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LGBT advice website blocked by Vodafone

Tuesday, June 16th 2015 by Ellen Branagh

An LGBT community website found itself blocked by Vodafone despite being full of "boring" financial advice.

The problem was discovered when a user realised they could not access the website, which provides mainly financial advice to the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community, because it was blocked by Vodafone’s content control.

Peter Burnett, one of the founders of lgbt.co.uk, said he was contacted by the user, who had received a message saying: “You are not able to access this service because Vodafone Content control is in place.

"If you’re 18 years or over, you can easily remove Vodafone Content control by going to the ‘About Content control’ link below for further information and details about how to remove it."

Removing the control requires people to prove their identify and filter using identification documents.

Mr Burnett told Cable.co.uk there is nothing on the website that would be seen as inappropriate content and that the problem stemmed from keywords used on the site.

He said: "We built this library of financial advice for LGBT clients and that was the core of the site.

"It’s just basically financial advice, quite boring for most people."

He said it is not the first time it has happened, with workplaces often blocking sites that contain LGBT-linked words or phrases, but he did not know of problems with other mobile providers.

'More sophisticated'

"If you open the webpage and read the script, you can see it is a site giving LGBT financial advice so I can only presume that someone at Vodafone or the listing people that provided them with the advice or list has just included certain terms."

Mr Burnett said he had asked Vodafone to lift the block, and was told it would go to a review team.

Many sites may not even know if they have been blocked, he said, saying they often have to rely on "somebody bringing it to our attention".

But he said there are "literally thousands" of websites that contain similar terms and may also be blocked by Vodafone.

He added: "There are a lot more sophisticated ways of doing these things, like things that can detect fleshtones in pictures and detect quite quickly if pornography is being shown, so it can tell if something is pornographic without a human necessarily seeing it."

A Vodafone spokesperson said: "Vodafone UK, along with the rest of the UK mobile operators use the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) to define which content is unsuitable for customers under the age of 18.

"We use a third party supplier to provide automated technology to block sites which are unsuitable under that rating system and have recently changed our supplier, which clearly has slightly different categories than those of the provider we used before.

"We believe that the new automated system blocked this site by mistake. As soon as the issue was raised, we went back to our supplier to ensure it was unbarred with immediate effect."

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