Update: According to a report by The Economic Times, the ministry of telecommunications indeed directed  Internet Service Providers to block 16 Twitter accounts, including those of right-wing entities and leaders, apart from blog posts and hundreds of web-pages featuring user-generated content on websites such as Facebook, Google+ and Youtube. The directives only mention that ‘it had been decided to block these accounts’. The directives don’t quote any sections of the IT Act or any other reason for the blocks.Note that we were not able to access certain Twitter handles on Airtel Broadband in Delhi, earlier in the day.  Download the pdfs at The Economic Times (second paragraph, marked 1, 2, 3, 4; we’ve got backups)

Update: It appears that Airtel has unblocked the Youtu.be short URL. An Airtel spokesperson has also confirmed to MediaNama, that the short URL has not been blocked.

Earlier: After blocking the parody accounts of Prime Minister’s office on Twitter, it seems like Airtel has gone further ahead to block webpages containing keywords like Youtu.be (YouTube’s short url) in an overzealous effort to comply with the Government’s order to block web pages with ‘inflammatory and hateful conten’t. This was first noticed by Digital Inspiration‘s Amit Agarwal.

While Airtel has been actively blocking websites to comply with John Doe orders in the recent months, this is probably the first instance in India where it has blocked webpages based on keyword filtering, as pointed out by the Amit Agarwal on his Twitter account.

How does Keyword Filtering work? An ISP can censor content in two different ways. One is by blocking access to a specific website like Vimeo, Dailymotion, and Blogger.com to its consumers, which has been prevalent before in the country. For instance, Airtel had blocked access to video sharing sites Vimeo and DailyMotion, torrents sites like thepiratebay, text and code sharing platform Pastebin, and bookmarks sharing site Xmarks in May 2012, to comply with the John Doe order taken by Copyright Labs, Chennai, from the Madras High Court, for preventing piracy of Tamil Films Dammu and 3. Reliance Communications had also blocked video sharing website Vimeo and torrent website The Pirate Bay for the same reason.

However, keyword filtering which is more prevalent in countries like China, allows ISPs to block webpages across the Internet based on specific keywords in the URL, irrespective of the site and the context in which the word is used, while the website might or might not be active. For instance, in this scenario, Airtel users will not be able to access any url with the youtu.be keyword in it, be it a Wikipedia page, a YouTube Video or this article itself.

Madhu Menon (@madmanweb) also tweeted about not being able to access the Facebook short URL fb.me on ACT Broadband in Bangalore. Some users have also been reporting problems trying to access WordPress based blogs.

Whats the use? This type of blocking is more severe than specific website blocks since it allows ISPs to block webpages with “inflammatory and hateful content” across all websites at one go, in wake of Government orders to ban such content, following the exodus of a large number of people belonging to the North Eastern ethnic community from cities like Bangalore and Pune, among others. We assume the idea is to reduce or completely stop users from accessing this content or share this content on social networking sites, thereby reducing its virality. However, this filtering will also block several non-inflammatory and legitimate content in the process.

That being said, there are workarounds present as always, since the website itself is not blocked. For instance, only the short URLs of the YouTube videos or the Facebook posts are blocked and users can still share the long urls of these updates or videos on social networking sites, thereby defeating the whole purpose of reducing the virality of the content.

Proxy And Domain Sites Ban: We have also received reports that Airtel has blocked several proxy sites including Kproxy and domain sites like BuyDomains and Fabulous Domains. At the time of writing this article, these domains were blocked with the boilerplate message “This website/URL has been blocked until further notice either pursuant to Court orders or on the Directions issued by the Department of Telecommunications” on an Airtel Broadband connection.  Last month, MTNL had also blocked the popular domain name marketplace Sedo.co.uk with a similar placeholder message. We can understand that the government might have directed ISPs to check proxy sites as they can allow users to access sites blocked by it, but why are ISPs like Airtel selectively blocking domain name registration sites?

Report The Blocks To Us

If you know of any other ISP which has blocked these websites, do let us know in the comments below. Please mention your location and ISP, and add a screenshot of the block in the comments below.

Related:

Our Right To Information Request On India’s Order To Block 245 Web Pages
Indian Govt Blocks 245 Web Pages After North-East Exodus; Other Steps; What Should Be Done
Indian Government Blocks Parody Accounts Of Prime Minister’s Office On Twitter
#IndiaBlocks – A Round-Up Of News On The Internet Blocks

John Doe orders on File sharing websites
– Reliance Entertainment Gets Order To Block Piracy Of “Bodyguard” On File Sharing Sites
– Files Sharing Sites Blocked In India Because Reliance BIG Pictures Got A Court Order
– Producers Of Tamil Film ’3′ Get Court Order Making ISPs Responsible For Checking Piracy