UK internet service provider Virgin Media has insisted it does not block entire domains "as a matter of course" after it stopped its customers from viewing the whole of Imgur this morning – on the say-so of the Internet Watch Foundation.
Britons attempting to view pictures from the file-sharing site were greeted with dire warnings telling them they couldn't access content "because this page may contain indecent images of children".
As a user-generated content site, Imgur.com hosts the best and worst of the internet, from pictures of cute cats to pornography. It's entirely within the realms of possibility that someone, somewhere, out of the millions who use it a month, uploaded something vile and illegal. The blockage, which was lifted again later this morning, was first reported by the ISP Review website.
But the real question is why Virgin Media blocked the entire site rather than just the naughty files or URLs.
Kerry Smith, a spokeswoman for the ISP, told The Register: "We're still investigating what happened but it appears to have been a technical issue with our Web Blocker system used to carry out requests from the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF). Virgin Media will only block URLs if compelled to do so through a court order or through the IWF. As matter of course Virgin Media does not carry out domain level blocking on sites reported to us by the IWF."
She did not answer our questions as to what went wrong, though she did identify that the problem lies with Virgin Media's Web Blocker system. The ISP is now sending personalised Twitter replies to anyone who noticed this morning's snafu and tagged them in their social media moans.
There was an issue in the early hours of this morning meaning some customers had problems accessing Imgur. Our tests this morning have shown that any problems accessing the site should now have been resolved. Sorry for any inconvenience. JY— Virgin Media (@virginmedia) July 15, 2019
Something which purports to be a copy of a High Court injunction against copyright breaching, addressed to Virgin Media, mentions the use of a "Web Blocker 2" system by the ISP. The Open Rights Group's wiki, if it is to be believed, claims this was adopted in 2012 after the original Web Blocker product reached end-of-life.
An evidently frustrated Fred Langford, IWF deputy chief exec and CTO, said in a statement: "A fault with Virgin Media’s filtering system was incorrectly signposting Virgin’s customers to the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF). We spoke to someone at Virgin who confirmed that the problem is now resolved, but because the block incorrectly pointed people to the IWF URL List, we received a few complaints which we’ve been responding to."
He added: "We never condone over-blocking and we don't carry out the blocking and filtering ourselves. We provide a list of 'live' child sexual abuse URLs to ISPs and filterers who block them at URL level to help stop the revictimisation of sexual abuse victims. As soon as the criminal images and videos have been removed at source, the URL is removed from our list."
Twenty-three individual Imgur URLs are on the IWF watchlist from a total of 6,139 blocked URLs. As child abuse content is added and taken down, the list grows and shrinks proportionately, rather than being a historical record of badness over the entire world wide web. ®