In 2009, Vodafone lobbied the EU for the right to restrict the Internet. Now it uses deep packet inspection (dpi) to implement content censorship.
---Updated on 17 January 2011 - please see below.---
On Christmas Eve my Blackberry was reset by an automated security update which wiped the functionality and left me with a white screen saying ‘app.error'. This chance situation led me to uncover a censorship system which Vodafone has put in place without informing me.
As a Vodafone customer of some 15 years, I had a polite conversation with the call centre operator who took my call. But as a policy analyst, her responses to my questions about traffic management policies gave me cause for concern.
A little investigation afterwards revealed that Vodafone has put in place a ‘content control' system which is a form censorship, because it puts restrictions on the content where the decision to restrict has been taken by a third-party and not by me. The fact that it is a corporate administrator, and not the State, is irrelevant. The system has been developed outside of European jurisdiction, by a company which has no accountability to European policy-makers and which appears to be implemented via
an underlying traffic management system, using deep packet inspection (dpi).
I had called Vodafone to ask for help in sorting out the security update, but also to complain about it. I pointed out that these updates are beginning to interfere with my use of the Blackberry, for example, wiping off data if I was in the middle of something when the update commenced.
I took the opportunity to ask what is Vodafone's traffic management policy? The young woman, who told me she was the first line of technical support, did not know what a ‘traffic management policy' is, but she sort-of understood what I was getting at.
She told me that Vodafone do not put restrictions on Blackberry applications (those which can be downloaded from the Blackberry store), nor on Vodafone Live applications. "Other than this, we would not know if they were trusted and safe", she said.
I picked up on the ‘trusted and safe' line and eventually she revealed that I have ‘content controls' on my service. She informed me - for the first time in the two years that I have had the Blackberry - that content controls are implemented be default. When I asked what is blocked by these services she it was adult content, and banking and finance services.
I asked for more details - who decides what content is blocked? What are the criteria for taking that decision? How would they handle content which is legal and available in British supermarkets but still may fall into an ‘adult' category, such as the so-called ‘lads mags'? She did not have an answer, but told me to look at Vodafone's website.
She offered to remove the ‘content controls' for me, and did so immediately. It was a friendly conversation, she was bright and efficient.
The restrictions don't really affect me at the moment, but I am nevertheless concerned that Vodafone is putting in place restrictions without telling me.
European law - the Telecoms Package - requires Vodafone to inform its customers of its traffic management policies, and of any restrictions to the service. Vodafone itself lobbied for these provisions - that is, Vodafone lobbied for the right to impose restrictions on its subscribers, and the outcome was a provision which says they may restrict as long as they tell us, but there is no other regulatory barrier to them doing it. Vodafone worked together with the UK regulator, Ofcom, on this provision.
After the call, I took the opportunity to investigate. Here's what I found.
On a page entitled "What content and services will be barred by Content Control?" Vodafone's website says that Content Control limits access to (among other things) the mobile internet outside of the Vodafone live! portal.
That is a very wide description, which means that Vodafone could restrict access to anything it chose to - and with the Wikileaks saga in mind, this is a very dangerous situation for free speech.
Vodafone's website also says that Content Control works on websites containing adult content - eg gambling, erotica, chat and dating services and violent games. Websites containing adult material are categorised through a web filtering system.
It does not say anything about banking, payment or finance sites, so if the call centre operative is correct, they Vodafone is hiding information from us - Vodafone, please clarify.
But here's the real point of my story. Vodafone's web page invites you to to third-party web page "for more information".
This page gives no information at all about the criteria or the blocking system, but a logo suggests that the provider of the ‘content control' system is a Californian company called BlueCoat Systems.
"Unmatched auto-detection of both applications and Web content categories makes Blue Coat PacketShaper a complete visibility and control solution for today's Web-heavy traffic. PacketShaper lets you measure network application performance, categorize and manage Web traffic based on its content, guarantee quality-of-service (QoS) for preferred applications and content, and contain the impact of undesirable traffic."
"Discover and monitor more than 700 applications with deep Layer 7 deep packet inspection for an accurate picture of application traffic, plus tens of millions of Web sites by content category. Standard on all PacketShaper models."
Web Content Assessment - Measure and report on all Web traffic in 80 content categories, such as gambling, job search, web advertisements, and pornography.
The latter could be what Vodafone has installed as its default for all customers: It is called K9 Web Filtering , a subisidiary of BlueCoat, also based in California. We do not know who draws up the blacklists nor the criteria. But it makes the following claim:
"Blue Coat's Web filtering technology enables you to block entire categories of content, such as pornography or gambling, or block specific Web sites, such as Facebook."
So... Filtering is the Internet method of censorship. 'Content controls' block content and make judgements as to what is 'legal' and what it not legal. Operators of the websites which it is blocking have a right to know if they are being blocked, and users have a right to know what they cannot see.
Why should people in Britain be censored by a company in California, which is not accountable to British citizens or policy-makers? And why should Vodafone, or any other operator, have the right to put censorship software onto their subscribers, with no accountability to the regulator or to the citizens?
Post-script. The Blackberry was bought back to life very quickly by the call centre operator.
