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Censorship United Kingdom Your Rights Online

Britain's Broadband Censors: a Bunch of Students 143

Posted by Soulskill
from the bribe-with-pizza dept.
nk497 writes "British ISPs have been told by the government to offer their customers parental control systems to block content like gambling sites and pornography, but the McAfee system used by BT and Sky leaves the tough censoring decisions to a small group of barely-trained students. While much of the categorization work is done using an automated system, decisions on whether porn is 'hardcore' or merely 'erotica,' or whether a page contains hate speech, is left to a team of five to ten people with a day of training — and the job is apparently popular with students. McAfee doesn't publish the list of sites it hands to ISPs to block, making it difficult to see if your own site has been misclassified."
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Britain's Broadband Censors: a Bunch of Students

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  • by Fluffeh (1273756) on Monday October 17, 2011 @08:05PM (#37745502)

    Would you want work done by a bunch of students with a single day of training to be up for review?

    • by sir_eccles (1235902) on Monday October 17, 2011 @09:14PM (#37745914)

      Knowing how lazy students are, they probably just copied the list off someone else.

      • by rtb61 (674572) on Monday October 17, 2011 @11:50PM (#37746694) Homepage

        Knowing corporations this sounds like the perfect set up for, "it's the new guy's fault". A system purposefully built to allow 'er' censorship of anti-BT web sites, of non-corporate politics web sites, of competing web-sites. All contract positions easy to blame and terminate and pretend many web sites were not taken out on purpose.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward
          Why do they even care about who gets the blame? It's not like anyone has any recourse anyway. They'll keep doing what they want regardless of what anyone thinks or says, just like they are now. Good excuse or no. Why bother giving us the inferior quality lube if they're going to ram it in anyway?
    • by TheLink (130905)
      If there's going to be censorship, this might be a way for the kids to see porn - do some part time work for the ISP ;).
  • Well, Crowdsourcing Captchas are about to get a lot more interesting...

  • Of course (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Hentes (2461350) on Monday October 17, 2011 @08:12PM (#37745536)

    Shifting through and categorizing thousands of pages a day requires cheap untrained workforce.

    • by bryan1945 (301828)

      Except that many of the steps are automated-
      "The overall process is mostly automated, with McAfee's system looking for keywords on a site to classify it. We have crawlers that try to classify websites automatically."
      Well, isn't that nice. Shouldn't have any problems there.

      For the real people-
      "The team also looks at more sensitive subjects, such as pornography. “In those cases, it takes a human to take a look at it, to figure out if it’s more hardcore or if it’s more of an erotic website

      • by nomel (244635)

        So, the kids that had all of the content blocked previously are employed to scour the alleys of the internet to make up for all they missed. It's great how innocence is protected, to a sometimes bizarre degree, until the clock strikes 12 on your 18th birthday....

        • All I can say is that I wished I I had a job when I was in college where I looked at porn all day :)

          • by AK Marc (707885)
            You'd be taking your work home with you...
          • Think again. You wouldn't get to see the interesting pages, they'd easily be classified. You'd only get the lame, barely interesting crap on par with a 1950s Playboy.

            Be honest, you have had the internet all your life, do you think a few boobies would be in any way interesting?

        • by Kjella (173770)

          Your post would make sense if all of this was a mandatory block in every category for everybody under 18. They'll be categorizing a lot that maybe parents don't want kids under 12 to see, but they wouldn't dream of blocking for a late teen. The alleged "now you've turned 18, so we're throwing you from a padded room to a cesspool of filth" doesn't really reflect reality.

    • And ideally, water resistant office equipment in a well ventilated basement.
    • by ThorGod (456163)

      When you put it that way it doesn't sound so ripe for abuse.

    • by PPH (736903)
      And a heap of mod points.
    • Sifting through PORN many students have plenty of experience... Hopefully they're filtering out the bad stuff... From the GOOD porn.

      They are threatening the sales of eye wash and unicorn chasers... Darn socialists.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Monday October 17, 2011 @08:12PM (#37745538) Journal
    It is my duty to point out that "Taliban" is Persian for "Students".
  • At least... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by justin12345 (846440) on Monday October 17, 2011 @08:15PM (#37745564)
    Well, at least no one saw that one coming. No one could ever have predicted that a government mandate issued to private company would wind up being sourced to the cheapest possible labor.
    • These same private companies have been sourcing to the cheapest possible labor for years: technical support, customer support, quality assurance, and increasingly developers. None of these have been mandated by the government. Anti-government fanatics are funny. They see âoegubermuntâ even where there is none. They cannot possibly comprehend that in the face of gigantic, immoral, ruthless international corporations, national government is pretty much the only force that can protect average citize

      • Check your reading comprehension skills--your parent was bemoaning the issuance of the task to a private corporation.

