Cleanfeed web blocker offered to other ISPs

A new internet filtering programme, developed by BT to stop access to child abuse websites, blocked more than 200,000 URL requests to such sites during its first three weeks in operation.

Aug 12, 2004
By Keith Potter
L-R: PC Joe Swan, Sgt Thomas Neilson and Sgt Chris Smith

A new internet filtering programme, developed by BT to stop access to child abuse websites, blocked more than 200,000 URL requests to such sites during its first three weeks in operation.

Now BT is offering to share the new technology, called Cleanfeed, with other internet service providers on a ‘non-commercial’ basis. But while the development of the programme has been welcomed by ACPO, the Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA) has called for more evaluation of the trial results to determine the level of the problem.

The Cleanfeed programme was tested for two weeks and blocked an average of 10,000 URL requests a day, before going fully operational and averaging 23,000 blocked requests daily during the first week.

Stuart Hyde, ACPO lead on combating child abuse on the internet and Assistant Chief Constable of West Midlands Police, said the Association “fully supported” the introduction of the programme.

“It is a major contribution to internet safety, and demonstrates how responsible internet business can have an impact on preventing access to sites containing images of children being abused,” said Mr Hyde.

“This will make it much more difficult for people to access such images and I am fully in favour of this much-appreciated initiative from British Telecom.”

However, while welcoming “new developments in the fight against child abuse images on the internet”, ISPA expressed concerns that the figures could be misleading.

A statement from ISPA said: “ISPA feels caution is needed with the information and statistics so far available on Cleanfeed.

“There is also a need to understand exactly what Cleanfeed is detecting. At present we do not know if Cleanfeed is measuring the number of ‘hits’ (attempts to download individual files from illegal websites) or ‘visits’ (number of attempts to visit the website).

“Also, if the Cleanfeed uses URLs of specific images, then that is likely to have an impact on the statistics. If the database contains URLs of images rather than the pages holding them, one page would cause several ‘hits’.

“Since Cleanfeed gives a ‘not found’ error, people visiting the sites are going to assume that it was an error and probably retry at least once. That could potentially increase the statistics by a factor of at least two. It would be better if Cleanfeed stated that the website is blocked and cannot be accessed.”

ISPA also warned that the programme could not provide a ‘one size fits all’ solution for ISPs, and defended the success of the self-regulatory ‘notice and takedown’ procedure for criminal content which the UK internet industry currently operates.

Responding to the ISPA statement, Mike Galvin, BT’s Director of Internet Operations, said the figures recorded during the test period and first full week of operation for Cleanfeed included both deliberate and accidental attempts to access blocked sites, as well as multiple attempts.

“The figures give no indication of the intent behind an access attempt, so any claim to identify the number of people from the number of blocked visits is pure speculation,” said Mr Galvin.

“BT has always said the technology is not a total solution to this challenging problem, but it is a start. BT agrees with ISPA that the Internet Watch Foundation has made great progress with tackling the hosting of such sites in the UK, and BT sees this technology as a step forward. It is different in that it tackles the problem from another angle by preventing people from deliberately or accidentally visiting sites, including those located overseas.

“The fight against child abuse is a global one and so it is important that everyone works as closely as they can with the relevant law enforcement agencies and bodies such as the IWF. As a result, we have said we are willing to share the technology with other service providers on a non-commercial basis, and so we look forward to discussions with them.”

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