Thursday, 11 July 2013

Internet Censorship by O2/Symantec - Questions and Answers

John Kimble has conducted a significant amount of research on how Symantec, and their UK partner, O2, are censoring the men's human rights issue and male domestic violence support websites by falsely flagging such material as "hate".

Both the main A Voice for Men website, and this site (it's UK outlet) have been censored in this way. According to John, O2/Symantec are now blocking the official UK Fathers4Justice website also.

In fact, John has discovered many such sites have been censored and smeared and he has prepared the following definitive answers for anybody concerned about internet censorship by O2 and Symantec.


Thank you and well done John! AT



What exactly does this mean for my site?
The "hate site" classification means a number of users are denied any access to your site, particularly people accessing the internet in restaurants, workplaces, schools, libraries and via mobile phone networks such as Telefonica/O2. In total Symantec claims 250 million users of the filter worldwide, so it could easily mean you are being denied 10% of your traffic in addition to being defamed. Anyone who's site contains adverts is therefore also being denied revenue too, not to mention possible donations.

Which other men's rights sites are also censored in this way?
I will be maintaining a full list of the censored sites on The Rights of Man blog. They include sites helping male domestic violence victims, sites focusing on male victims of sexual violence, not to mention well known organisations such as NCFM, branches of Fathers4Justice and A Voice for Men. Even non-MRA sites with sections debunking feminists myths have been censored.

How long has this being going on?
It is uncertain as to exactly how long this has been an issue. I became aware of the problem in May 2012 though it appears to have been going on in some cases for at least three years. It must have been happening for a considerable length of time as some of the blocked sites no longer exist.

I thought avoiceformen.com had been unblocked and Symantec had backed down?
Sadly this is not the case and such a suggestion is based on a false report in the media. Avoiceformen.com was never unblocked at any stage. In fact Symantec/rulespace reviewed the first 48 sites I identified and refused to reclassify all but two of them.

How can I check my site's classification for myself?
There are currently two ways to check whether or not a site has been branded as a "hate site". Users have previously checked a site's status by enabling Norton's DNS service, but a much easier method is O2's URL checker, below. Simply type in a domain into the text box on the page and it will reveal your site's classification instantly.



What happens when people try to access my site via one of the many companies using Symantec's filter?
Users will typically see warning message, informing them they are attempting to visit a "hate site". Here's an example message...



Norton's SafeWeb shows there are no problems with my site, what's going on?
Norton Safeweb simply checks for viruses and malware and is not related to this problem, a separate product called Norton ConnectSafe (also known as Norton DNS) that filters websites based on their "suitability". These are two different products.

What causes men's rights sites to be blocked?
It is unclear what exactly causes all these sites to be smeared and censored by the filter, though I'm informed that one term they flag is "anti-feminism" and resumably other derivatives of this. Another reason I was given is that some of the site use "aggression" (whatever that's supposed to mean). Most sites on the list clearly do neither of these things, so the removal of particular phrases would probably not solve the blocking issue (and you shouldn't have to remove such terminology anyway).

Are there any workarounds to bypass the filter?
Users blocked from accessing the sites can still use Google's cache facility to read older content. I've also discovered that some blogspot sites can get around the lock by substituting the blogspot.com domain with that of another country (e.g. blogspot.co.uk). For example if one tries to access http://triggeralert.blogspot.com then Symantec/O2 will block it, whereas http://triggeralert.blogspot.co.uk was accessible. Therefore when promoting or linking to such sites I suggest using the .co.uk domain. Unfortunately this workaround does not work for all Blogspot sites and I expect the loophole will not last forever. I have put an asterisk against any Blogspot sites on the list that can use this loophole.

For mobile telephony users who experience site blocks the most obvious solution is to switch providers, whilst other companies blocks a few men's rights sites, I'm not aware of many others using the Symantec filter which is quite clearly the worst of all for censorship.