        • Better question -- why should a government be doing this in the first place? If people want their internet censored, then a company could make a product, sell it, and make money. No government involvement necessary.
          • Because people don't actually want their internet censored--government wants it censored, or, rather, government wants censorship infrastructure in place, and 'think of the children and the pr0ns' is a good make believe reason to justify it.

            There's a very good reason for government involvement here--a reason that is only good for government.

            If you can't see that, there's no hope.

            • So corporations serve themselves, governments serves themselves... why do we need either then?

              • Anarchy ahoy!
              • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

                by KiloByte (825081)

                Because there is no difference between the government and the mafia. Both rob you with taxes, both use force when you fail to pay or obey their rules, both provide some services[1], both aggressively, fiercely try to stamp out any competition. And both seek to expand their influence.

                If there is some money and power that can be taken by force, you can count someone will want to take it.

                [1]. Depends on mafia in question. Where they're just gangs mostly suppressed by the government, they provide almost noth

              • Because sometimes they serve us by accident.

    • You mean... there are no monkeys anymore in Gibraltar? But that's terrible!
      • by Anomalyst (742352)

        You mean... there are no monkeys anymore in Gibraltar? But that's terrible!

        Killed in the Iranian launch failure.

  • Does it matter? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 17, 2011 @08:26PM (#37745656)

    Does it matter if it's a group of students or a group of politicians? or a group of little old ladies? or a group of aliens from Betelgeuse?

    In all seriousness, it doesn't matter *who* does the censoring, they'll always get it wrong. Only the end viewer requesting the page can decide if something is "hardcore" or merely "erotica". Nobody can decide what standards are acceptable to anyone else.

    • Does it matter if it's a group of students or a group of politicians? or a group of little old ladies? or a group of aliens from Betelgeuse?

      In all seriousness, it doesn't matter *who* does the censoring, they'll always get it wrong. Only the end viewer requesting the page can decide if something is "hardcore" or merely "erotica". Nobody can decide what standards are acceptable to anyone else.

      The Group isn't doing the censoring, the Parents are. The group just categorizes websites, they don't choose to block anything. Even if they put everything in to "Hardcore" it wouldn't be blocked unless the parents choose to block it.

    • Easy..

      Man on Man Anal: Hardcore
      Man on Woman Anal: Erotica
    • Privoxy is setup such that you can download blocklists from whomever you prefer, or you can roll your own. Why isn't their solution so simple, and flexible enough to allow choice? Why is it assumed that one blocklist fits all preferences?
    • by mjwalshe (1680392)
      political organizations have over sight private companies not so much.
    • by mpe (36238)
      Does it matter if it's a group of students or a group of politicians? or a group of little old ladies? or a group of aliens from Betelgeuse?
      In all seriousness, it doesn't matter *who* does the censoring, they'll always get it wrong.


      However exactly how they will get things wrong depends on both the censoring/classifying group and the target group. Also a group of US students is not the same in this context as a group of British or Australian students. With a "foreign" group being more likely to get thing
  • url lookups (Score:3, Informative)

    by modestgeek (1449921) on Monday October 17, 2011 @08:35PM (#37745716)
    I could care less who is doing the categorization. There are going to be mistakes. The important thing is being able to challenge the rating. Most of these content filtering products have URL category lookup and you can report sites that need further review.

    McAfee http://www.trustedsource.org/en/feedback/url [trustedsource.org]
    BlueCoat http://sitereview.bluecoat.com/sitereview.jsp [bluecoat.com]

    The rest are easily found via google or from their respective support sites.
  • [...] decisions on whether porn is 'hardcore' or merely 'erotica' [...]

    Where do I apply?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I've seen far too many political sites and blogs ranging the entire political spectrum being labeled as "hate speech". While true, the opinions are very strong. But I would hardly call that HS.

