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Monday, June 29, 2009

Arbitrary "content control" from Vodafone

I've just experienced an object lesson in why it's difficult to get any form of web/Internet application and content filtering "right".

I'm sitting in a cafe using the MiFi device I got a couple of weeks ago, which still has a Vodafone HSPA SIM in it. I'm currently writing up some profiles of various voice and messaging providers for a forthcoming report.

But when I try to get onto some service/software vendors' website, I get redirected to Voda's overzealous "Content Control" page. Now I'm sorry, but no matter how much you might not like "over the top" VoIP services or their ability to offer unfiltered access to other content, there's nothing offensive on the actual website for Skype.com or Fring.com or Jajah.com - where I want to check up press releases, service details and so on. There is absolutely zero excuse for censoring the parent home page, whatever you might want to do in terms of policy for the downloadable app itself.

Yes, sure I could get onto the operator's customer service and jump through their hoops to get myself provisioned with full access to girls, gambling & harmless VoIP websites, but the libertarian in me thinks that it's deeply ironic that the Israel-based Fring is accessible from Iran but not London.

And, of course, I can get to the Fring page on Facebook - or install a variety of Skype-based applications on my page.

But some reason, Voda isn't blocking Truphone's web page, or Vopium's, Vykes or Mig33. But Nimbuzz and Mxit are blocked. Consistent or rational? I don't think so.

It's even more risible when (purely in the interests of science) I use Google's image search to look for something that might upset nanny. The gateway blocks certain thumbnails (presumbly based on URL) but not others.

It's instances like this that make me think that the mobile operators' often blind trust in packet inspection and "content control" will make them lose the trust of end users. How do I know that they won't change their "policy" tomorrow and block something I need?

Bottom line - if you're going to operate a Censorship Server (trademark: me), then make sure your Chief Censorship Officer is on the ball and occasionally thinks from a customer perspective. I'm in favour of intelligent ways to limit children from accessing undesirable things online - but this just highlights the wrong way of going about it.


Martin said...

Hi Dean,

interesting post. What are they saying on the content control page why they are blocking access to this page. If it's parental control and not unwanted content from a wireless network operator perspective (you seem to indicate this in your post but I am not sure), is there an official way to activate/deactivate it?


Iain said...

This may be partly a response to the knee jerk think of the children media panic a few years ago.

You may find that if you register with Vodafone as an "adult" some of the filtering is removed.