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T-Mobile's Optional Censorship Falls Down

timothy posted more than 2 years ago | from the at-least-they're-asking-first dept.

Censorship 67

An anonymous reader writes "T-Mobile USA offers a 'feature' to restrict access to certain kinds of content. This is called Web Guard. Supposedly Web Guard is supposed to inhibit access to content that falls under certain categories. The Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI), developed a tool to detect what sites were being censored. Amongst them were political news sites, foreign sports news sites and other sites that should not have been censored." It's quite an eclectic bunch of sites that are blocked, but then censorware tends to break in interesting ways, even when it's not by design.

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67 comments

Why shouldn't Newgrounds be on that list? (4, Interesting)

Dwedit (232252) | more than 2 years ago | (#39458447)

Why shouldn't Newgrounds be on that list? Newgrounds is full of crappy porn "games" and other adult content. Blocking Newgrounds makes just about as much sense as blocking 4chan.

Re:Why shouldn't Newgrounds be on that list? (3, Funny)

stms (1132653) | more than 2 years ago | (#39458471)

Crappy adult games? Orgasm Girl is the best game I've ever played. What other game do you win when you give a girl an orgasm besides uhm... actual sex.

Re:Why shouldn't Newgrounds be on that list? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39458495)

handjob?

Re:Why shouldn't Newgrounds be on that list? (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39458537)

Those aren't girls, honey.

Re:Why shouldn't Newgrounds be on that list? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39458991)

Oh, I've played hundreds. Welcome to the world of eroge.

Re:Why shouldn't Newgrounds be on that list? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39459167)

And then there's the fact that that is a tiny part of the entire site.

I ran into that (4, Informative)

c1t1z3nk41n3 (1112059) | more than 2 years ago | (#39458503)

When I switched my T-Mobile Sim from a contract to a prepaid sim it automatically enabled this 'feature'. I didn't notice until it blocked access to a 2nd Amendment forum. The process for getting it disabled was fairly annoying as well. They wanted all kinds of odd information from me to verify my age. I suppose they were doing a public records lookup. The guy on the phone said it's because children can buy a prepay sim. If AT&T wasn't worse I'd probably have just cancelled service with them.

Re:I ran into that (2)

interval1066 (668936) | more than 2 years ago | (#39458649)

Buying a phone to access porn or other "adult" material, well, I suppose its not out of the realm of possibility, but seriously, a phone? Seems like there are much simpler ways for kids to access adult material if they are bent on it. And I'll also bet the "problem" is a lot less than these reactionaries are making it out to be.
FOR EXAMPLE: when I was a kid my mother bought a paper back copy of William Blatty's Novel The Exorcist [wikipedia.org] (yes, I'm that old) after the film version was released in '73 and made a huge splash in the film world, featuring Mike Oldfield's title peice Tubular Bells [wikipedia.org] in the soundtrack. My mother caught me reading it and took it out of my hands asking me if I was looking for the part where Reagan is stabbing herself in the vagina with the crucifix. I really wasn't, it was the hugest film in the world at the time and I just wanted to see what the hell it was all about, but the point is; kids are going to find porn if that's what they're trying to do, and 2; where was T-Mobile (or Bell Teleohone, or Virgin Atlantic, or whomever) when I was 13? I mean seriously? Is this th kind of world we want to live in?
Anyway, I think its more about T-Mobile trying to protect themselves from lawsuites over any regard for moral censorship anyway.

Re:I ran into that (-1, Troll)

Pf0tzenpfritz (1402005) | more than 2 years ago | (#39458947)

They copied that phony practice from Google: if you want to get uncensored results you have to "log in" which means give up your privacy/anonymity.

Re:I ran into that (3, Funny)

Americium (1343605) | more than 2 years ago | (#39459081)

Right, because normally I don't have to "log in" using a cellphone, they just bill random people for the minutes I use.

Re:I ran into that (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | about 2 years ago | (#39459723)

You don't with a pre-pay phone, no. You can buy top-up cards (either with a credit card, in which case the merchant gets your details but not the phone ID, or with cash) and then just provide the number on the back to the phone and get the credit.

Re:I ran into that (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 2 years ago | (#39460045)

The phone "logs in" to the network every time it sees a cell that will take its data that is stronger than what it's talking to. You can't use the network without logging in, even if the login is automatic.