  • I'm sure they could do it cheaper anyways. :D
  • Goatse for work (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Meeni (1815694) on Monday October 17, 2011 @09:05PM (#37745874)
    I understand we want to protect the pure eyes of the public from disgusting content. Well, actually I don't, if nobody gets harmed in the making of the images, to each one is fantasy. Furthermore, it is not like bestiality is around every click, and seeing a nipple is not going to traumatize anybody, we all have two, don't we ? For the sake of the argument, say we buy the idea that internet 'needs' to be filtered to protect the public from seeing "things". Doesn't it defeats the purpose, when little Johny is protected from porn from 1 to 18, then gets to watch objectively offensive and disgusting porn, the kind of things that makes you despair about humanity, but for 20 hours a week, as a student job to pay tuition ? Am I the only one to think that the work-watchers are going to increase by a wide margin the exposure to insanely offensive material, that otherwise nobody encounters without actually looking for it ?
    • So I wasn't the only one who thought it's kinda odd to protect a person 18 years of his life from porn, and a year later you pay him to do it?

      • According to some supporters, it looks like you're breeding serial killers at that point... do we execute anyone who works as a censor for X days too many?
  • I don't see the point. I was able to get around content blockers when I was a child. I am sure kids today can do the same with a little effort.
    • Won't someone think of the parents?

    • I work in IT support at a school, and... yes, they can.

      Students rarely try to look at porn in school. No privacy. They are constantly trying to get around the filter to play games.
  • by couchslug (175151) on Monday October 17, 2011 @09:22PM (#37745956)

    Those who want blocking on THEIR OWN PCs should have it. The more the better. :)

    • If it stopped there, I'd have no problem with it. But I've been too long on this planet to believe that it's going to stop there for long. Far too often we went from "you may" to "you should" and finally "you must".

    • Best way to do that is to use OpenDNS, filtering and logging software, and lock the machine in a cabinet. This will provide fully customizable blocking as well as time restrictions. What can GOVERNMENT have to do with one's OWN PC, except mess everything up and waste everyone's money?
  • by Anonymous Coward

    So this is why my website was blocked forever ago at my high school for "hate speech". It was actually nothing more than a little programming blog with some flash games on it. I actually felt popular when I discovered it was blocked lol.

  • by Wrath0fb0b (302444) on Monday October 17, 2011 @09:48PM (#37746086)

    TFS and TFA make it clear that this is a service being offered to customers as an opt-in system. What the heck is wrong with offering customers that choice, especially given that they can presumably change their mind at some point in the future (when their kids are old enough to view porn).

    Customers will be asked to make a choice over whether they want filtering on their connection or not. Adult content blocks will not be implemented by default.

    • TFS and TFA make it clear that this is a service being offered to customers as an opt-in system for now. What the heck is wrong with offering customers that choice, especially given that they can presumably change their mind at some point in the future (when their kids are old enough to view porn), altough we don't actually know that this will be the case.

      Customers will be asked to make a choice over whether they want filtering on their connection or not. Adult content blocks will not be implemented by default for the time being.

      There. Fixed those for ya.

      • by dark_requiem (806308) on Monday October 17, 2011 @10:25PM (#37746300)
        Exactly. I forget who said it, and I don't remember the exact wording, but I once read a very wise quote: "Evaluate any government proposal based not on the supposed benefit that will be imparted if administered properly, but by the harm inflicted if administered improperly."

        And besides that, we're talking about a system where one group of people are making decisions about "appropriateness" for a huge mass of people. The notion of what is "adult" or "inappropriate" content varies from individual to individual, as does the notion of "mental preparedness". As with any system of censorship or ratings, those who disagree are left by the wayside (see: "This Film Is Not Yet Rated" [imdb.com] for an excellent example using the MPAA).
        • And besides that, we're talking about a system where one group of people are making decisions about "appropriateness" for a huge mass of people. The notion of what is "adult" or "inappropriate" content varies from individual to individual, as does the notion of "mental preparedness".

          No disagreement there but the key is that if you don't like the notion of "adult" or "appropriate" that's used in that particular filtering system, you can opt not to turn it on (or, if you've previously opted to turn it on, opt to turn it off). This proposal is 100% individual-empowering to decide whether or not they want to accept it and gives them the freedom to change their mind later.

          That is, if we really believe in individual freedom and individual choices then we ought to respect the choice to have t

      • by jonbryce (703250)

        For cellphone internet it is currently opt-out, but if your mobile operator provides wifi as well, then as soon as you switch from 2.1GHz to 2.4GHz, it becomes opt-in.

    • Well, what about the probability that the system is being subsidized? Or, even if it is not (haven't checked), the salaries of the politicos who sat around thinking this up is being subsidized? Or the opportunity costs of ISPs wasting time and resources implementing this? Or the fact that such systems are already readily available for those who wish to purchase and utilize them, courtesy of market participants who saw a demand for this tech over a decade ago, and undertook all the initiative and risk of
      • It is a government problem, industry can't solve it cheaply or likely any better.

