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T-Mobile's Optional Censorship Falls Down 67

An anonymous reader writes "T-Mobile USA offers a 'feature' to restrict access to certain kinds of content. This is called Web Guard. Supposedly Web Guard is supposed to inhibit access to content that falls under certain categories. The Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI), developed a tool to detect what sites were being censored. Amongst them were political news sites, foreign sports news sites and other sites that should not have been censored." It's quite an eclectic bunch of sites that are blocked, but then censorware tends to break in interesting ways, even when it's not by design.
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T-Mobile's Optional Censorship Falls Down

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  • by Dwedit ( 232252 ) on Friday March 23, 2012 @10:29PM (#39458447) Homepage

    Why shouldn't Newgrounds be on that list? Newgrounds is full of crappy porn "games" and other adult content. Blocking Newgrounds makes just about as much sense as blocking 4chan.

  • I ran into that (Score:5, Informative)

    by c1t1z3nk41n3 ( 1112059 ) on Friday March 23, 2012 @10:49PM (#39458503)
    When I switched my T-Mobile Sim from a contract to a prepaid sim it automatically enabled this 'feature'. I didn't notice until it blocked access to a 2nd Amendment forum. The process for getting it disabled was fairly annoying as well. They wanted all kinds of odd information from me to verify my age. I suppose they were doing a public records lookup. The guy on the phone said it's because children can buy a prepay sim. If AT&T wasn't worse I'd probably have just cancelled service with them.
    • Buying a phone to access porn or other "adult" material, well, I suppose its not out of the realm of possibility, but seriously, a phone? Seems like there are much simpler ways for kids to access adult material if they are bent on it. And I'll also bet the "problem" is a lot less than these reactionaries are making it out to be.
      FOR EXAMPLE: when I was a kid my mother bought a paper back copy of William Blatty's Novel The Exorcist [] (yes, I'm that old) after the film version was released in '73 and made a huge
      • It makes sense from a kids perspective - much easier to hide a phone. Or just the sim - by day you insert the family sim, but by night...
    • Took me about two minutes to find the checkbox. I looked at the main page for about a minute, gave up and google how to do it... about 60 seconds later I had my porn. No odd information for me, but I think they already had my birthday so...

      And blocking children from accessing forums about firearms seems reasonable to me.

    • I've been through the same thing, on Vodaphone. Except that they actually were a contract service, so they already had my name and age. It took a few days to disable it, as they used the take-a-payment-from-the-card thing for age validation and their badly-written site kept complaining that they were unable to process my card. Eventually I figured out the cause: I was using a debit card, but they can only validate age using a credit card. So I borrowed someone else's card and used that to make the token-pro
  • When I went to the URL in the article, I got a warning about a "web threat", claiming the site contains malware. Does it really... or are the censorware companies covering for each other?

  • Clbuttic? (Score:5, Funny)

    by jc42 ( 318812 ) on Friday March 23, 2012 @11:08PM (#39458581) Homepage Journal

    ... censorware tends to break in interesting ways, even when it's not by design.

    In web development circles this is known as the "clbuttic mistake". ;-)

    Google it.

    • by plover ( 150551 ) *

      ... censorware tends to break in interesting ways, even when it's not by design.

      In web development circles this is known as the "clbuttic mistake". ;-)

      Anybody else have fun when they discovered filters that would naively drop the naughty letters, but wasn't recursive? "You're full of shshitit!" would yield the desired epithet anyway.

    • Is it similar to the Svaginahorpe problem?

      • by jc42 ( 318812 )

        Yeah; they're caused by exactly the same bug. I don't know why "clbuttic" became the standard example, since there are lots of others that are just as funny. It makes sense that a common, ordinary word would be chosen, of course, since Svaginahorpe wouldn't have been common enough to become quickly known.

        I've always like the example of the US Consbreastution, but that also wouldn't have been so common. The string "ass" is quite common in English words. There were lots of organizations with "Associat

        • Maybe it's because nobody can spell the name of that place where Boston & Cambridge are.

          There's a famous school at the latter that gets hit twice ;-)

          • by jc42 ( 318812 )

            Ah, yes, the famous Mbuttachusetts Insbreastute of Technology. It's too bad that there's no offensive word buried in "technology", giving MIT a trifecta of censorable names. Most of the MIT crowd enjoys this sort of word game, and are happy with how easy it is to offend the puritanical types.

            Of course, none of these are quite as good (i.e., bad) as Svaginahorpe over in England.

    • When I was at school, sites about gardening were often blocked. Weed, grass, pot... the filter kept classifying them as promoting drugs. Filters have improved a bit since then.
      • by jc42 ( 318812 )

        That's pretty funny, though ultimately not too important. A more worrisome case was when people tried setting up a breast-cancers support group at Yahoo Groups. They reported doing this three times in one year, and every time, yahoo's software killed it because its name was "indecent". They eventually got yahoo's people to correct the bug, though, and if you check, you'll find that there are now several yahoo groups with "breast" and "cancer" in their names.

        It was a bit disappointing that yahoo didn't f

  • Proxy sites (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SSpade ( 549608 ) on Friday March 23, 2012 @11:08PM (#39458585) Homepage

    The author seems amazed that a tool intended to make it difficult for kids to reach certain sorts of content blocks proxy sites. Either they have no clue about what they're talking about or they're prepared to ignore the gaping flaws in their own argument to make a point.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 24, 2012 @12:19AM (#39458821)

      Except the list is so tangential and to be ridiculous censorship. e.g. Westmaster Junction, the discussion site for webmasters, Null Referer, a site that hides your referring page URL from websites you visit, Cosmopolitan magazine, a Russian programmers discussion forum etc, etc.