Re:I ran into that (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | about 2 years ago | (#39460177)

You're missing the point. The grandparent said:

I don't have to "log in" using a cellphone, they just bill random people for the minutes I use

The authentication that the phone does with the network is irrelevant to this - it just identifies the phone / SIM, it does not identify the user (modulo laws requiring a name and address when you buy a pre-pay SIM). There's a difference between the user logging in and the terminal logging in.

Re:I ran into that (3, Informative)

X.25 (255792) | more than 2 years ago | (#39459087)

They copied that phony practice from Google: if you want to get uncensored results you have to "log in" which means give up your privacy/anonymity.

I am not quite sure why you'd spew nonsense like that.

Open private tab/window, to go Google, search for "blowjob", click "Images", set "SafeSearch" to "Off" - and you're done.

No need to log in.

Re:I ran into that (0)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 2 years ago | (#39460053)

Great, now you've saved a unique cookie [blogspot.com] you will give back to google on future visits, congratulations! You've just effectively logged in, via another method.

I am not quite sure why you'd spew nonsense like that.

Re:I ran into that (0)

pclminion (145572) | about 2 years ago | (#39460927)

When you use a private browsing feature the browser does not retain those cookies. What ELSE would the point be of "safe mode"? Besides, while it is a form of tracking, it is quite different from logging in. When logging in, you become associated with a full identity. When tracked with a cookie, you are associated to a random GUID. The moment you erase the GUID the association ends. Now, they might try to use your IP to determine a real-world identity, but that is unreliable, and what would be the point? If you are worried that they might serve targeted ads to you while you surreptitiously browse for goat porn, I suggest maybe toning down the paranoia.

Re:I ran into that (1)

LordSnooty (853791) | about 2 years ago | (#39460059)

It makes sense from a kids perspective - much easier to hide a phone. Or just the sim - by day you insert the family sim, but by night...

Re:I ran into that (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39458859)

Same here for a T-Mobile donnagle I got for 3G access on my laptop when traveling or otherwise away from any of my networks. Took about 5min on the phone and an email. So if that qualifies as a hassle, then, yeah.
The weird thing is I wasn't trying to access any questionable sites. At least I didn't think so.

Re:I ran into that (1)

Americium (1343605) | more than 2 years ago | (#39459077)

Took me about two minutes to find the checkbox. I looked at the main page for about a minute, gave up and google how to do it... about 60 seconds later I had my porn. No odd information for me, but I think they already had my birthday so...

And blocking children from accessing forums about firearms seems reasonable to me.

Re:I ran into that (3, Funny)

toriver (11308) | more than 2 years ago | (#39459345)

Not to mention those unwholesome foreign sports. Those rugby players have way too little padding.

Re:I ran into that (1)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about 2 years ago | (#39459893)

I've been through the same thing, on Vodaphone. Except that they actually were a contract service, so they already had my name and age. It took a few days to disable it, as they used the take-a-payment-from-the-card thing for age validation and their badly-written site kept complaining that they were unable to process my card. Eventually I figured out the cause: I was using a debit card, but they can only validate age using a credit card. So I borrowed someone else's card and used that to make the token-proof-of-age payment.

I didn't even want to look at porn (Got the PC for that, bigger screen!), but they blocked an art site that I sometimes need to read messages on.

Site blocked (1)

russotto (537200) | more than 2 years ago | (#39458533)

When I went to the URL in the article, I got a warning about a "web threat", claiming the site contains malware. Does it really... or are the censorware companies covering for each other?

Clbuttic? (4, Funny)

jc42 (318812) | more than 2 years ago | (#39458581)

... censorware tends to break in interesting ways, even when it's not by design.

In web development circles this is known as the "clbuttic mistake". ;-)

Google it.

Re:Clbuttic? (2)

plover (150551) | more than 2 years ago | (#39458853)

... censorware tends to break in interesting ways, even when it's not by design.

In web development circles this is known as the "clbuttic mistake". ;-)

Anybody else have fun when they discovered filters that would naively drop the naughty letters, but wasn't recursive? "You're full of shshitit!" would yield the desired epithet anyway.

Re:Clbuttic? (2)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 2 years ago | (#39459403)

Is it similar to the Svaginahorpe problem?

Re:Clbuttic? (1)

jc42 (318812) | about 2 years ago | (#39461099)

Yeah; they're caused by exactly the same bug. I don't know why "clbuttic" became the standard example, since there are lots of others that are just as funny. It makes sense that a common, ordinary word would be chosen, of course, since Svaginahorpe wouldn't have been common enough to become quickly known.

