By Mark Sutton
Social content sharing site StumbleUpon barred by UAE ISP
Social content sharing service StumbleUpon has been blocked by UAE telecom provider Etisalat.
The site, which allows users, to rate web pages and share them with friends and users with similar interests, was reported blocked on a posting to the UAE community blog.
While the site is blocked to Etisalat customers, those connecting through rival operator du are still able to access the site
StumbleUpon, which is owned by eBay, serves up content to the users who click on a ‘Stumble!' button on their browser toolbar, with pages selected for display based on user's ratings of previous pages, ratings by his or her friends and by the ratings of users with similar interests.
The site joins other social networking services which are banned by Etisalat, including micro-blogging service Twitter, social networking site Orkut, and photo sharing site Flickr.
Sites can be blocked in the UAE for 'inconsistent with the religious, cultural, political and moral values of the United Arab Emirates', according to Telecom Regulation Authority rules.
For more on web blocking in the UAE see the itp.net blog.
This is really insane now - most of these sites have nothing that's offensive or inappropriate in them, and Etisalat is just blocking them for no reason! I have friends who use Du who can access these sites - why are these companies not using the same list?
Trying to reach a level of technological brilliance is one of the self professed dreams of the emirate. Blocking web 2.0 applications like the Flickr, Twitter and other sites will definately hinder that. I think Etisalat needs to relook at their policy of blocking sites again. Things that would take forward the technology should not be blocked, Stumbled Upon is one of the sites that i have been using for a long long time, it is just like a giant online bookmarks directoy, what harm could that cause !
I guess the issue with StumbleUpon is that some of the content that StumbleUpon links to may be inappropriate for the UAE. However it would make more sense to block the specific pages, rather than the entire StumbleUpon system. The same goes for Du, which employs a much more sensible filter in that it purely blocks questionable content, rather than entire sites. Hence Flickr and PC-to PC calls on Skype are still available on Du. A full version of the TRA policy is available at http://wikileaks.org/wiki/United_Arab_Emirates_Internet_censorship_plan_(2006) - Etisalat is breach of several parts of it. Editor's Reply: According to these documents, they should both be following the same policy and procedure - namely, a site or URL has to be reported, assessed and then blocked if required. Obviously that's an unworkable rule, as it's far too slow. Content filters are in place with both, but seem to be applied differently. The rules and application are under review, but it would be good if some common sense could be applied to the process, and if the ISPs were more responsive to customers and more transparent about reasons for blocking a particular site.
Precisely, Mr. Editor. I honestly believe that the vast majority of people in the UAE would have far less of a problem with censorship if it was handled in a better manner. As a Western expat in Dubai, I am fully prepared to respect the values of the place that has let me make a home here, and in any case, the content which is objectionable here, such as pornography or drugs or terrorism as detailed in the policy are objectionable anywhere else in the world. What I and most expats object to is the inability of Etisalat to process requests or offer an explanation for a ban. For instance, Google Translate is banned. I have called Etisalat about this again and again, and sent emails and nothing is ever done. Once a site is banned, that seems to be it. Etisalat (and to a lesser extent, Du) need to be more accountable to their customers. It's worth nothing that the TRA policy explicitly states that Skype PC-to-PC calls must be allowed -yet Etisalat has blocked all of Skype! The TRA should enforce better regulation of the telcos in the UAE to ensure they comply with the rules.
I have no idea why UAE then claims to be a modern and liberal state!? IF for some reason or some users use social networking sites for Unethical purposes there are many who use these sites for their knowledge base and professional purposes . I write a blog and I must submit to these sites to gain traffic AND spread what I share... You can not now even submit to Digg and send links to your friends .. and i am so surprised that people don't even say a word against this
I have to backup what Asmaa states around the damage that TRA cause to technical innovation in the UAE. Their block out policy is strangling the vibrant web 2.0 / social network community in the UAE who use these sites for professional purposes. StumbleUpon links people with common interests and naturally promotes collaboration and builds communities (esp technical), this then leads to new innovation. One of the reasons I left the UAE was that the technical infrastructure was proving too weary and cumbersome for my work. Having everything route through the filtering proxy made life as a web site administrator near on impossible. The UAE had the potential to become a technical hub - but with the TRA holding firm to their current position on censorship that won't be happening anyday soon. Blocking out entire sites based on a minority of people seeking out some adult encounters is just a joke.
I think TRA basically believes in 'if you spare the rod you spoil the child'. But ironically what you are unable to find on your PC you will find easily out on the roads, airport, malls etc.
They have also blocked religous community sites like Muslimica.com just because it is social networking. I think Etislalat doeds not like certain words that cause it to block sites and its time they change that.
Why don't they just block the whole internet? How stupid!