I want to talk a bit about Internet Service Providers (ISP) filtering content and the overblocking that can occur with these filters. In the UK at least, since 2013 all ISPs have been filtering content that might be adult or illegal in order to protect minors. All new customers will now automatically be opted-in to the ISP’s own content filter. Unless you specifically change your settings you may be seeing a reduced number of sites on your device. I’m not up to speed with the filtering of content in the US but would imagine it’s on a state by state basis. What are these filters, what are they blocking and are they always blocking the right sites?
ISP will filter any website which has content them deem to be harmful or illegal to under 18-year-olds. The blocking of sites is based on keywords and sites can also be added to blacklists. It is done on a network level so customers do not have to worry about software or hardware in their home and if you are a parent you no longer have the headache of deciding what sites to allow into your home and blocking them on each individual device you own.
What do the filters Block?
This varies between providers but will include content specific to drugs, tobacco, adult, self-harm, violence, social networking, bullying and yes you guessed it dating.
The use of these filters in the UK has been controversial because there is no independent body that oversees what is on the list of filtered content and the government could, in theory, extend the use of the filter beyond its original intention. I’m not saying they are a bad thing, they are a great way to stop illegal sites from operating and to protect minors from the barrage of content they will come across but the filtering needs to be governed.
Then there is the problem of overblocking. This is when a perfectly innocent site is blocked, a website offering advice about domestic violence, eating disorders and even some dating sites are blocked and so cannot be found. Some ISP will serve a page explaining that the content is blocked due to the filter, others do not so the user will just assume the site doesn’t exist because it never connects. In the UK 3.5 million households have their filters switched on. It doesn’t just cover your home broadband either, mobile networks have filters too and sometimes these cannot be changed. Some dating sites can fall under the broad categories and find they have been restricted or placed on a blacklist even though they are running a clean site free from adult content.
Changing the Settings
You can as a customer opt-out of all filters. Most ISPs will provide different levels of filtering so if you have minors around you can decide the best level for your circumstances. You can also contact your ISP have particular websites added to a whitelist so that they can bypass the filters.
If you own a website, and I know a lot of Lovesail members have their own websites, you might want to check whether you are being blocked by one of the major ISPs. There are many websites out there that can run a search and check.
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