I've always like the example of the US Consbreastution, but that also wouldn't have been so common. The string "ass" is quite common in English words. There were lots of organizations with "Association" in their names, that tuned into "Buttociation". And so on.

Re:Clbuttic? (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | about 2 years ago | (#39464971)

Maybe it's because nobody can spell the name of that place where Boston & Cambridge are.

There's a famous school at the latter that gets hit twice ;-)

Re:Clbuttic? (1)

jc42 (318812) | about 2 years ago | (#39466887)

Ah, yes, the famous Mbuttachusetts Insbreastute of Technology. It's too bad that there's no offensive word buried in "technology", giving MIT a trifecta of censorable names. Most of the MIT crowd enjoys this sort of word game, and are happy with how easy it is to offend the puritanical types.

Of course, none of these are quite as good (i.e., bad) as Svaginahorpe over in England.

Re:Clbuttic? (1)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about 2 years ago | (#39459911)

When I was at school, sites about gardening were often blocked. Weed, grass, pot... the filter kept classifying them as promoting drugs. Filters have improved a bit since then.

Re:Clbuttic? (1)

jc42 (318812) | about 2 years ago | (#39461183)

That's pretty funny, though ultimately not too important. A more worrisome case was when people tried setting up a breast-cancers support group at Yahoo Groups. They reported doing this three times in one year, and every time, yahoo's software killed it because its name was "indecent". They eventually got yahoo's people to correct the bug, though, and if you check, you'll find that there are now several yahoo groups with "breast" and "cancer" in their names.

It was a bit disappointing that yahoo didn't fix the problem after the first time.

Re:Clbuttic? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39462031)

We briefly had censorware at work a long time ago (Some salesmen were caught with porn on their work computers. The female sales VP demanded it get put on). My favorite bug was was when Dell's site got blocked because someone was looking for drivers on their support page. The censorware found the phrase "driver for Dell Dimension D-XXX", where "XXX" was a variable number.

The censorware was removed that day.

Proxy sites (5, Insightful)

SSpade (549608) | more than 2 years ago | (#39458585)

The author seems amazed that a tool intended to make it difficult for kids to reach certain sorts of content blocks proxy sites. Either they have no clue about what they're talking about or they're prepared to ignore the gaping flaws in their own argument to make a point.

Think of the children (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39458821)

Except the list is so tangential and to be ridiculous censorship. e.g. Westmaster Junction, the discussion site for webmasters, Null Referer, a site that hides your referring page URL from websites you visit, Cosmopolitan magazine, a Russian programmers discussion forum etc, etc.

This is typically what happens when you have secret censorship, the list just grows and grows in ever more tangential ways and before you know it Slashdot is on the list because some commenter pointed out some flaw in some protocol used for some site used for filtering.

Re:Think of the children (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39460197)

Cosmopolitan Magazine is not a "women's magazine." It's a magazine that boasts explicit sex advice in every issue; that's been its gig at least since the 1970's. Of course it claims to do this to help love blossom, which is the women's magazine part. But it's still somewhere only slightly above Playgirl on the sleazy scale. (Wow. A surprising number of you apparently trust Wikipedia and never look at the magazine covers in the checkout line.)

Re:Think of the children (1)

SSpade (549608) | about 2 years ago | (#39463115)

"Null Referer" is a proxy site. Cosmo is full of what's basically porn. You're similar to the author, it seems.

Re:Think of the children (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39475207)

Cosmo is full of what's basically porn.

Really? Have you ever flipped through Cosmo? There's no nudity, and no explicit stories. I wouldn't give it to a child, but if you're trying to "protect" a teenager from its content, you're very naive.

Re:Think of the children (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39475443)

Really? Have you ever flipped through Cosmo? There's no nudity, and no explicit stories.

Really? [cosmopolitan.com]

Re:Think of the children (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39475313)

One of the more bizarre targets of proxy censorship is theknot.com. It's a website about wedding planning, and web guard blocks it. A former coworker of mine also got annoyed when she was planning her wedding and found the work proxy blocked it. Apparently wedding planning is considered a salacious act.

Ignorant fools (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39458609)

The chat log at the bottom clearly shows they're just looking for mud to rake. The low-paid chat support guy isn't going to know that stuff to start with, and the ooni moron just keeps repeating himself as if it will make him look smarter.