Correction and update 17 January 2011
I have been contacted by Blue Coat Systems. Vodafone does use a system for content control which is supplied by Blue Coat Systems but its method of operation is different from that which I have described above. The system operated by Vodafone does not include the PacketShaper product, nor does it use the K9 system.
The system is installed as the default for all Vodafone users unless they ask for it to be de-barred. It works on the basis of URLs. The system does classify content on the basis of a database of websites held and compiled by BlueCoat Systems. I’m even advised that iptegrity is in this database and am awaiting further information.
The above email is posted in response to one sent to the membership earlier this evening.
Many here are aware that there have been intermittent problems loading the ConTrail pages over the last couple of weeks.
Recently NING (our website platform) was sold to Cyndx LLC. During the sale the platform was left nonoperational while Cyndx LLC took over Ning operations. Many of you experienced that.
It has become clear over the last few days that the NZ Governments internet provider, Vodafone, are blocking the ConTrails pages from loading.
I was a Vodafone user for years. I only use one email address from them now and wont pay them another cent to run my broadband. I had no end of problems with them and when I finally switched to another provider it was like night and day! The malware/coding had been attached to my Vodafone MODEM. Not only that but I was very very sick when Vodafones wi-fi entered my home and I note this same modem is in other friends homes. Some of these modems are lethal weapons. Vodafone have full control of what you are viewing and sharing via the internet. Take this as a warning.
I have a fix for you if you would like it. Please email me at NZRose165@thecontrail.com and I will forward the information from our web provider. Once the tracer is done you should then contact Vodafone and demand some answers.
Internet control right in your faces people. It was this NZ government whom without our consultation nor consent, made spying into your lives legal. Don't make it easy for them. Remember if you do call Vodafone, the kid that answers the phone will be oblivious. Talk to the techie!
Ka kite and thanks for your patience.
>Hi Rose, goodonya mate you're doing a great favour to everyone!
I have seen these complaints in the comments section before but never had any problems myself as I have always used Kiwilink.
I would recommend them but then they will become "big" and turn to shit like everything "established" in our temporary-yet to be redefined-forced Entropy where everything perfected has to be destroyed so it can be rediscovered in a mindless eternal sequel choreographed by the "Leaders" to keep the masses busy and "employed" so they don't have to have the hassle of thinking for themselves while pretending they are important.
So yeah, please don't use Kiwilink.... phew good to get that out..I'd forgotten how good it feels
Three cheers for the Con Trail! (quietly) Yay! Yay! Yay!
(Don't tell anyone, they'll all want to be on it and....)
Love from the North to the South the East and the West, for less pain while being shafted small is the best.
thank you Rose, will keep that email add on hand, had trouble getting in like the others too. There I was thinking my sky I had here (just posted the pics)yesterday was contributing to disruptions.
You deserve a medal for all the crape you've been through to keep this site going Rose.
TheCONTrail is unique community and worth fighting for.
Thank God I don't use Vodafone.
Hi Martin, Agree wholeheartedly with your comments. Onya Rose!
Perhaps you can steer me/us in the right direction & suggest a better mobile company to use if vodafone is so dodgy. My feeling is that they all are. My sim card is about to expire because I have not made $20 worth of calls in a year, no doubt they all have the same policy. Whoever I change to will get rich quick on me....not.
I am technological challenged with phones & have a really old "classic" -given to me, that only makes phone calls & texts when it is switched on & the battery maybe charged still!
Just checked out kiwilink, GP & am confused already.
I was referring to using them as an ISP for broadband in response to what Rose said, this is what I have Kiwilink for. That and VOIP which I sometimes run thru my iphone, if I am overseas as its practically free and though I do have a Vodoophone prepay sim they can't censor what you say.
The iphone has become a necessary evil for work and voodoo is the best for using around the world unfortunately (hardly any roaming), but I never do anything important on a mobile anyway and as you say Basa they are all probably equally dodgy so pay as you go only when you have to is probably best as they can't just surprise you with big charges either.
I couldn't access CT for 2 & half days. And I know of couple or three others the same. Im not with voda but slingshot. When this last happened just about the time of the tppa (biggest) march/protest, I contacted slingshot & spent a long time with them trying to decipher where the problem lay. They were mystified & never did come up with a reason why. Strange I thought. After 3 days connection was back but not through their efforts.
The timing of the disconnect made me suspicious of what could be behind it. Just left me wondering is it censorship as in breaking down communication between sympathetic parties to the protest. So when this round happened I thought aha 1080 protest.
I do also get error messages fairly frequently & I can't get in to CT. Usually I switch browsers which fixes it.
The 500 error is not the hicup related to the vodafone users - although they would have had the same response as you from the more recent 500 error.
The 500 error is the new NING server
the not loading the contrail page full is vodafone. I had them try the browser switches and cleaning f the cookies etc.
Its good to be back!
Thanks for the explanation Rose. Am warning voda users. I know someone with a biz who uses them & when her phone wasn't working they told her would take two days for them to fix it!! Rural is likely why still aside from the control/privacy issues, that's pretty slack.
Vodafone are my nightmare come true. It was a vodafone modem that had me bedridden for 9 months.
Glad you are spreading the word Danielle - in SO MANY areas too!
Back on after a few weeks of not being able. Was really funny trying every day to no avail. Showed just how much we can rely on some things.
Great work Rose xx