        A cheap solution would be for sites to publish their rating (meta tag) or setup something like the cert authorities for it but allow self rating. Maybe have some laws for badly rated websites so porn can't label itself for elementary children without a fine. Verification authorities would merely allow a backdoor to non profits, businesses, or peer to peer to go above the self-rating system.

        Schools, parents can then BAN all sit

        • You want to find a scientific standard that holds all over the planet when it comes to "sexual decency"?

          Good luck.

          • That should be a grading.
            1. Every woman is in a burka. No flesh exposed
            2. Hair (and knees) is covered, arms may be visible
            3. Bikini's are allowed
            4. Naked tits are allowed
            5. Full nudity is allowed, no suggestion of sex
            6. Suggestion of sex
            7. sex is visible, no anal
            8. Anal sex
            9. Bondage/mutiliation/rape
            10. Snuff

            In that way the filter can be set at a limit that's correct for the country.
            There are some issues like certain parts of Africa where showing tits is allowed, but knees are not allowed. These issues must be solvable with the co

            • by stdarg (456557)

              Might be a good idea to decompose that along a few different dimensions. Dominance/control, pain, nudity/exposure, number of participants, etc. High dominance/control (burka) may be more offensive than soft nudity for instance.

            • You REALLY want to categorize every picture and every movie on this planet for every kind of harebrained sexual taboo some kind of culture might have? There are cultures that allow you to see anything as long as the navel is covered. Or as long as you cannot see the asshole. Or as long as you can't see pubic hair. Or how about the reverse, calling women in burkas a sexual repression and hence disallow it? Not to mention that burka porn might offend devout Muslims (I have to admit, I don't know if that kind

              • Literal classification is less open to debate and it is easier to automate. software could eventually ID people and scan their bodies frame to frame to see how exposed they are and rate it accordingly. Who is to say it has to be a long list of options? A hierarchy makes more sense. Start with broad things and eventually with man power or software it can get more detailed.

                If you don't want nudity for your kids then it blocks the stuff for your localization as well as the generic higher level classification

        • by jimicus (737525)

          I've said it before, we need a global standard rating scheme created by scientists not industry monkeys.

          There are plenty of cases - and I believe this is one - where I don't care how many scientists you put on the job, the chances are you'll find there are at least as many opinions as there are people on the committee tasked to forming an opinion.

  • I always find it funny when governments think they can actually censor the internet. If it doesn't work despite the great cyberwall of China, what makes you think it'll work anywhere else?

    America is trying as well, like with the whole recent domain name shutdowns thing. Yet people have already come up with very simple ways to get around it, from browser extensions, to their own DNS servers, to simply editing your hosts file.

    Governments, like corporations, don't understand technology; they simply screw it

    • The law of the big number works in their favor. Yes, you, me, and a few more will easily get around those filters. And we might also be interested enough in politics and the world in general to actively go out of our way to do so.

      How many others do? For the masses who don't give half a shit and would only see this if they get sent there, and promptly see a "blocked content" sign (which will certainly soon be conflated with blocks for malware and the like, considering the company that produces the blocker),

    • by cowtamer (311087)

      But what if it does? What you're seeing is the tip of the iceberg. When you get sent to some sort of prison or get fined thousands of dollars per "infraction" I think bypassing filters will be like rolling back your odometer in your car. Technically trivial, but few will dare...

      And no, the people will NOT rebel. They will swallow the "we're protecting you from child pornographers and terrorists" line whole -- if not right away, 5-10 years from now.

  • by CodeBuster (516420) on Tuesday October 18, 2011 @12:31AM (#37746906)
    I would say that so long as the system is both opt-in and voluntary, it shouldn't be a problem. As long as the censorship system isn't mandated by government AND people are free to choose filtered or unfiltered access, where's the harm?
    • The problem is that it starts off as opt-in. The slippery slope is a fallacy because A doesn't always lead to B - but A can still greatly increase the probability of B in the future.
      • by Dogtanian (588974)

        The slippery slope is a fallacy because A doesn't always lead to B - but A can still greatly increase the probability of B in the future.

        I'm not sure that the former was what was implied by the analogy. No-one's guaranteed to fall down if they come across a "slippery slope", but it's implied that it increases the risk significantly.

