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UPDATE3 UK ISP Internet Filtering Blocks Hit WordPress.com Users

Monday, March 17th, 2014 (3:33 pm) - Score 1,307

UK members of the hugely popular WordPress.com website, which allows users to setup their own blogs using WP’s Content Management System (CMS), have been reporting a variety of access a usability problems with the service since the beginning of last week. A big finger of blame is now being pointed at TalkTalk’s Internet filtering.

A similar situation arose at the very end of last year (notice on WordPress.com). Back then the Open Rights Group revealed that the issue stemmed from TalkTalk’s implementation of the Internet Watch Foundation’s (IWF) child abuse block list, which had reportedly blocked a WordPress.com blog that contained obscene content.

However, as we’ve seen occur several times in the past, blocking content on a shared platform can have an undesirable impact upon other users (i.e. restricting access to legitimate content and related services) and that’s exactly what ended up happening.

At the time a TalkTalk spokescensor said, “Due to the application of our blocking of the IWF list of URLs that contain child abuse imagery, a small number of users may have experienced intermittent issues accessing WordPress at the end of last week. We apologise for any inconvenience this may have caused.”

Unfortunately similar reports have once again started cropping up, since around Monday 10th March 2014 last week, with WordPress.com users reporting that they either couldn’t access their blogs, were unable to reach the CMS’s Dashboard (admin control panel) or could access the Dashboard but struggled to post any updates.

Curiously some users, many of whom have been posting on the WP forum or reporting the problems via the Open Rights Group and other places (e.g. here and here), were able to resolve the issue on some web-browsers by clearing out their old cache, cookies and history data or using a different browser like Safari. But experiences seem to vary, with some reporting that the problem soon returned or that related sites worked but only did so very slowly. A similar set of experiences were reported in December 2013.

In some cases a poor filtering implementation might only impact a specific service, such as WP’s image servers, and this could perhaps explain the mixed experiences; depending upon how a user’s blog has been setup and which shared IP it’s hosted on. In this case customers of TalkTalk, BT, AOL and the Post Office (the latter two use TalkTalk Wholesale’s network) have all reported problems with access and performance problems on their blogs. It’s possible that others may have been similarly affected.

The good news is that some WordPress.com users have noticed a marked improvement in the access and performance of their blogs this morning, which suggests that the issue might have been resolved. ISPreview.co.uk has hailed TalkTalk and BT for a comment. Clearly a lot of fingers are being pointed at the ISPs but the providers themselves have yet to confirm whether it’s a problem at their end or not.

At the time of writing, TalkTalk told us they were investigating and have promised a reply in due course, while BT has yet to offer a response.

UPDATE 5:37pm

No reply from the ISPs yet but in the meantime Sky Broadband and other UK Internet providers also appear to be blocking access to the Ukrainian media website tsn.ua, which a Sky support bod said was necessary because “unfortunately there has been a white list of international media websites which are currently blocked and this site is affected by this” (here).

Except that “white lists” contain sites that should NEVER be blocked, perhaps they mean a black list or somebody has made a huge error? We’re trying to find out. Political censorship?

UPDATE 5:45pm

Finally we have the reply from TalkTalk concerning the original WordPress block, which is essentially the same as the one they first used in December 2013 but adds a note about a proper fix.

A TalkTalk Spokesperson told ISPreview.co.uk:

We are sorry that a small number of customers experienced intermittent issues accessing WordPress over the last few days. This was due to the application of blocking of the IWF list of URLs that contain child abuse imagery and we understand also affected customers of other providers. This has now been fixed. We are working on an improvement to how IWF blocks are implemented which we expect will stop this happening in the future.”

UPDATE 19th March 2014

A spokeswoman for BT’s consumer division has told ISPreview.co.uk that, “We’ve looked into reports that WordPress has been blocked for some BT users. Having checked with the IWF, we have established that their list is not responsible for blocking WordPress. BT Parental Controls is not blocking the site for users either.”

It should be noted that there were only a few odd reports from BT users and the issue seems to be mostly TalkTalk specific.

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