A new initiative which has examined the breadth of Internet Safety Filtering services offered by British ISPs has found that are blocking access to scores of innocent sites.
Amongst those affected are the UK Disney website, the official Internet Safety Day website, a number of educational sites, many VPN sites, and even our very own VPNCompare.co.uk.
The Blocked Initiative’s findings
The information has come to light as a result of the Blocked initiative from the Open Rights Group, which VPNCompare.co.uk proudly supports. Blocked takes a detailed look at the websites which are censored by the various safety filters offered by UK ISPs.
All UK ISPs offer internet safety filters, which are primarily aimed at preventing children from being able to access harmful online content. However, it is worth noting that some ISPs enable this filter by default, requiring users to actively disable them if they want to access adult content.
The filters do seem to do a pretty decent job of blocking the type of adult content they are intended for. They all seem to pick up a wide variety of porn sites as well as others which offer clear adult-oriented content.
Few people would argue with ISPs providing an optional filter to stop kids accessing this kind of content. However, it is when these filters start to overreach that the problems begin. And it is clear from the latest Blocked findings that this is now a big problem in the UK.
To date, the Blocked initiative has tested more than 24 million websites and identified in excess of 650,000 which are actively blocked by at least one ISP filter in the UK. This includes 9.69% of the top 100,000 sites in the world according to Alexa. And there are some worrying sites which are being censored.
VPNs, proxies, and even this site blocked
Firstly, there are a number of VPNs and other proxy services which are being blocked. These include ExpressVPN (by Three, Sky, TalkTalk, VirginMedia, and EE), IPVanish (Sky and EE), and NordVPN (Sky, TalkTalk, VirginMedia, and EE). Vodafone has even deemed this site you are reading now worthy of blocking.
As you can see from above, these blocks are extremely inconsistent, and a number of VPNs are not blocked at all. The official website for the Tor Browser also remains available.
While it could be possibly be argued that kids could use VPNs to get around the restrictions put in place by these internet filters, most young children would not know how to do this. And if this was the reason for blocking them, then surely every VPN should be blocked by everyone?
VPNs are vital security and privacy tools that everyone in the UK should have access to if they choose. By censoring access to them in these filters, ISPs are denying the users access to an essential online tool.
Education and child-friendly sites being censored
Even more bizarre than the blocking of VPNs is that of a whole host of websites offering child-friendly and education content.
The most prominent of these is the UK Disney website Disney.co.uk, which falls foul of the BT Strict filter. Another Disney site BT don’t seem to like is disneymoviesanywhere.com.
Other more educational sites which BT have taken a dislike to include playkidsgames.com, an educational games site, and kidsandcode.com which helps kids learn to start coding.
It’s not just BT who are at fault here either. Vikingsword.com, which offers historical and educational resources about the Vikings is blocked by both Three and Sky.
And perhaps most bizarrely of all, internetsafetyday.org, which offers tips and advice to parents on how to keep kids safe online is blocked by Plusnet, Virgin Media, and, of course, BT.
Support Blocked and see which other sites are being censored
These sites are just a handful of those affected. If you want to find out which ISPs censor your preferred site, head over to the official Blocked website, blocked.org.uk, which at the time of writing is not being blocked by anyone.
If you find a site is blocked, you can report it to them and even fill in a form and they will make a request for the site to be unblocked to the relevant ISPs.
Open Rights Group is also looking for donations to keep its Blocked project up and running. If you want to support them, you can do so by clicking the link at the top of their page.