    • And when they came for me... there was nobody left to stand up.
    • Besides ulterior motives and slippery slopes, the people opting out have to pay for the censorship system, since those opting in aren't charged an additional fee for the service. This isn't like paying for schools even if you don't have kids, this is the government forcing everyone to fund an ideology.
    • I would say that so long as the system is both opt-in and voluntary, it shouldn't be a problem. As long as the censorship system isn't mandated by government AND people are free to choose filtered or unfiltered access, where's the harm?

      I imagine people will use the "slippery slope" argument. It's hard to refute, since history has shown that once an innocent snowball starts rolling it quickly gathers steam and mass. That once categorization is in place,

      But I tend to agree: if things are just categorized... then so what. As a single guy I wouldn't care, but if I was a parent I'd probably use the firewall + categorization and ease-off slowly as my kid(s) got older.

      • As a single guy I wouldn't care, but if I was a parent I'd probably use the firewall + categorization and ease-off slowly as my kid(s) got older.

        My wife and I have agreed on the following for raising our daughter:
        My (non technical) wife may ask me to install whatever security measures she wishes to prevent our daughter from accessing "bad things" online and I will do so.
        I may not circumvent those things directly.
        I MAY however teach our daughter the various skills necessary to figure out how to circumvent them on her own.
        Once she is capable of circumventing them, we accept she's also probably ready to see whatever was blocked.

        It may not be the pe

        • The only *real* problem with that, is it's insane how young kids are when they figure out how to bypass various nanny-ware. A friend's brother shows them, they find out online, the parent forgets to turn it back on after some "research," etc.

          The reason that's a problem, is some of that stuff might be setup to help stop online predators... or at least help the parents/cops look at the logs if the kid goes missing.

          The end result being, some kids might be able to get around the parents' security while still b

  • So what if the implementation sucks?

    The goal of offering parental control will be met, and then can be pointed to as giving customer choice. Make it as restrictive as practical. When in doubt, block.

  • This is far less disturbing and harmful than the fact that the majority of the security in airports is handled by armies of uneducated gorillas as opposed to a smaller more intelligent and more motivated group of individuals. Of course, I have yet to meet an intelligent, educated and motivated person that would be willing to work in such a position.

    At least in this case, we're talking about students and not day labor. At least students are people who should in theory be bright. As for training... well let's
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Until the early 1980s, there was a lot of pornography tourism (not really sex tourism, they only came for the "dirty" magazines and films, getting hookers or hook up with someone for casual sex have always been easier in UK then in Sweden, not even weighting in the language barriers, which was considerable for English speaking tourists in Sweden during the 1960s) from United Kingdom to Sweden. British men coming to Sweden only to buy a suitcase full of porn. There was even some Swedish cinemas, catering por

    • by mjwx (966435)

      , there was a lot of pornography tourism (not really sex tourism, they only came for the "dirty" magazines and films, getting hookers or hook up with someone for casual sex

      Pretty certain these two items fall under the category of "sex tourism".

      But I doubt it. Blocking porn on the internet is like trying to hold back the tide with a rusty sieve. China, UAE and all others have failed miserably because it's always reactive blocking (find a porn site, block it) and whilst it's reactive rather then pro-act

  • by MrL0G1C (867445) on Tuesday October 18, 2011 @06:24AM (#37748076) Journal

    However, he admits the very sites the small team is asked to judge are those that are the most subjective. âoeDrawing the line between erotic and hardcore pornography is probably the most difficult," he said. "Another thing is websites that go into extreme left or right side [politically], but still do news or something like that."

    Anti-nuclear - extreme?
    Anti-abortion - extreme?
    Anti-GM food - extreme?
    Right to wear burka- extreme?
    Calling politicians corrupt - extreme?
    Calling politicians scumbags - extreme?
    Muslim sites that are not in English - extreme?
    Christian fundamentalist - extreme?

    The gov't should not be supporting this company in any way.

  • by Malc (1751) on Tuesday October 18, 2011 @11:05AM (#37750102)

    There's some strange filtering imposed by the last two mobile operators I've used. Orange and T-Mobile have blocked various pages that I've tried to access from Google searches with the claim that they're adult content. Boring stuff like recipes or how to install a phone extension (yes, dangerous territory). Following their link to review the block page always results in them confirming the block was valid. The occasional times I've been able to see the Google Cache link, it's always been innocuous. Sounds like people with a day's training, but I doubt they were smart enough to be students.

  • Is anyone surprised that students are signing up for the job?

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