British Airways blocks Boing Boing

David Weinberger -- author of Everything is Miscellaneous -- is in London's Heathrow airport today, and he's discovered that British Airways' internet terminals block Boing Boing:
Internet Access to this site has been BLOCKED

British Airways Plc prohibited website information page.

British Airways has blocked access to certain Internet sites which may be considered to be illegal or offensive. This site is currently on the barred list.We understand that the Internet changes constantly and that the decision in respect of this particular site may no longer be appropriate. If you would like us to review the decision to bar access to this site, please give the website URL and a contact e-mail address to a member of staff at the Lounge Reception. The response will be written confirmation that either the ban on this site has been lifted, or that the site continues to contain material that is inappropriate and, therefore, the bar on access will continue.

Thank you for your co-operation.

Date/Time: 2007-09-28 - 07:29:54
Category: "Nudity;Personal Pages"

BA is probably using one of the censorware companies like SmartFilter, who also supply the censorship technology to governments in countries like Syria and the United Arab Emirates. SmartFilter's business model is to fill sleazy boiler-rooms with prudish unemployable drones who spend all day clicking on web-pages and classifying them based on whether they'll offend the delicate sensibilities of the world's tyrants.

BA contracts with these scam-artists to control which information the adults who fly on its planes can use -- because you lack the capability to choose which web-pages you want to look at, and need an airline to choose the pages for you. We've been vocal critics of these companies, and so they all block us, using rubrics like "nudity" or "circumvention" -- because if you have one nude thumbnail or one page about circumvention, then all the tens of thousands of pages on your site will be blocked. What a "non-nudity" site is, then, is a site in which no nudity has ever appeared and no nudity ever will appear (SmartFilter says that a web-page with a picture of Michaelangelo's David counts as a "nudity site").

I'm a BA platinum flier, logging hundreds of thousands of miles per year on the oneworld network. I guess it's time to try Virgin instead. Link, Link to Boing Boing's "Defeat Censorware" page


  1. I run an ad-blocker in one of my browsers. It prevents all ads from appearing while i visit boing-boing. Do you have a stance on that?

  2. OK..I am completely against censorship and am a proponent of a free and open Internet. However, I think to blame BA for being cautious is absurd. I also think this stance is counterproductive to helping keep the Internet open and censorship free.

    People have children. Some subscribe to strict moral or religious beliefs. Those in these and other groups simply need to be provided a simple and effective tool to guard against questionable material.

    The BAs of the world don’t need websites showing a a cartoon squirrel jerking off in their lounges and having the press announce, they deliver porn catering to children. It is simply prudent

    The real issue of censorship is not at the corporate level but in government and that is where the fight needs to be fought. Arguing with BA and threatening not to fly with them because they cover their ass seems ridiculous.

    Personally, I feel it would be better if BA provided free software in their lounge that would allow people to use the net guarded OR provide a method to turn off the blocking. However, we are talking about Airline Attendants managing this. They don’t have the time to mess around with personal Internet Access.

    Did you fly first class? Maybe the nicer cabins have unrestricted access…hehe…the rich rule the world.

    Boing Boing is an adult site with adult content. That is not to say that it is porn. It is simply cool information that is relevant to intelligent adults. I don’t believe blocking it from public access is necessarily wrong as there is often edgy and sexually oriented content. But that’s why I read it.


    BTW – I think it is worth noting that on today’s page of Boing Boing is a cartoon picture of an ejaculating squirrel. I can tell you as a Dad, I would be quite upset if my 9 and 11 year old girls simply happened upon it in an Airport.

  3. Hey Mikey, here’s an idea:

    Don’t let your daughters use a public internet terminal if you’re afraid masturbating squirrels will offend them.

    There’s a thin line between being cautious and overreaching.

    Have the system throw up an age verification page instead!

  4. What a ridiculous stance from BA – If they are blocking their wifi portal as well it is too much! It is the responsibility of users to ensure that their computers are blocked against unsuitable content (as it is at home and at the office.) To block something as inoffensive as Boing Boing is quite beyond the pale. When using their terminals they should offer the opportunity to block adult content (when logging on?) NO BA, you DO NOT have my cooperation. I am quite happy to boycott BA as long as this unreasonable behaviour continues, and I am sure that I am not alone. Why not start a campaign? 100,000 Boing Boing BA (non) flyers will soon get their attention!!!! Now show me that cartoon of the squirrel!!! ;-)

  5. BoingBoing is blocked at my work. Which is probably a good thing from a corporate liablity standpoint. The site looks fairly clean right now, but in the past there has been nudity on the home page. Then there are the Xeni posts which are often inappropriate for the workplace. Companies need to protect against litigation.

