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UPDATE UK ISP Sky Broadband Removes TorrentFreak Block from Censor List

Tuesday, January 7th, 2014 (1:34 am) - Score 2,533

The curse of dubious categorisation has struck the land of censorship again after news site TorrentFreak.com criticised Sky Broadband for including it under the ‘File Sharing’ category of their new network-level Internet filtering service (Sky’s Broadband Shield), which acts as a Parental Control for “adult content“.

TorrentFreak is not even remotely a BitTorrent (P2P) or file sharing index. It is a well-recognised website that frequently publishes useful journalism on the wider copyright and P2P industry, although it approaches this field in a way that’s no dissimilar to the BBC or any news sites when reporting upon related stories.

Never the less customers whom agree to use Sky’s Broadband Shield, and whom leave the ‘Anonymizers, File Sharing and Hacking‘ category ticked, will find websites that focus on copyright issues, even if they themselves are not strictly a ‘File Sharing’ site, end up being included.

Andy at TorrentFreak said (here):

Our crimes are the topics we cover. As readers know we write about file-sharing, copyright and closely linked issues including privacy and web censorship. We write about the positives and the negatives of those topics and we solicit comments from not only the swarthiest of pirates, but also the most hated anti-piracy people on the planet.

But apparently the people at Sky and their technology masters at Symantec believe that we should be denied our right to communicate on the basis that we REPORT NEWS about file-sharing issues. That’s just utter nonsense.

Symantec write about viruses and malware ALL THE TIME, so are they placed in the malware and virus category? Of course not. Download.com, possibly the world’s largest distributer of file-sharing software, is also green-lighted through. On the other hand, TorrentFreak – which neither offers or links to copyrighted files and hosts no file-sharing software whatsoever – is blocked for any Sky household filtered for under 18s.”

In fairness Sky Broadband argues that the decision about whether or not to leave the filtering enabled is ultimately an optional one that the bill payer has “full control” over. Later in 2014, existing customers will also be asked if they wish to have filtering applied (more details about Sky’s Broadband Shield).

Sky also claims that the option of being able to filter “file sharing sites” was requested by customers, although it’s unclear how many were in favour of this idea and what form the relevant question itself took.

A Sky Spokesperson told ISPreview.co.uk:

Our customers have told us they want the option to control the content that enters their homes. As part of this, they have also told us what sort of content they would like included in Sky Broadband Shield. We know that no single setting will suit everybody, so our product allows customers to make their own decisions about individual websites, overriding the pre-defined categories to unblock a particular site if they wish. This gives any Sky home the ability to fully customise their filters.”

Admittedly TorrentFreak often includes links to services and sources that would also fall into the ISPs so-called “anonymizer” category, such as Proxy Servers and VPNs. On the other hand the BBC and many other sites do the same, yet all remain accessible and TorrentFreak does not. As a side note, Sky aren’t the first UK ISP to block TorrentFreak in such a way (here).

At the end of the day ISPs have the useful defence of being able to say that the customers have the final say, although many will continue to feel perhaps rightly nervous of the “enforced” way in which such filtering comes “pre-ticked” as enabled unless you un-tick the option.

Similarly it’s easy to envisage that, while blocking a category as broad as “File Sharing“, some parents might not understand the wide range of other legal content that could also be caught up in the censorship system. The very term “File Sharing” could, if taken at its most literal, apply to just about any website on the Internet (i.e. computers all share files and data when accessing websites).

Categorising content correctly is a complicated process and the above situation demonstrates what can happen at the point where the lines begin to becoming increasingly grey. In many ways the current system might have been more acceptable had the Government kept its focus strictly on pornography and other truly “adult” content.

UPDATE 3:13pm

A spokesperson for Sky Broadband has now contacted us to say that the decision to block TorrentFreak has been reversed. A Sky Spokesperson told ISPreview.co.uk, “The categorisation of torrentfreak.com has now been updated so that the site will no longer be filtered by Sky Broadband Shield. If at any time a website owner believes they have been unfairly filtered or miscategorised by Sky Broadband Shield, they can contact Sky and we will look into it as soon as we can.”

Leave a Comment
8 Responses
  1. Avatar DTMark says:

    Supermarkets seem reluctant to charge customers for plastic carrier bags because they fear a backlash from customers. They’re waiting for the nod from Government to find themselves all in the same position – it’s mandatory to charge. “We didn’t impose the charge and everyone has to do it.”

    In a similar manner, the Government giving the instruction to ban all file-sharing sites (not just a “block list” but a rather more insidious approach) would be a godsend most particularly for the cheaper ISPs with the unlimited usage models.

  2. Avatar FibreFred says:

    Oh dear what a sorry state, how long until gaming websites are banned as they promote violent games like Call of Duty that lead to real life actual crimes and are extremely bad for people

  3. Avatar kds says:

    is sky uses DNS to block or they actually block the packets ? I won’t join a isp even give this as an option.

  4. Avatar Party Political Parrott says:

    This is going to become even more of an issue as ISP’s are either forced into (by legislation) or merely coerced into implementing filtering solutions that each uses a variety of different categorisation list providers.

    The best you can hope for is an ISP who can quickly have a legitimate yet over blocked url/domain, unblocked.

    There is no central authority that determines what content should or should not be on whatever list is being used as this example and many others are now starting to highlight, despite warning it would. There is no quick solution to having a legitimate website unblocked, either, it is one of the unintended consequences of Government interference that they seem to think is needed as the populous are unable to look after themselves in this respect. The same Government who absolve themselves of the responsibility to provide a centralised, legally checked list. They would much rather put the responsibility on the list providers (and not even UK list providers at that) to do it and in turn the ISP’s implementing the filtering service gets it in the neck as a result. Welcome to the future!

  5. Avatar Damon says:

    Everytime an ISP is being asked to do stuff they don’t like doing, ‘mistakes’ are being made and overblocking occurs.

    You never here of ISPs making mistakes when fighting spam or malware and when taking down botnets.

    Techies and authorities…they just don’t mix

  6. Avatar boggits says:

    Could you ask Sky if they are willing to publish how they classify sites so that site owners can confirm if they are being correctly categorised…

  7. Avatar rolly says:


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