Is Your Site Being Blocked?

Filed as Guides on September 2, 2011 5:33 pm

Roadblock Image

Currently, there at least some 22 countries that block some websites, even more that block VOIP services. China alone represents a block that can restrict access to your site to over 1 billion people.

Though there are ways around most of these Internet blocks, few within the countries impacted have the means and ability to do so, making those blocks, for the most part, at least somewhat effective at limiting communication.

The sad truth is that, though some strides have been made in promoting freedom of access online, many countries are tightening their grip. Recent news from Iran indicates the country tightening its grip and increasing its filtering. Turkey has also seen a similar tightening of Internet restrictions.

But blocking goes well beyond countries. Though less nefarious in nature, many companies and households also use blocking technology to restrict who can access certain sites. Whether the goal is to increase employee productivity or prevent minors from access adult content, the results are often the same.

So is your site being blocked? Are people who might want to visit your site barred from accessing it and, if so, what can be done about it? Here’s a quick look at the current web filtering landscape and what it means for your site.

Is My Site Being Filtered

When it comes to determining if your site is being blocked, there are two sets of filters to worry about: Government filters and private filters.

Government filters vary from country to country and are often in constant flux, a site that’s banned one day in a country might not be banned the next.

Your best bet with government filters is to test your site regularly with any major countries you want to ensure you are available in. For example, you can easily test your site to see if it is available in China and also Iran.

Most countries that have government-based filters have a site that helps users test to see which domains and URLs are blocked, a simple Google search is usually all that’s required.

Private filters are much more complicated. Though they are more static, meaning that results are less likely to change, there are so many companies that do filtering that it’s possible one company blocks your site while dozens of others don’t, or vice versa.

This is made more complicated by the fact that users of these services often can install their own whitelists/blacklists and, in some cases, sites can be picked up by algorithms that aren’t part of the main filters. In short, it can be almost impossible to predict if you are blocked by one of these services and most companies make it difficult to do any kind of testing.

Though email services have public blacklists for spam, few such tools exist for private content filtering on the Web. This can be frustrating, especially when trying to get information as to why you are being blocked or to request an appeal.

Why Am I Being Filtered/Blocked?

There’s no sure-fire way to ensure that your site is or is not going to be blocked by the various entities but there are several risk factors that can give you a clue on the likelihood that you could be trapped in one of the above filters.

  1. Your Content: If the content on your site is adult or pornographic in nature, then you have the greatest likelihood of being filtered by both government and private filters. Political sites may be filtered by governments but are less likely to be trapped by private filters. Even non-offensive entertainment content may be blocked by some workplace filters designed to encourage only productive use of the Web.
  2. Your Domain: If you host your site on a subdomain of a larger site, such as with Blogger or Tumblr, your odds of being blocked go way up as a filter designed to trap another site on the service can catch you. Also, if you have an unfortunate domain name that, while innocent, may trigger keyword filters.
  3. Your neighbors: Though content and domain concerns are bad enough, a lot of web filtering is also based on IP blocks. As such, sites that sit on your same server can cause you to get blocked, even if you don’t know they are there. This is primarily an issue with large shared hosts that house hundreds, even thousands of sites on the same IP address.

In short, there are a lot of reasons you could be blocked and many, sadly, are out of your control. Even worse though is that, if you are unjustly blocked, there might not be much that you can do about it.

I’m Blocked, What Can I Do?

Unfortunately, when it comes to government blacklists and filters, there isn’t much that you can do. Even if you could afford to take the fight to their courts, it’s unlikely that you’d have any luck with it. But even with a legitimate complaint, the time/expense in filing it and seeing it through is far greater than the potential reward.

Private filters, on the other hand, can often be appealed. All you have to do is locate an agent at the filtering company to contact and request a review of your site. Often times, such blocks can be lifted as your site can be reclassified.

Even then though, there’s no guarantee the process will work and, in many cases, it doesn’t. Furthermore, some companies don’t even offer an appeal process.

Once again, legal recourse is very limited because the law, at least in the U.S., supports the right of private citizens and companies to filter their own access. Furthermore, many states actually require that schools and libraries also use filtering technology.

As imperfect as these tools are, they are seemingly here to stay.

Bottom Line

In the end, when it comes to having your site blocked, your best bet is to reduce the risk factors that may cause your site to be filtered and hope for the best, it’s really all that one can do.

All in all, blocking and filtering is just one of the reasons why where you host your site matters legally and why you need to be careful what you put on your site.

After all, you don’t want one simple mistake to cause your site to get denied to a large number of your readers, but that is exactly the prospect you face with Internet filtering technology, both on the government and private levels.

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