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RIM proxy bypasses IWF list, telcos' firewalls

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RIM's proxy-style web delivery is bypassing mobile network operators' filters on internet filth, including the thoroughly illegal sites listed by the Internet Watch Foundation, much to the delight disgust of the Daily Mail.

RIM admits that it isn't implementing a block on sites identified by the IWF as hosts of banned material, and that its proxy server could result in operator filters being ineffective. So bored executives could access pornography without proving their age and, in some circumstances, access sites on the IWF-blocked list.

The Daily Mail stumbled across the hole, and points out that BlackBerry devices could be used to access child abuse images, though hasn't space to report that the same thing applies to anyone connected to the internet using one of the smaller ISPs that doesn't subscribe to the IWF list.

RIM tells us it is working on a family-friendly architecture, and that it will start blocking IWF entries by the end of 2011. That new block will apply internationally - to BlackBerry users anywhere in the world. That's an interesting expansion of the IWF's remit which has hitherto been restricted to UK ISPs.

The UK has two levels of content censorship, both of which are involved here.

Internet service providers over a certain size are expected (but not required) to block traffic to sites listed by the Internet Watch Foundation. That list only includes content that is illegal in the UK and, while it has included the occasional Wikipedia article, in general it's pretty uncontroversial.

The second level of censorship applies only to mobile operators, who block access to any adult content until the customer has demonstrated their age (generally with a credit card authentication). That system is implemented by companies such as Blue Coat for the network operators, and mostly annoys technical people when they discover their browsing is being intercepted, and those who find gay smut sites blocked and accuse their network operator of being homophobic.

Here at El Reg we get both types of complaints from readers, every week or so, in roughly equally quantity.

The mobile model is one that the UK government has tried to push onto fixed operators a few times, but with little success so far.

RIM has a problem with both levels of censorship. Where a network operator runs its own proxy for BlackBerry web browsing, such as T-Mobile, then both levels of content control from the operator apply. But where the proxy is hosted by RIM then there's no IWF lookup, and the operator filters are bypassed, so the whole world is available and the Daily Mail gets all excited. ®

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