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Airtel uses specially configured routers to block websites: Why you should care

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Airtel blocks access to websites using specially configured routers — called “middleboxes”, researchers have found. Centre for Internet and Society researchers Kushagra Singh and Gurshabad traced 25 middleboxes to Airtel. Their research concluded that both Airtel and Jio rely on Server Name Indication (SNI), a website identifier on a server, to carry out the blocking. “Out of the 4379 websites that the authors tested for, they found Jio to be censoring 2951 websites via SNI inspection,” their further research with the Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI) says. In Jio’s case, they couldn’t conclude that middleboxes are used since tests used to detect middleboxes were not conclusive. While government-ordered blocking of websites is legal in India, the problem occurs because these orders are not made public, and the ISPs do not block websites uniformly across the country. Thus, internet users in India do not have uniform access to the internet. An ISP should ideally use the same techniques — whether it be middleboxes or other methods — to block websites throughout its network in the country, and all ISPs should block the same websites. However, as demonstrated by Singh and Grover’s research, that is not the case. Such opaque and arbitrary censorship means that internet access of 76% of all internet users in India is conditioned by Airtel and Jio’s practices. According to TRAI’s latest Telecom Services Performance Indicator Report (January-March 2020), Jio accounts for 52.26% of all internet subscriptions in the country while Airtel accounts for 23.64%. Paradoxically, perfect…

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