is disturbing for at least two reasons. First, because many people will be unaware that this kind of “mature content” censorship is taking place at all, and therefore won’t ask for it to be stopped. And secondly, even if they are aware, the fact that asking for the filter to be lifted could be seen as tantamount to wanting to access porn — something that many will understandably be reluctant to have noted down on their Internet access record — means that they will simply put up with a limited feed. And so the creeping, silent censorship of the mobile Internet not only continues, but probably gets worse in the absence of any significant pushback against it.