Update: Image hosting sites  imagebam.com and imgbox.com are also being blocked on some ISPs in India. We checked on BSNL Bangalore broadband connection and we received a blank page. The websites displays the following message for some people: “This website/URL has been blocked until further notice either pursuant to Court orders or on the Directions issued by the Department of Telecommunications”, according to imagebam discussion forum.

June 25, 2013: It appears that filesharing sites Uploaded.net and ul.to (same sites) are now working on BSNL Bangalore broadband connection, while the foreign blog dealing with politics lookingglass.blog.co.uk and image hosting site stooorage.com are still blocked on the connection.

It’s not clear whether these sites are now working on Idea 3G connection and Reliance Mumbai connection where it was blocked earlier.

June 17, 2013: Another bizarre URL blocks in India: It appears that filesharing sites Uploaded.net, ul.to, image hosting site stooorage.com, and foreign blog dealing with politics lookingglass.blog.co.uk are blocked on wired BSNL broadband connection and Idea 3G connection.

We checked and Uploaded.net, ul.to and stooorage.com appears to be blocked on BSNL Bangalore broadband connection, while lookingglass blog appeared to be down. Hosting sites worked fine with https appended to the URL, that is, while trying to open a secure connection, the sites seemed to work fine. We could not verify this for Idea 3G connection. If these sites are blocked on your connection, please leave a comment with Website URL, your connection and city along with a screenshot.

Surprisingly, unlike previous blocks, the current blocks does not include a message that usually states that these sites are blocked as per instructions from the Department of Telecom and just displays a blank page. It’s unclear at the moment whether these sites were blocked by the ISPs or by DoT, however, ISPs blocking these sites, specially the blogs dealing with politics is highly unlikely.

What happens when DoT blocks a URL?

Earlier, we had reported that  mobile customization service app Zedge was blocked on certain Internet Service Providers and mobile operators in India as per instructions from the Department of Telecom. Zedge COO, Jonathan Reich, has informed Medianama that Zedge hired a local counsel in India to find more about the issue and it appears that there was no court orders to block the service. The counsel instead told him that sometimes John Doe orders are directly sent to the ISPs and that the ISPs block these sites as per the orders.

Why does it matter?

ISPs in India have been blocking random website URLs against a John Doe order for quite some time now and the John Doe order allow the plaintiff to indiscriminately block access to websites. What’s particularly interesting is these sites are not even informed beforehand as to when and why they are being blocked. It appears that Zedge has been blocked in India since January 2013 and the company is still struggling to find out “why” they were blocked.

We feel that there should be more transparency in the process – either there should be a court order issued on the block and all the parties involved in the block should be informed. This hurts the websites and the ISPs as well. As we have noticed in the past quarter, majority of Indian telcos have reported significant increase in data usage and data revenue – look at AirtelIdeaVodafone and RCOM. However, if ISPs are forced to block website URLs randomly it might hurt their data usage as well.

In June 2012 Viacom18 had received a “John Doe” order for the film Gangs Of Wasseypur from the Bombay High Court. The maximum impact that we’ve seen of the John Doe order was in case of the recent order received from the Madras High Court, for the films 3 and Dammu, which led to the blocking of several websites, including Dailymotion, Vimeo and The Pirate Bay (a complete list here). The blocks have resulted in attacks on Reliance Communications, which was the first ISP to block the sites.

Other website blocks ordered by DoT

In April 2013, Care.org, the website of the non-profit organization fighting global poverty, had beenblocked in India on at least two ISPs – Vodafone India (in Bangalore) and Spectranet. It appears that Zedge had been blocked in April 2013 as well on Vodafone Tamil Nadu circle.

In February 2013, DoT had issued instructions to Internet Service Licensees to block access to 78 URLs from India, and what is evident from the list of URLs is that 73 of these are related to the educational institution IIPM.

Related:

– How India Should Approach Website Blocking
– DoT Blocks Sites Criticising IIPM – Live Updates
– DoT Issues Orders To Block 55 URLs Related To Afzal Guru
– #IndiaBlocks – A Round-Up Of News On The Internet Blocks