December 07, 2008

Reflections on Wikipedia vs CleanFeed, Censorship and British ISP's

Wikinews (a separate project from Wikipedia): British ISPs restrict access to Wikipedia amid child pornography allegations

The Register: Brit ISPs censor Wikipedia over 'child porn' album cover

Someone else can do the pundit argument that the general material is horrible, but does it justify censorship? It's not for me, and nobody cares anyway (well, except for people who'd like to take a line out of context to smear me, but no need to cater to them). This post is for pointing out that this incident gives a golden opportunity to see the technical details of how the UK "CleanFeed" national censorware system works in practice.

Note the "Internet Watch Foundation" which maintains the blacklist, has confirmed the event.

Apparently only one or a few Wikipedia pages are on the UK blacklist, but it seems the effect of a site having even one page on that blacklist is to force all site traffic though a proxy, which assigns it to a single Internet address per Internet service provider. This aspect of putting a huge number of users on a single IP has the effect of severely disrupting Wikipedia's administrative controls for the relevant population.

In the discussion pages on Wikinews, and on Wikipedia, there's a rare instance of true aggregated user research, as people from across the UK are posting what error message they see when they try to access the blacklisted material (e.g. an old album cover by the band "Scorpions" called Virgin Killer), and what's happening from various UK ISP's. And poor Wikinews gets no respect for journalism, as the huckster A-listers are enamoured with hyping Wikipedia as much as possible, even though Wikipedia is a very poor fit for journalism.

I'm not going to speculate where this all will end up now. But it's as big an explosion over national censorware as has even been seen in the Western world.

Update: "CleanFeed" flow chart

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in censorware | on December 07, 2008 04:30 PM (Infothought permalink)
Seth Finkelstein's Infothought blog (Wikipedia, Google, censorware, and an inside view of net-politics) - Syndicate site (subscribe, RSS)

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I'd point out that people may cause harm through their speech, but it's not the speech that causes harm, nor the person who hears it, but the person speaking it, but then, as you might say, what's the point?

Three 'but's in one sentence. That's bad.

People's eyes should be shielded from such a literary abomination.

Posted by: Crosbie Fitch at December 7, 2008 06:43 PM

As I noted over on my website, The Phone Coop doesn't seem to be filtered, even though I think our uplink is IWF member Fused Group.

All five UK mobile phone network providers are IWF members. Maybe I'll try my two phones later.

Posted by: MJ Ray at December 8, 2008 10:08 AM

Anyone else see the irony in the Wikipediots calling "censorship!", when it was their militant devotion to the practice of IP blocking and user account banning that even notified them that something was amiss on the Virgin Killer page?

Posted by: Gregory Kohs at December 8, 2008 12:43 PM

A few points:

First, As I remarked on my blog one of the most disturbing aspects of this is how many people are getting 404 errors or the like rather than being told that the page is censored. One must therefore wonder how many small websites there are that are getting similar treatment or worse and no one even knows it.

Second, regarding the comment by Greg Kohs: the vast majority of Wikipedia IP blocks are used to deal with simple prolific vandals. There are a small number of people like Greg Kohs who have been so extremely disruptive that they have had to be banned altogether. I will not comment on Greg's specific ban here (so as to not derail this thread) but will note that I suspect that even Greg would agree with many if not most bans that occur (such as almost all of those that occur due to editors repeatedly attempting to push an extremely non-neutral viewpoint or those who are incapable of basic civility).

Posted by: Joshua Zelinsky at December 8, 2008 11:45 PM

The censors realise that if they reveal to publishers that the public's eyes have been shielded, the publishers will remedy this interruption, both by bringing it to the public's attention and by attempting to remedy it technically.

The censors also realise that if they reveal to the public that the public's eyes have been shielded, the public will remedy this interruption, both by bringing it to the publisher's attention and by attempting to remedy it technically.

Thankfully the government has seen fit to appoint independent and inevitably imperfect censors. This helpfully educates the public and provides it with an opportunity to thwart censorship before the government decides to make circumvention of censorship an illegal activity. The DMCA may be stupid, but it sets a precedent that encourages such stupidity.

Posted by: Crosbie Fitch at December 9, 2008 07:20 AM

A note: Your link to the WikiNews article contains the actual image itself. I did not like seeing this offensive image as a parent myself, and would have appreciated a warning that the link contains the image.

Posted by: Steve at December 10, 2008 04:30 PM