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UK ISP TalkTalk Slows Access to Imgur.com Website After IWF Block

Wednesday, Apr 2nd, 2014 (7:51 am) - Score 1,905

Customers of budget broadband provider TalkTalk recently found their access to the hugely popular image sharing website – imgur.com – to be slow or virtually unusable due to the ISPs implementation of the Internet Watch Foundation’s (IWF) voluntary child abuse block list.

The IWF maintains a list of URLs that contain child abuse content online. The group also works with most of the country’s primary ISPs to ensure that related sites and pages are removed at source (web hosts) or blocked from view by Internet Service Providers.

It goes without saying that the removal of such content is a good thing but over the years this URL specific approach (the IWF generally doesn’t block whole domains, only specific pages) to filtering has caused many legitimate websites / webpages to suffer access and performance problems. At one time or another everybody from Wikipedia and most recently WordPress (here) has been hit.

A recent post on Reddit and here, which has been highlighted by Wired, quotes a response from one of Imgur’s staff and reveals that the website has had “multiple issues with TalkTalk, including this exact same one in the past, but they are always unresponsive to our requests to work it out together.” Imgur adds that it has a “no tolerance policy” on child sexual abuse content and removes it when identified. A topic (plus here) on TalkTalk’s forum also reveals the ISPs position.

Michael Hopkins, Executive Manager at TalkTalk’s CEO Office, said:

We currently block URLs recommended by the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) that contain child abuse imagery. Due to the way we block these links, we are aware that some users may experience intermittent issues accessing some hosting sites for the days when a sub-URL, or content that is being hosted on that site, has been placed on the IWF list.

We know that recently some customers had issues for a few days when trying to access WordPress for this reason. This issue only happens for the duration that the URL is being blocked and most hosting sites are extremely responsive in taking down the offensive content once it has been identified.

We know this is very inconvenient for customers affected and we are working on an improvement to how we block the IWF list that is intended to stop this happening in the future. We hope this will launch very soon and we will keep you updated with news.”

The ISP said something very similar immediately after the WordPress.com block came to light last month, which has separately also occurred several times before. Indeed Imgur itself claims to have also suffered a “complete domain block” from TalkTalk at the end of last year. Shortly after that customers of Sky Broadband experienced a similar problem (here).

Implementing blocks like this against major websites can cause all sorts of problems due to the unnatural manipulation of Internet traffic and sometimes also a lack of capacity or bad configuration in the filtering system itself. The good news is that TalkTalk has now removed the Imgur restriction after the IWF also took the related URLs off their list (some ISPs can be a little slow to stay up-to-date with the latest IWF list).

TalkTalk has since said that they’ve now “contacted Imgur directly” to discuss the matter and are promising to “keep customers constantly updated as we have further developments via our forum“. But issues like this seem to keep cropping up and are a good example for why Internet filtering systems are not perfect solutions, which is exasperated by poor implementations on the ISP side.

A TalkTalk Spokesperson told ISPreview.co.uk:

In blocking access to links identified by the IWF as containing child abuse imagery, it was never our intention to cause customers any delay in accessing other legal content hosted on the same domain. We apologise for this and we are in the process of improving the way we block access to the IWF list so this doesn’t happen in future. This is absolutely a high priority. We are working closely with the IWF and we have also contacted Imgur directly. Users shouldn’t currently be experiencing issues accessing the site and we will continue keep customers constantly updated as we have further developments via our forum.”

Unfortunately the Government’s push for ISPs to introduce even more of this means that such problems are likely to become more and not less common in the future. Meanwhile anybody who wants to circumvent such systems will have no difficulty whatsoever in doing so, thus ultimately the only people who end up being impacted are, more often than not, those who never went looking for unsavoury content in the first place.

Meanwhile we can’t help wondering how many smaller websites, which would never attract the same media attention as the likes of Imgur or WordPress, have also suffered due to bad blocking measures .

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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