Open Rights Group, the organization that fights online censorship and surveillance in the United Kingdom has shown the extension of website blocking efforts through their Blocked project. On the website blocked.org.uk, the ORG has enabled users to find out which websites have been affected by the filters applied by ISPs in the UK. At the end of 2013, prime minister David Cameron announced that it would be compulsory for Internet Service Providers to introduce filters to prevent children from accessing inappropriate content online such as violent and pornographic material. While the purpose is reasonable and commendable, in practice, these filters do not always work as they should and as a result there have been negative consequences. The ORG took the leadership in questioning the possible implications of the measure and through their Blocked project, they have exposed the extension of its impact.
According to the Blocked website, currently there are over 25000 websites blocked by strict settings and over 13000 blocked by default settings. The project has checked over 130000 websites in the UK. The issue is than in many cases, the filters have affected websites that are far from offering adult content or offensive material. For example, certain keywords or subjects in a website dedicated to health or education may lead to a block. Furthermore, while the implementation of filters seems like a necessity in order to protect children from unsuitable content, parents should not assume that these measures can effectively keep their kids safe from harmful material online. The truth is that if these filters can block websites by mistake, it is also possible that it will not always be effective to block websites that are actually inappropriate
Given the implementation of filters that far from protecting young people online are causing damage to businesses and bloggers that have been affected by the blocking of websites, the increase in the use of VPN services in the UK, does not come as a surprise. UK users are also worried about their online privacy, a concern that is shared with others around the world. This explains the popularity of VPN services around the world and their importance in the campaign to prevent internet censorship. Taking this into consideration, it is worrying to find out that there is a considerable amount of VPN websites that have been blocked in the UK due to the adult filters implemented by ISPs. Amongst the VPN websites blocked we found LiquidVPN, ibVPN, TorGuard and VPNPrivacy, which are blocked by 1 to 3 filters.
Furthermore, the websites of some of the most recognized VPN providers such as HideMyAss, PureVPN and IPVanish are blocked by between 4 to 6 filters. The inconsistency of the results across websites that offers the same kind of services and similar information is just another confirmation that these filters are not working as they should. This shows that the filtering options applied by ISPs vary and do not respond to a clear set of guidelines. Things become even more disconcerting when these filters are being detrimental to users by restricting access to services that are designed to enhance their online privacy and security.