Re:Ignorant fools (2)

plover (150551) | more than 2 years ago | (#39458855)

The chat log at the bottom clearly shows they're just looking for mud to rake. The low-paid chat support guy isn't going to know that stuff to start with, and the ooni moron just keeps repeating himself as if it will make him look smarter.

Well, the T-Mobile guy was repeatedly hitting the button for "Canned Reply #17" and "Canned Reply #13" anyway. The whole thing reminded me of Eliza talking to Eliza.

Re:Ignorant fools (1)

Elbart (1233584) | about 2 years ago | (#39460489)

The real quality of a company can only be seen when it has to deal with the problems of customers. And in this case...

Supposedly. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39458613)

I hear that supposedly it is supposed to block some supposed questionable content.

Do you suppose it works? I suppose it does; it's supposed to. They're not supposed to make claims unless they're supposedly true.

Thinking of the children. (4, Insightful)

matria (157464) | more than 2 years ago | (#39458671)

Elgin marbles, Sears catalog, National Geographic, your local art museum. How about the neighbor's bathroom window? What else can we keep the children from being traumatized by? Meanwhile people are beating, starving, raping and killing their own kids even as we sit and read this.

Re:Thinking of the children. (1)

GmExtremacy (2579091) | more than 2 years ago | (#39459009)

A single glance at a pornographic website will turn a child into a rapist and/or allow them to be easily seduced by evil child molesters (who are hiding behind every corner)! Do you want to let this happen!? Are you some sort of pedophile?

Re:Thinking of the children. (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 2 years ago | (#39460047)

Meanwhile people are beating, starving, raping and killing their own kids even as we sit and read this.

and just to tie this into the topic... and the kids won't be able to look up information on rape and what to do about it on their phone because it will be blocked

Re:Thinking of the children. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39463965)

People are beating, starving, raping and killing their own kids even as we sit and read this.

Meanwhile you're too busy posting on Slashdot to bother helping them.

No "censor ads" option (3, Insightful)

Animats (122034) | more than 2 years ago | (#39458759)

Note that the censorship options do not include "advertising".

Re:No "censor ads" option (1)

plover (150551) | more than 2 years ago | (#39458867)

I see you missed the link to http://logicalmedia.com/ [logicalmedia.com] then, as OONI has them identified as an "affiliate network" site. That's advertiser-speak for "advertiser".

Maybe they're on the list because they stiffed T-Mobile for overage charges or something.

Re:No "censor ads" option (1)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about 2 years ago | (#39459919)

That's because advertising companies might sue. I'm not sure exactly what they will sue for, but I'm sure their lawyers can think of something. Interference with a contract, something like that.

What Recourse Do We Have (2)

ohnocitizen (1951674) | more than 2 years ago | (#39458773)

It seems that everyday something new comes out about poor service, censorship, or price gouging. No mobile company is excepted, which makes "I'll leave you for a company that treats its customers better" an ultimately empty threat. Is there space for competition here? Do we need to advocate public interest laws and industry regulation?

Re:What Recourse Do We Have (1)

GmExtremacy (2579091) | more than 2 years ago | (#39459015)

It's difficult to switch to someone else when (if) they're all doing it. I think the thing to do would be for many people to switch to one company (even though they're doing it to) and tell the company they switched from why they switched. Basically, boycott them one at a time.

But people seem too lazy to boycott anything anymore.

Thank you for posting this. (2)

scottbomb (1290580) | more than 2 years ago | (#39458875)

As a T-Mobile customer with 2 accounts (one of them pre-paid) I had no idea it was being censored. I despise ANY ISP censoring my web experience that I pay good money for. Even if I don't access these sites, I'm a grown man and I prefer to make my own decisions.

Unfortunately, the article seems to be lacking the obvious question: how to turn it off.

A quick Google search yielded some results:

http://support.t-mobile.com/docs/DOC-2144#How_do_I_enable_or_disable_Web_Guard_at_My_TMobile [t-mobile.com]

Done.

Re:Thank you for posting this. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39458937)

When I first got on my preapy plan form a contract I saw toplessrobot.com was censored. It was pretty annoying for me as well.

I sense a disturbance in the force... (1)

AtomicSymphonic (2570041) | more than 2 years ago | (#39459023)

I feel as if a million T-Mobile customers screamed out in agony and are snuffed once they have read this article...

So, even though the account holder can disable the censoring, would it be an accurate guess that quite a few slashdotters with T-Mobile here are now considering leaving to a different telecom?