  6. One of Norway’s biggest online newspapers is commonly blocked, because the site often contain the word “sex”.

    Another fun fact is that “sex” is the spelling of the number six in the Swedish language. Lots of Swedes can’t read pages that spells out six :)

  7. because if you have one nude thumbnail or one page about circumvention

    Oh come now. If boingboing had only one nude thumbnail, then that means that Cory built a steampunk time machine and went back in time and killed Xeni.

    I echo the post above which says that I wouldn’t want my kid to see a number of the posts here.

    Ask yourself the question, ‘do I want the guy sitting next to me furiously reloading during my trans-atlantic flight?’ Granted, boingboing is hardly a porn site, but having BA err on the side of caution isn’t exactly stupid.

  8. Where to start.

    I’m That guy. Not for BA but for another place. I run the blocking software for my company. I get to enforce the rules handed down from above. If the company decides they are going to use xyz for blocking and filtering their internet connection, I’m the guy that makes it all work.

    Wait.. it’s the Company’s internet connection? It’s the Company’s computer system? It’s the Company that gets sued if the wrong stuff comes up?

    I’m lucky. I use the Smartfilter software. It works. Simple as that. Does it sometimes block sites that should not be blocked? Yes it does. But the company wants it running. Here it’s a matter of asking me to unblock the site. I’ll probably do it since I’m Personally against censorship. But Airports, Malls, and other Commercial buildings are not PUBLIC. If you want and expect unfiltered internet access then go to a PUBLIC Library. They were able to force the US govenrment (Under Bill Clinton) to back off of the CIPA requirements for filtering All internet in governmentally funded organizations.

    Hey.. At least I didn’t do the TSA rant…

  9. “Those in these and other groups simply need to be provided a simple and effective tool to guard against questionable material.”

    i have two great things.

    for the people who don’t want to see it themselves… its called discretion. For the people who don’t want their kids to see, it’s called parenting.

  10. boing boing is not blocked at my workplace, but the defeat censorware page is…
    quick workaround for anyone who cares.

    this works for a lot of page, go to google. click the “language tools” link. choose a translation that wouldn’t work.. like Korean to English, and put in the page you want to see.

    voila. stupid and annoying, but works.

  11. For better or for worse we have what is called corporate responsibility, and what is called corporate arse covering. If the Daily Mail found that they could download squirrel porn in Heathrow Airport with CHILDREN PLAYING NEARBY, there would be a massive outcry, so BA (or the British Airports Authority, or whoever runs the Internet terminals) protects its posterior with filtering software. The software isn’t that smart, but should have an admin somewhere in the network who can respond to requests to remove sites from the blacklist (this is always the case as Slashdot is never, ever, blacklisted anywhere). However, in the end, most people are just passing through and want to check their mail so sites like this could be blocked and no-one would notice for a long time, so I would go with cock-up rather than conspiracy.

  12. I think that with the increasing proliferation of mobile wireless broadband, this will become less of an issue. If those carriers start blocking sites, then you’re fucked, unless of course you can circumvent the blocking or build your own network.

  13. Mikey, if I were you I’d worry more about leaving my daughters to web-surf unattended in a busy airport.

  14. What are they trying to prove? This is just more “dirty tricks” by Lord King and the most conservative company in the world: a few months ago they edited out Richard Branson from Casino Royale and the Virgin Atlantic planes in the background because “it might upset our customers”. Yeah right.

  15. Boing Boing shouldn’t be blocked, obviously.

    I’m not sure I disagree with the idea of filtering at all in that situation, though. People get packed in pretty tightly at airports, and there are kids around.

    You really don’t want to be sitting next to some guy looking at porn. Eww!

    Having said that, I’m not a prude. I usually make a ssh tunnel to a proxy server running on a vps account, and surf without censorship in those situations.

    And I’m not above looking at my favorite dominatrix message board provided I can shield my screen from the people around me. I mean, if I can find a quiet corner, I’ll drop in on it.

    So I guess it’s me and Sen. Craig, hypocrites both.

  16. That so many commenters have reflexively defended BA’s actions give me pause.

    And as for the argument that parents need help from an airline to toe a religious or moral line … doesn’t wash, my friend. Bring your own “simple and effective tool to guard against questionable material” with you, or maybe leave your kid at home with it.

  17. Honestabe really hits the nail on the head in #6 … although I believe all the moderation here is done by a human, whereas the problem with filters is these stupid rules that block anything that has the word “sex” on it…or for example…

    There’s a very large hospital near where I live that has wifi. Nice. Except they’ve configured their filtering system to block Google.

    Since they don’t block any other search engine, I assume that’s a configuration error on their part.

  18. Recall that the actual image that triggered that Smartfilter ban of BB in the first place was a fuzzy pic of a Japanese breastfeeding cat. The whole point of the pick was to protect innocent minds from the *evils* of breastfeeding.

  19. Cory’s text seems a little overwrought to me. This is akin to Barnes and Noble deciding not to sell Hustler in their magazine racks. It’s not government censorship, it’s a private business deciding what to sell and what not to sell.

