What's going on with UAE web blocking?

Content sharing network StumbleUpon is the latest casualty of the UAE's web blocking lottery.

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By  Mark Sutton Published  July 7, 2008

Content sharing network StumbleUpon has become the latest casualty of the UAE's web blocking lottery, with Etisalat bringing down the hammer and blocking the service, for the usual unknown reasons.

Of course, because the two operators and the TRA seem to be incapable of working together to synchronize web filtering, StumbleUpon is still available for Du subscribers.

It's yet another example of social networking and content sharing sites getting auto-blocked by an ISP that doesn't seem to have any clue as to what it's blocking, and a regulatory authority that's trying to dictate an unworkable policy.

I understand the desire among the leader's of the UAE to protect their culture, and in particular, their children. Given some of what's online, I applaud that aim. It's not going to work though, because the only way to be really secure online is to kick the plug out. But the current regulatory regime and the way the rules are implemented goes beyond being annoying and inconvenient, and does actual damage to social and economic development.

StumbleUpon is a social content sharing service, that basically allows a user to rate content that they see while browsing, with that content then shared with friends networks and other users who have rated similar content. In terms of how it operates, its pretty similar to Digg. But Digg is not blocked.

What's important about StumbleUpon? In the grand scheme of things, nothing much. There are probably no more than a few hundred users in the UAE, and them losing the service will be an unecessary inconvenience, but its not the end of the world for them.

Then there's image sharing site Flickr. Its an image sharing site, fairly similar to ImageShack or any one of a number of image sharing sites that aren't blocked. If Etisalat want to block Flickr, then users can just go elsewhere to share images. No real damage done, is there?

Orkut is another site that's fallen foul of the ISPs. It's a social networking site, straightforward enough, very similar to Facebook. But Orkut's blocked, and Facebook isn't. No great loss, apart to those people whose friends and relatives are using Orkut not Facebook.

And then there's Twitter, a mobile micro-blogging application, that to be honest, I don't really understand. I don't understand it because its blocked in the UAE, so I've never been able to try it out. Its apparently quite useful for media, and is becoming more and more interesting as a tool when integrated with other web 2.0 services. Which is the case with all of the blocked services, and that's what is doing the damage. The short-sighted, false view of these applications as ‘inappropriate' seems to be based on nothing in particular, and completely overlooks the positive benefits of them.

Flickr is increasingly in use by corporations to distribute their images. Social networking sites are being used for corporate communications, for marketing, for customer feedback and as many other uses as you can imagine. Content sharing helps people make sense of the vast amount of material online, to find what is relevant to them and to discuss, collaborate and share. A knowledge economy relies on free exchange of knowledge.

Blocking these sites doesn't just cut economic opportunity today, it hinders educational and social development tomorrow. A generation raised with Internet services that are curtailed, cut back and shut off won't become the next generation of developers or knowledge workers. They won't be a generation that is able to take tools from the Internet and use them to make their own applications, to collaborate on a global stage or gain empathy and understanding of other cultures.

By all means, carry on blocking adult content, or hate sites, even gambling, but randomly blocking the next generation of online services for no reason doesn't help anyone. And in the meantime, those who want illicit content know how to get it. That's the Internet for you.

3819 days ago

Parts of Wikipedia are still blocked, by Etisalat. With great inconsistency, like [[proxy server]] was blocked for a long, long time. Might get blocked again. Prophet Muhammad's (PBUH) page is blocked, probably because of the pics, funny because that same pic is also Wikipedia's [[Kaaba]] page. Go figure! A proud Wikipedian, IncidentFlux

3819 days ago

wikipedia isnt blocked Editor's reply: Wikipedia was briefly blocked on Wednesday last week, along with ArabianBusiness.com and even Google. Oddly, the block appeared on some PCs, but not others within the same office. When I contacted Etisalat to ask why they said it was a technical fault and that they would remove it.

3819 days ago

I'm all for protecting kids against disturbing, age-inappropriate material and also for upholding the values of the region. Whether social networking sites are against Muslim values is open to debate. However, what in tarnation does Wikipedia have to do with all of this? Last week, Etisalat blocked it and I'm sorry but that is just crossing the line into being unreasonable and illogical. An online encyclopaedia blocked? Does this make any sense to anyone, Muslim or otherwise?

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