How do I stop this?
The issue of internet censorship is a hot topic right now, therefore media coverage is a real possibility. If you have an media contacts who'd be interested in the story I'd happily give them as much assistance as they need as I now have extensive knowledge of this issue.

I suspect the technology correspondents of newspapers, not to mention civil liberties campaigners, would be interested too. You all own blogs of course so be sure to get the word out that way too, not to mention via social media.

Who should I complain too?
Myself and others have found that Symantec are highly unresponsive and don't seem to care about this issue. However, the third parties paying to use the Symantec filters are more worried about their reputation, have decent customer service and do pass on such concerns to Symantec.

Furthermore, as customers of Symantec they do have some leverage and it is thus most advisable to complain to the Telefonica/O2 board, to Tweet @O2 @ronandunneo2and @Symantec and to post on their forum.

Here are the email addresses of the O2 board:

Matthew.Kay@o2.com
Pilar.López@o2.com
Ronan.Dunne@o2.com
Trevor.Healy@o2.com
Kate.Jarvis@o2.com
Simon.Linares@o2.com
Richard.Poston@o2.com
René.Schuster@o2.com
Stephen.Shurrock@o2.com
David.Arculus@o2.com
Peter.Erskine@o2.com
Cath.Keers@o2.com
Eduardo.Zaplana@o2.com

Symantec complaints can be directed to: categorization_support@symantec.com

Any complaints should explicitly mention your site's purpose, ethos, stance against sexism and any applicable policies in dealing with hateful comments. Perhaps it would also be worth spelling out such polices on your site if this is not currently in place.

If your site is clearly anti-sexist and you have the resources, then legal action against Symantec and/or O2 may also be a possibility, though I cannot give legal advice.

Pro-equality and pro-freedom of speech campaigners and politicians may also be interested in this issue and be worth contacting, particularly if they are local to you and thus obliged to work on your behalf.

The most obvious action is to boycott companies who use Symantec's Rulespace filters, not to mention Symantec themselves (e.g. all Norton products). We do not have much of a list of companies who use the technology yet though and any help uncovering such data would be useful. A list of Telefonica subsidiaries can be found here.

Note that the censorship of these sites constitutes a failure by mobile companies to provide a satisfactory level of service and thus you may be entitled to a refund too for their failure to provide appropriate internet access.

Where can I discuss this issue further?
Feel free to use the comments section of my article here or email me should you have further questions or ideas on how to combat this disgraceful conduct and prevent others following suit, or just send me an email. To view an up to date classification of your site for yourself simply use the following url checker - simply type in your website address and see the classification it is given.

http://urlchecker.o2.co.uk/urlcheck.aspx

What other resources are there for learning about these issues?
Open Rights Group and the London School of Economics have done some good work on censorship in the UK:

http://www.openrightsgroup.org/blog/2012/new-reports-of-overblocking-on-mobile-networks
http://www.openrightsgroup.org/assets/files/pdfs/MobileCensorship-webwl.pdf
http://wiki.openrightsgroup.org/wiki/Content_filtering_by_UK_ISPs
http://www.ispreview.co.uk/index.php/2013/05/o2-uk-accused-of-political-censorship-by-male-human-rights-websites.html

Further updates on this issue will appear on The Rights of Man website.

Written by
John Kimble

1 comment:

Andy Thomas (Andy Man) said...

Please do share this article, as John as covered the issues well.

We will be following this closely in the future. But, in the meantime...

Microsoft have for a long time now offered a free and extremely good security package and anti-virus for Windows. I have used MS offering for years and have always wondered why people continue to pay expensive yearly licensing contracts with Norton.

For Windows 7, go here:

http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/security-essentials-download

Windows 8 comes with "Defender" built in. See...

http://answers.microsoft.com/en-us/protect/forum/mse-protect_start/can-i-use-microsoft-security-essentials-with/34b26e6f-12a0-4bc7-b160-f3b2ff70b910

If, however, you still wish to use a third-party anti-virus, then I used to use Avast for many years and found it fast, light and reliable. There's both free and paid versions.

http://www.avast.com/en-gb/index