    To me, the sleaziest thing about this type of net censorship is that the same technology can so easily be used — and often is used — by governments like China’s to censor political speech. You could also argue that it’s a bad thing to get USians psychologically habituated to the idea that their net access can be censored, because then it would be easier to slide down the slippery slope to government censorship of individuals’ private net access.

    @10, Cpt. Tim:
    for the people who don’t want to see it themselves… its called discretion. For the people who don’t want their kids to see, it’s called parenting.

    That makes plenty of sense if you’re talking about families paying for internet access in their own homes. An airport terminal is a completely different environment. You’ve got a gazillion hairless primates packed together like one of those experiments where they drove the lab rats to cannibalism by overcrowding them. All I want in an airport terminal is peace and quiet. I hate having TV’s blaring at me all over the place so that I can’t read a book in peace and quiet. In that cramped environment, if someone is pornsurfing, it’s a severe annoyance to everyone around them. Similar deal with some of the violent movies they show on board airplanes — if you’re traveling with a 2-year-old, it really becomes an issue.

    And yes, people will pornsurf when other people are around. I used to think nobody would be that idiotic, and then it happened in my college physics lab. Okay, all I had to do was have an Earnest Talk with the student, and point out to him that it was a very rude thing to do to his female lab partner. He apologized to her. But, uh … I shouldn’t have to spend my time doing that. On a college network, I think the need for free access to information outweighs this type of concern, so I don’t think censorware is appropriate, but this example really does show that this is more than a strawman issue for, e.g., elementary schools, libraries, and, yes, airports.

  20. “That makes plenty of sense if you’re talking about families paying for internet access in their own homes. An airport terminal is a completely different environment.”

    if you’re with your kids its your job to make sure they’re not looking at the no holds barred cum guzzling gangbang that is

    If your kids are not with you and they’re hunting for filth, they will find it, the battle is already lost.

    I can understand some people have convictions. they need to find a way to satisfy those convictions without restricting other people. its like the christian lady who didn’t like a book at the library so she checked it out and refused to return it. You could fill a dump truck with stuff in a library religious people object to. restricting others access isn’t the answer.

  21. and its not that i’m insensitive to other people. i was watching battlestar on bart the other day, and even though the near nudity was okay for television. i still tilted the screen in case the person next to me didn’t want to see that.

  22. Post #2 above, ‘Mickey’: The point is that what I view shouldn’t be censored in order to “protect” your kids because you are a sloppy parent. By all means, “protect” your children from anything you view as “inappropriate” but don’t impose your beliefs upon me and infringe my freedoms in the process. Being a parent shouldn’t involve relying upon a 3rd party to do your net-filtering for you. If you fear the internet then you shouldn’t allow your kids to use it unsupervised.

  23. CPT. TIM @ #18: I think the point that the “think of the children” objectors are making is that if the guy sitting next to one of their kids in the airport terminal is browsing something objectionable to the parent there’s not much the parent can do to prvent the child from seeing what his neighbor is doing (try telling your kids not to look at something). Kids do not need to seek out objectionable material in order to come into contact with it.

    That being said, I generally agree with Cory’s point. People who object to the content visible on the BB front page need to ratchet their righteous indignation and American hyper-Puritanism down a few notches. Most of our children saw naked breasts for their first year or so with no detrimental effects (and certainly many positive health benefits). There’s no honestly defensible reason for BB to be filtered at the airport.

    On the other hand, we may want some sort of filtering. I mean, who wants to sit through a 14 hour plane flight with a screaming child who’s just been traumatized by the sight of a donkey doing a man in the butt? ;)

    BTW, those making the comparison to private companies doing what they like with their Internet connections are drawing a seriously flawed analogy. Airports are most often public or public/private partnerships run for the benefits of the local population and the people that travel to their cites. It’s immaterial whether the wireless service is provided by a private contractor who owns the gear or by the government itself. The venue is a public good and should be run as such.

  24. While I can’t speak for the BA lounge at heathrow, I can say that as of a month ago, the NW lounges/ club at Narita and LAX both were not blocking boingboing.

  25. I think then that the restriction needs to happen at a different level. If you can’t go all goatse in real life in front of kids in an airport you shouldn’t be able to have it up on a screen.

    but the answer isn’t restrictive software. the answer is guidelines for people themselves.

    otherwise you get just this type of nonsense with boingboing being blocked.

  26. “BTW – I think it is worth noting that on today’s page of Boing Boing is a cartoon picture of an ejaculating squirrel. I can tell you as a Dad, I would be quite upset if my 9 and 11 year old girls simply happened upon it in an Airport.”

    Mikey, may I ask what would make that so injurious to your children if they did see it? I can understand the traumatic effect of seeing someone’s head sawed off, but what’s traumatic about a masturbating cartoon squirrel?