This FP FoR GNAA (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39459059)

too much forma7ity Creek, abysmal irrecoverable

T-Mobile's OPTIONAL Censorship (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39459123)

If it's optional isn't it the end users (self)censorship? It is a service that T-mobile does not charge for, can easily be turned off, and is probably only there from a business standpoint to protect themselves from litigation. I honestly don't see the problem.

Re:T-Mobile's OPTIONAL Censorship (1)

Lonewolf666 (259450) | about 2 years ago | (#39460037)

It's only optional if it is

-clearly stated by T-Mobile it is there (or clearly indicated when the filter kicks in)
-and can easily be turned off

According to TFA, the first condition is not met.

Re:T-Mobile's OPTIONAL Censorship (1)

c1t1z3nk41n3 (1112059) | about 2 years ago | (#39460289)

As I wrote earlier T-Mobile turned this on without asking or notifying me when I switched service types. The first time I went to a blocked site however the error page clearly stated why it was being blocked. So it is very clear when you have hit a blocked site. It was a little more annoying getting it disabled but did take less than 15 minutes.

At my job (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39459627)

Michele Malkins' site is censored but Michael Moore is not.

I think we have a left handed policy maker...

Same probs in the UK (1)

Malc (1751) | more than 2 years ago | (#39459653)

I'm constantly finding T-Mobile blocking innocuous websites here in the UK on my iPhone. When I check the site later, I see no reasons why it doesn't work. I've seen similar issues with Orange, before my employer moved contracts to T-Mobile (the problems with Orange were before the companies merged).

They're totally frustrating, and that's not just because they charge £7.50/MB when I'm on business trips to US or China. Taking Eurostar to Germany, I find tethering doesn't work in France, it works in Belgium, and then stops working in Germany, even if I'm connected to Orange.fr or T-Mobile.de. Of course, on those business trips I rarely have time to call them before I'm back in my hotel at 10pm, by which point support calls go to a call centre in the Philippines. The last couple of times my call has been answered by some chap who sounds like he's from the American deep south, and seems to have no ability to help (oh sorry sir, all computer systems seem to be down now).

T-Mobile, an utterly shit company, /Rant over

And P.S. Why is /. so shit and still unable to display the GBP symbol correctly after all this time? I see a capital A with a circumflex over it before the currency symbol. Bah, time to go and enjoy this lovely spring weather.

Re:Same probs in the UK (1)

mSparks43 (757109) | about 2 years ago | (#39459889)

Its worse than that. On Prepaid 3 phones you can't even turn it off. (you can turn the porn off, but there are a whole host of sites that come back "sorry but three was unable to deliver this page for you").

I'm still looking for a full DNS database so I can compile a full list of the ones that are blocked.

Ya think? (1)

Cornwallis (1188489) | more than 2 years ago | (#39459665)

"Supposedly Web Guard is supposed to inhibit access to content that falls under certain categories."

Supposedly it is supposed to? Ya suppose?

How it begins (1)

Renraku (518261) | about 2 years ago | (#39462161)

This is how censorship begins. Right now, you and I are kicking up a shitstorm. We don't want our connections to be censored, so we call in. Right now, there's a thousand working stiffs who are too tired or just too embarrassed to call and deal with people they can barely understand so they can visit boobies.com on their phones.

In five years, they'll have one person at that part of the call center. It'll be an unpublished number, passed around only by word of mouth, and it'll be widespread knowledge that cell phone internet is inherently restrictive and you can't look too much up on it.

This is how censorship begins. It starts with the people in power saying, "We're not going to take your Internet away, don't worry. We're just going to hold on to it. Now we're going to put it over here, okay? You can come use it any time you want, okay? Now we're going to take it down the street here but it's just a block away and you can come use it any time you like. But when under our roof, you'll follow our rules.."

I noticed this in Dec 2010. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39463725)

From a message I sent to a web site owner who has traffic and (claims to hate) censorship. Mikey didn't respond BTW.

Date: Thu, 2 Dec 2010
To: wrh@whatreallyhappened.com
Subject: T-mobile default blocks you. Just FYI
MIME-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: TEXT/PLAIN; charset=US-ASCII; format=flowed
Status: O
X-Status:
X-Keywords:
X-UID: 21

The wireless on the 1500 min pre-pay plan has the following message:

Content Restricted

The Web Guard feature has been enabled on your line.
Web Guard has restricted your access to this content The person on your
Wireless account who is designated as the Primary Account Holder can
disable this restriction through the account management website.

So no one should act like this is news.

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