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Concerns Over BT's Filtering Accuracy

Posted: 22nd Jul, 2004 By: MarkJ
The UK Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA) has requested an analysis of the data from BT's Cleanfeed website filtering system, which was reported to have blocked thousands of access attempts to child porn sites. The group is concerned that the data could be misleading:

ISPA welcomes new developments in the fight against child abuse images appearing on the Internet. However ISPA feels caution is needed with the information and statistics so far available on Cleanfeed.

It is very difficult to comment on the statistics reported by BT regarding Cleanfeed as BT has not passed the data to ISPA.

At present there seems to be a significant disparity in the statistics that are being reported.

20,000 URL requests per day reported by [BT Retail chief exec] Pierre Danon on Tuesday morning on BBC Radio 4 does not equate to 230,000 URL requests per day between June 21st and July 13th, which would mean around 10,000 URL requests per day.

There is also a need to understand exactly what Cleanfeed is detecting. At present we do not know if Cleanfeed is measuring the number of 'hits' (attempts to download individual files from illegal websites) or 'visits' (number of attempts to visit the website).

Also, if the Cleanfeed uses URLs of specific images, then that is likely to have an impact on the statistics. If the database contains URLs of images rather than the pages holding them, one page would cause several 'hits'.

Since Cleanfeed gives a "not found" error, people visiting the sites are going to assume that it was an error and probably retry at least once. That could potentially increase the statistics by a factor of at least 2. It would be better if Cleanfeed stated that the website is blocked and cannot be accessed.

Cleanfeed could also be detecting URL requests generated by a variety of other methods which would potentially inflate the figures reported. For example people may be mistakenly clicking on URLs whilst looking for legitimate websites, webcrawlers could be requesting the URLs, requests to access URLs could be generated by pop-ups and there are a number of other automated processes that could cause URL requests.

ISPA would like to conduct an analysis of the statistics to give appropriately informed comment on the system and the data that has been published. Only then will we be in a position to ascertain if and how many people are actually trying to access these websites, and hence understand the true scale of the problem.


No doubt BT will be responding to the ISPA in due course.
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