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IWF Blacklist Snafu Blocks Access To FileServe

Access to one of the biggest file-sharing websites was disrupted last week after a IWF blacklist problem

On by Tom Jowitt 0

FileServe users in the UK were temporarily unable to access the file-sharing website last week after the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) blacklisted a single URL on that website.

Reports began to emerge last Wednesday about the problem.

“I’m no longer able to use fileserve in a free, or paid capacity,” wrote a Virgin Media customer identified as SandyB on the ISP’s forum, “I called Virgin about this and they said they’ve heard nothing else about it. I’ve checked around though and it’s not just me.”

Watchlist Snafu

“What’s normally the script with this. Is it a temporary thing or is it permanent?” she said, “I know the majority don’t use these one-click file hosting sites legitimately, but I do, and it’s currently interfering with my work.”

Other users also began noticing that their access was also blocked to the fire-sharing website.

On Thursday forum manager Mark Wilkin acknowledged there was a problem and said he was investigating. By Friday he explained that the problem had been resolved, after the IWF admitted that while Fileserve.com was not on their watchlist, a specific URL on the website was.

Virgin Media confirmed to eWEEK Europe that some of its customers were affected, but other ISP customers are also bound to have been affected.

“Customers may have experienced problems accessing Fileserve as a result of a specific URL being on the IWF watchlist,” a Virgin Media spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “We’ve spoken to the IWF and Fileserve to resolve the issue and our customers should now have full access again.”

The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) is a non-profit organisation that collects and investigates reports of child abuse material online. It then gives ISPs a blacklist of web addresses who then prevent consumers from accessing those sites.

Heavy Handed

This problem highlights an interesting issue. The IWF maintains a blacklist of URLs that contain harmful content, and ISPs use this list to block access to these websites. However problems can arise when a legitimate website that allows for user uploading, suddenly then contains a suspect URL, and access to the entire website is shut down.

British ISPs are reportedly aware of this problem however and are prepared to take action when they are notified. However this doesn’t change the fact that users will still be inconvenienced when trying to access a legitimate website.

Meanwhile the Open Rights Group, believes the problem with blacklisting is that it is too heavy handed, and that takedown of the questionable material should be the answer, not wholesale blocking.

“The last thing you want if you are Virgin or BT is having to deal with one or two particular URLs on a blacklist, which can lead to problems and confusion,” Jim Killock, executive director at the Open Rights Group told eWEEK Europe,“The takedown of the questionable material must be the answer.”

“A blacklist is an incredibly heavy-handed approach and is incredibly ineffective,” he added. “It pretends a problem has gone away, and puts costs onto the intermediaries and therefore the customers.”

Website Blocking

The FireServe development comes as the UK government considers plans for the blacklisting of websites on terrorism and extremism grounds, while in April, the European Union proposed a “great firewall” to ring fence Europe and block ‘illicit content’ on a continental scale.

Of course no one wants to see child abuse material online, but there is a fierce debate about the rights and wrongs of blocking copyright material online.

British ISPs have been reportedly considered the creation of an independent internet watchdog that would have the power to blacklist websites that infringe on copyright protection.

Tom Jowitt

Author: Tom Jowitt

Freelance TechWeek Reporter
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