      This is typically what happens when you have secret censorship, the list just grows and grows in ever more tangential ways and before you know it Slashdot is on the list because some commenter pointed out some flaw in some protocol used for some site used for filtering.

      • by SSpade ( 549608 )

        "Null Referer" is a proxy site. Cosmo is full of what's basically porn. You're similar to the author, it seems.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The chat log at the bottom clearly shows they're just looking for mud to rake. The low-paid chat support guy isn't going to know that stuff to start with, and the ooni moron just keeps repeating himself as if it will make him look smarter.

    • by plover ( 150551 ) *

      The chat log at the bottom clearly shows they're just looking for mud to rake. The low-paid chat support guy isn't going to know that stuff to start with, and the ooni moron just keeps repeating himself as if it will make him look smarter.

      Well, the T-Mobile guy was repeatedly hitting the button for "Canned Reply #17" and "Canned Reply #13" anyway. The whole thing reminded me of Eliza talking to Eliza.

    • by Elbart ( 1233584 )
      The real quality of a company can only be seen when it has to deal with the problems of customers. And in this case...
  • by matria ( 157464 ) on Friday March 23, 2012 @11:37PM (#39458671)
    Elgin marbles, Sears catalog, National Geographic, your local art museum. How about the neighbor's bathroom window? What else can we keep the children from being traumatized by? Meanwhile people are beating, starving, raping and killing their own kids even as we sit and read this.
    • A single glance at a pornographic website will turn a child into a rapist and/or allow them to be easily seduced by evil child molesters (who are hiding behind every corner)! Do you want to let this happen!? Are you some sort of pedophile?

    • Meanwhile people are beating, starving, raping and killing their own kids even as we sit and read this.

      and just to tie this into the topic... and the kids won't be able to look up information on rape and what to do about it on their phone because it will be blocked

  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Saturday March 24, 2012 @12:03AM (#39458759) Homepage

    Note that the censorship options do not include "advertising".

    • by plover ( 150551 ) *

      I see you missed the link to [] then, as OONI has them identified as an "affiliate network" site. That's advertiser-speak for "advertiser".

      Maybe they're on the list because they stiffed T-Mobile for overage charges or something.

    • That's because advertising companies might sue. I'm not sure exactly what they will sue for, but I'm sure their lawyers can think of something. Interference with a contract, something like that.
  • by ohnocitizen ( 1951674 ) on Saturday March 24, 2012 @12:07AM (#39458773)
    It seems that everyday something new comes out about poor service, censorship, or price gouging. No mobile company is excepted, which makes "I'll leave you for a company that treats its customers better" an ultimately empty threat. Is there space for competition here? Do we need to advocate public interest laws and industry regulation?
    • It's difficult to switch to someone else when (if) they're all doing it. I think the thing to do would be for many people to switch to one company (even though they're doing it to) and tell the company they switched from why they switched. Basically, boycott them one at a time.

      But people seem too lazy to boycott anything anymore.

  • by scottbomb ( 1290580 ) on Saturday March 24, 2012 @12:40AM (#39458875) Journal

    As a T-Mobile customer with 2 accounts (one of them pre-paid) I had no idea it was being censored. I despise ANY ISP censoring my web experience that I pay good money for. Even if I don't access these sites, I'm a grown man and I prefer to make my own decisions.

    Unfortunately, the article seems to be lacking the obvious question: how to turn it off.

    A quick Google search yielded some results: []


  • by Anonymous Coward

    If it's optional isn't it the end users (self)censorship? It is a service that T-mobile does not charge for, can easily be turned off, and is probably only there from a business standpoint to protect themselves from litigation. I honestly don't see the problem.

    • It's only optional if it is

      -clearly stated by T-Mobile it is there (or clearly indicated when the filter kicks in)
      -and can easily be turned off

      According to TFA, the first condition is not met.

      • As I wrote earlier T-Mobile turned this on without asking or notifying me when I switched service types. The first time I went to a blocked site however the error page clearly stated why it was being blocked. So it is very clear when you have hit a blocked site. It was a little more annoying getting it disabled but did take less than 15 minutes.
  • I'm constantly finding T-Mobile blocking innocuous websites here in the UK on my iPhone. When I check the site later, I see no reasons why it doesn't work. I've seen similar issues with Orange, before my employer moved contracts to T-Mobile (the problems with Orange were before the companies merged).

    They're totally frustrating, and that's not just because they charge £7.50/MB when I'm on business trips to US or China. Taking Eurostar to Germany, I find tethering doesn't work in France, it wor

    • Its worse than that. On Prepaid 3 phones you can't even turn it off. (you can turn the porn off, but there are a whole host of sites that come back "sorry but three was unable to deliver this page for you").

      I'm still looking for a full DNS database so I can compile a full list of the ones that are blocked.

  • "Supposedly Web Guard is supposed to inhibit access to content that falls under certain categories."

    Supposedly it is supposed to? Ya suppose?

  • This is how censorship begins. Right now, you and I are kicking up a shitstorm. We don't want our connections to be censored, so we call in. Right now, there's a thousand working stiffs who are too tired or just too embarrassed to call and deal with people they can barely understand so they can visit on their phones.

    In five years, they'll have one person at that part of the call center. It'll be an unpublished number, passed around only by word of mouth, and it'll be widespread knowledge tha

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from a rigged demo.