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Vodafone blocks World Cup, except for iPhone owners

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Vodafone is still blocking RTSP streams, for the sake of the children, eight months after claiming the block was a temporary measure, thoughiPhone users remain free to stream what they like.

The block was instituted last October, and at that time Vodafone claimed it was a temporary measure while servers were being upgraded. That temporary measure turned into a long-term problem as fixes didn't materialise, and it became obvious that Vodafone's overprotective nature was restricting what users could stream - unless they owned an iPhone.

The problem is born of a combination of things: Ofcom's regulations that require mobile ISPs to take responsibility for the protection of children (unlike fixed ISPs); Vodafone's over-enthusiastic implementation of that responsibility along with its incompetence in doing so; and Apple's insistence on thinking different and thus side-stepping Vodafone's blocks.

Vodafone, in common with all the UK mobile operators, has a responsibility to ensure adult content is only available to adults. This is normally done by blocking all dodgy content by default, and then unblocking users once they've presented a credit card as proof of age.

Vodafone's problem is that their filtering software doesn't extend to RTSP (audio/video) streams, unlike some of the other operators. Rather than just allow everyone to stream anything, Vodafone blocks all RTSP streams then opens them to everyone on a URL-by-URL basis: the operator is not able to open streams to specific people which means anything remotely dodgy remains blocked to all.

And when we say “remotely dodgy” we really mean that: known providers of pornography such as the BBC and Channel 4 both fall foul of Vodafone's excessive zeal (which is inherited from K9 listings which, rather conservatively, rates streaming content). But it's not just video that suffers – streaming audio is similarly restricted. Worse than that – Vodafone can't block by domain, only by specific URL, so every stream requested must go through the approval process.

This doesn't apply for iPhone users: iPhone applications don't necessarily use RTSP for video and thus bypass Vodafone's blocks entirely: so iPhone owners can get all the smut they like.

All this was the subject of robust debate on the Vodafone Forums, until yesterday when the thread was closed with the removal of several postings – coincidentally just as we were investigating. Users interested in reopening the discussion should note the closing message:

Please don't start any new threads about this topic as we are doing all we can to streamline the process for you all to be able to request streaming URL's to be unblocked.

We will re-open the thread as we have more updates for you.

If any new threads appear about this subject we will be forced to close them without prior warning.

So if you're hoping to see the World Cup on your phone best not be with Vodafone. Or get yourself an iPhone... just don't let your children have a go with it, for the sake of all that is good and holy. ®

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