Internet provider TalkTalk has confirmed that their HomeSafe Parental Control service (i.e. network-level filtering) does indeed block customers from being able to view the website of well-known right-wing political blogger and journalist Guido Fawkes (Paul Staines) – http://order-order.com, which is despite the ISP initially issuing a strong denial. Sadly they don’t plan to lift the ban.
The good news is that Guido Fawkes’s website isn’t blocked by default and customers who do enable TalkTalk’s HomeSafe filter will only be affected if they select to censor sites under the Social Networking category, which in our view seems like an excessively broad interpretation of what social networking is; opinions may vary.
According to TalkTalk, which started the day by strongly denying that they had ever blocked Guido Fawkes’s website, the social networking category is only used by a very small portion of their customers. It should be noted that HomeSafe offers three filters that customers can choose to switch on: Kids Safe, Homework Time and Virus Alerts.
Kids Safe includes specific filters for: dating sites; sites promoting drugs, alcohol and tobacco; gambling sites where people can place bets; sexually explicit material; sites that promote or describe how to self-harm or commit suicide; sites promoting violence, weapons and the infliction of pain; file sharing sites; gaming sites and social networking sites, including websites where people can create personal profiles and talk to others online, including blogs, forums and virtual communities. According to the ISP, social networking isn’t filtered by default when Kids Safe is enabled.
A TalkTalk Spokesperson told ISPreview.co.uk:
“We fully support the aim of helping people understand how filters work and are continually looking to improve HomeSafe and the information we provide. Social networking filters are not switched on by default, and we will only filter out blogs and social networking sites when a customer has actively logged into their online account area and chosen to enable filters for this specific type of content. There is also a clear description of what each category covers so customers are making an informed decision.
Customers using HomeSafe to filter out other types of content, like sites about violence or suicide, can still access blogs, which are not about those specific subjects, and social networking sites. Customers can tell us if a website is being filtered inappropriately by clicking a single button when they see the HomeSafe warning, or by emailing us at Homesafe.firstname.lastname@example.org and we welcome feedback to ensure we are continually improving the product.”
ISPreview.co.uk expressed concern at the wide interpretation of TalkTalk’s social networking category but the ISP said it was still a blog and would remain blocked. Unfortunately this is the problem with censorship systems, they have a tendency to interpret content differently from others and this can lead to problems.
It’s also worth remembering that some children run blogs too, lest we not forget Malala Yousufzai’s website. The 16-year-old was shot in the head by a member of the Taliban in Pakistan after campaigning for the right of girls to go to school without fear, she campaigned through her blog. But by all means.. let’s stop children from having access to such things?
Sadly it’s not the first time we’ve had to report on such cases, with ISPs previously facing criticism for blocking websites that help victims of self-harm, bullying and the list goes on. In addition, it’s important to reflect that many of those who came across the above blog restrictions had no idea that it was as a result of their selection for choosing the social networking category, it’s all too easy to glance and click your way into making a bad decision.
In related news the boss of broadband provider AAISP, Adrian Kennard, has expressed anger at TalkTalk for blocking his blog: “Do I have a right to freedom to express myself? If so, what the hell gives TalkTalk retail the right to block access to my blog?“.