    The point I’m trying to make is that protecting the children should not extend to personal preferences about what is appropriate, polite, decent, tasteful, or nice. No rule that isn’t overly restrictive can accomodate everyone’s personal tastes.

    Per religious beliefs: religious beliefs differ and contradict each other. Should sites remove any mention of alcohol, pork, circumcision, or anything that contradicts someone’s religious beliefs?

    “The real issue of censorship is not at the corporate level but in government and that is where the fight needs to be fought.”

    Look around you. Who’s influence is more pervasive in our society, government’s or corporations’? Food for thought, it seems to me, regardless of what role one believes government should play in our society.

  27. Some of you really go off the deep end. I am simply making a point I do not let my children surf unsupervised or irresponsibly depend on others to protect me. I don’t run with scissors nor do I poke a sharp stick in my eye.

    However, I also recognize there are other people in the world and this place, called “Earth” is not just about “ME” and my freedom. I have net freedom in that I can see the web uncensored and I choose the content I view (including jerking-off mini mammals). But that is in my home at my desk.

    BA could give everyone a straight feed to the Internet and I certain nothing would go wrong. It would be just grand and as you walked through the terminal, every 13 year old with a sense of humor would put up a Goatse image or some other crass shot to offend “Mum and Dad.”

    How do I protect them now? Do I need to put a sack on their heads. I am not a prude and I am not so high strung to worry about the kiddies catching a boob or butt. I wish I could make decisions about everything they are exposed to but that is simply unrealistic.

    Hell, I live in France (where the naked ladies dance) and nudity is everywhere. A visit to the beach is an education. My kids have been to Amsterdam and I had to explain what the coffee house sells and why Daddy doesn’t drink that kind of coffee. I do my job as a parent and don’t expect anyone to it for me.

    For me, this is like putting the adult magazines on the top shelf or putting cardboard up so the harsher covers are blocked. I don’t see that as censorship. I see that as responsible.

  28. I had the same experience in the BA lounge a week ago. I found that Google Translate was also blocked. I make no comment on the merits of the decision to block, but I note that a man was arrested last week in a Melbourne (Australia) airport lounge for allegedly downloading child porn in full view of the other visitors to the lounge.

  29. @32: now I’m really confused. You seem to be saying that adult content is OK for your children, but that you want to be able to stop them from seeing it. That nudity is harmless, but that you want to “protect” your children from it.

    I’m confused also about the references to what sound like big screen projections in the terminal, linked to individual browsers’ machines…. What we’re talking about here I believe is the monitors of individual web users.

    Anyway… since it is impossible to put a sack over children’s heads, or to “make decisions about everything they are exposed to,” it seems to me that the best thing is to educate them about what they’re seeing or might possibly see, so they’re prepared to exercise some judgement of their own. This education needs to start at a young age, since making all their decisions for them until their eighteenth birthdays is impossible, and undesirable. IMHO.

    But maybe that’s all off-topic. The question is, should adult users’ access be curtailed on the off-chance that someone’s child might see something objectionable? Is that perhaps going too far?

  30. FYI, is also blocked in the business lounge in Barcelona (Spain). I will keep track for you, I see dozens of different lounges across Europe and always try to log onto the web while waiting.

  31. If your kids see nudity on the beach, not to mention the magazine covers on just about any newsstand rack, what’s Boing Boing got to offer in the way of shock value? (I didn’t even notice the squirrel was ejaculating until the second time I looked at it, and I don’t think I’m the only one who missed it.)

  32. You guys are just trolling or getting too granular. Anyone can tell the difference between hardcore porn and simply a nude person. Just as Michelangelo’s David is perfectly appropriate for my girls to see and (Insert Porn Site Here) is not.

    I am not saying BB should be blocked. I am saying I understand BA making this decision.

  33. Mikey, if you say that (1.) the material in Boing Boing doesn’t warrant its being blocked, but that (2.) you understand British Airways making the decision to block it, are you not saying that you understand British Airways to be stupid and/or incompetent?

  34. @#39: Just for the record, I wasn’t talking about porn, hardcore or otherwise, but about sites like bOING bOING.

  35. They may be both or neither. IMHO, they obviously have an IT department who made an arbitrary decision or they just use a boilerplate install of the filter. Either way, they are not an Internet provider.

    They are an airline and I still believe it is absurd to call what they did with blocking BB as censorship. It is simply an ass covering because they don’t want to risk the liability of a law suit.

    On a side note, I think it also seems crazy to change airlines because of a casual web site. However, that’s just my thought.

  36. Hi,

    the same happens in my office. It’s a intnernational enterprise and their proxyes are blocking a large amount of sites.

    To trick the block i created an alternate cname record (with services like dyndns or afraid): this way the url is not ctached and i can surf BB freely :)

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