Updated below with responses from Mobango, links to a strange statement from Airtel, previous reports of blocks and a new instance of a site called Zone-H being blocked for apparently pointing out falsification of information by a Hyberabad based company.
Earlier today: It’s like 2006 all over again, and the forums and mailing lists are abuzz with this; we’ve got a few emails as well. Some ISPs in India appear to have begun blocking access to certain sites, including blogging site TypePad, bulk SMS site ClickATell.com, Mauj Telecom owned mobile apps site Mobango. I’m able to access Typepad from my MTNL connection.
Karthik Sridhar from VisualData* sends us the following screenshot for Clickatell:
Here’s a screenshot that Tarun Dua, who has an Airtel connection, sent to MediaNama:
Vikram Phukan sent us a screenshot of the error page while trying to access his Typepad dashboard.
We tried accessing the sites from our Airtel Edge and 3G enabled handset and got the same error.
On the India Gii mailing list, Dua wrote that “Looks like they are using a transparent proxy to deny access to sites based on host header.” He had previously posted on the India gii mailing about a similar issue while accessing ClickATell.com, a bulk SMS provider, again on Airtel DSL.
We’ve written to Airtel as well as Mobango.com for a clarification on the government ordered blocking of these sites, as well as Gulshan Rai, head of CERT-in, the government agency responsible for blocking.
Hate say ‘we told you so’, but do read: How The Indian Government Plans To Regulate Online Content & Blogs
How you can help
In the comments, please let us know if you’re able to access the following sites. Mention your ISP and time of access for each site:
We’re also trying to find out who to get in touch with at ISPs.
Update: so the way the sites were blocked in 2006 was: in the first few days, only a few ISPs blocked access to blogs, and over the period of a week, it gathered momentum, and access was blocked across ISPs. We understand that some of you may be able to access these sites, but the screenshots below don’t lie. For us, this is a freedom of speech (and freedom of access) issue: How can the Indian government decide what you and I choose to view online?
Update: Mobango responds, says it could be an ‘oversight’ or a technical error. Looks like they’re playing it safe – the screenshots suggest otherwise.Their response in full:
“Mobango is a large global appstore with nearly 1 million downloads of apps and games daily. Of these downloads about 20 per cent are from India and growing. We have not heard of any customer complaints directly but are told that the site is facing access issues from a few ISPs on the web. It is possible that this is due to some technical error. Mobango is one amongst several Indian and global app stores, which are all accessible from India so we don’t really see any reason for the site to be blocked unless it has been an oversight on the part of DOT. We are working with ISPs and authorities to address any inadvertent issues.”
Update: So what your comments suggest is that the ban appears to have been implemented sporadically by multiple ISPs: Airtel, BSNL, MTNL and Reliance (Netconnect), depending on geography. While most ISPs are just not providing access to the sites, at least Airtel, Reliance Netconnect (in Coimbatore) and Fivenet Broadband (in Mumbai) have been transparent enough to disclose that they’ve blocked due to a DOT order.
Our stand on this is that the government has no business blocking access to the Internet without a proper judicial process. In any case, when a block is instituted, it needs to maintain a list of blocked sites, and give reasons for the block. It can’t be ad-hoc, and it can’t be opaque.
Update: At least on Airtel GPRS, Typepad and Mobango are now accessible, though clickatell now returns the message “web connection timed out”, with no notification. Let us know if you’ve noticed any changes with your ISPs.
Update (5th March): In a bizarre (and hard to believe twist), an unnamed Airtel spokesperson tells the Hindu that there was no directive from the government, and this was “just a temporary network problem”. Time to file an RTI to get the truth out. Note that Airtel still hasn’t responded to our email for a clarification on the block.
Update: Appears that this wasn’t a minor blip over a short period of time:
– Tech2 wrote about a blogspot blackout on Feb 12th.
– CuttingtheChai wrote about Kirtu.com, where the not-safe-for-work comic Savita Bhabhi was hosted, Mobango, Typepad and Clickatell being blocked on Feb 22nd.
– Kafila reports, and this is something that we’ve also been told about as well, that Zone-H.org has been blocked as well. This is strange, but there is a suggestion that a company called E2 Labs got Zone-H blocked, because they did a post criticizing E2’s proposal to start a cyber security educational institution, alleging that there was falsification of information. A pdf of the post here, via Naavi.org. Again, we need clarity on why these blocks have been ordered. Also read Apar Gupta’s post
– the utilitarian critique of E2 Labs v. Zone-H
*Disclosure: VisualData is a MediaNama Partner. They power MediaNama Charts