Popular mobile operator GiffGaff, which runs on the O2 network, includes at least one Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) in British prime minister David Cameron’s deeply unpopular ‘porn filter’ dragnet.
TorrentFreak found that some VPNs have already been automatically blocked under the guise of an ‘adult filter’ of some – but not all – mobile providers. Exchanged between VPN provider iPredator and GiffGaff show that the former has been placed on a blacklist because it could potentially allow children to get around age restrictions.
VPNs are a way to route traffic away from ISPs and through independent providers, and have gained popularity in oppressive regimes that impose censorship on their citizens. Although they can certainly be used to access pornographic material, it is understood that, for many, this is not the primary purpose of a VPN.
A statement from GiffGaff explains:
“The response received from head office have confirmed that websites or services that offer, inter alia, a method for younger members to access over 18 content, without age verification; such as VPN services, are blocked by our network provider (O2) and are not controlled by GiffGaff.
“O2, along with other major mobile operators in the UK, have signed up to the code of practice with the UK’s Independent Mobile Classification Body which sets forth guidelines in terms of content management and the protection, amongst others, of customers and members below the age of 18.
“In section 2.8 of our terms and conditions it states that we have the right to restrict access due to age which all of our members have agreed to abide by when joining the service.
“GiffGaff reserves the right to restrict access to certain services due to age restrictions”.
This is the same reason Cameron used to justify a censorship programme which would see new customers actively have to opt-in to receiving adult services. The proposal was put forward to protect children, however, the terms of censored content are vague: as well as pornography, websites that are classified as “violent material,” “extremist related content,” “anorexia and eating disorder websites,” “suicide related websites,” “alcohol”, “smoking,” “web forums,” and “esoteric material” are all included under policy.
Although those over 18 can enable such material, critics say the terms are deliberately vague and can be applied to a wide range of material.
For example, the Oxford English Dictionary defines “esoteric” as “intended for or likely to be understood by only a small number of people with a specialized knowledge or interest”.
However, internet activists have a long history of dodging centrally imposed sanctions – indeed, the content industry’s bureaucratic attempts to shut down piracy, through policy or otherwise, has turned into a game of whack-a-mole. When one is blocked or shut down, another appears, as in streaming websites. Proxy websites are made available, hosted outside a nation state’s borders, making them more difficult to censor or control.
TechEye recommends a scan through the Streisand Effect’s Wikipedia page.