The India ISP Jio has upped the ante in internet porn censorship as it has decided to block the websites of VPN providers.
Following a court decision in India requiring that the country ban access to online porn, reports began to emerge in October that internet access providers had begun blocking as many as 827 adult sites.
But now the Indian telecom firm may be going a step further, thwarting attempts by users in its 250-million strong subscriber base to find workarounds to the ban using Virtual Private Network (VPN) software.
Jio appears to have blocked access to proxy sites where the VPN software can be downloaded, according to the report.
There are now signs that Reliance Jio may be suffering blowback from its enthusiastic support of the porn ban, seeing an overall drop in traffic by its users for the final quarter of 2018, with the average Jio customer dropping data use from an
average of 11 gigabytes per month to 10.8 gigs, according to a report by The Hindu newspaper.
Asked whether the drop in data use by its customers was a result of the ban on porn sites, Jio official Anshuman Thakur replied, Yes, you could say that.
Jio's new subscriber signups also dropped in the last three months of 2018, to 27.8 million new subscribers during that period, when the porn ban took effect, from 37 million in the previous quarter.
India's Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology has proposed new social media censorship rules.
Open for public comment through 31 January 2019, the new rules would compel platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter to remove, within 24 hours, any unlawful content that affects the sovereignty and integrity of India.
According to a definition posted online by the Indian government last week, unlawful material includes anything that could be seen as grossly harmful, harassing, blasphemous, defamatory, obscene, pornographic, pedophilic, libelous, invasive of
another's privacy, hateful, or racially, ethnically objectionable, disparaging, relating or encouraging money laundering or gambling, or otherwise unlawful in any manner whatever.
The definition also covers political speech, including any content that threatens the unity, integrity, defense, security or sovereignty of India, friendly relations with foreign states, or public order, or causes incitement to the commission of
any cognisable offense or prevents investigation of any offense or is insulting any other nation.
office available for 24/7 cooperation with law enforcement.
Industry experts and civil rights activists are concerned that the new rules are veering dangerously close to censorship, and lobbyists have already started drafting objections to file with the ministry.
Internet company Mozilla Corp came out strongly against the guidelines, stating that the proposal was a blunt and disproportionate solution to the problem of harmful content online. Industry executives note that the guidelines would put the
privacy of users at risk and would raise costs, as it would necessitate round-the-clock monitoring of content.
WhatsApp is gearing up to fight the Indian government's proposals to force tech companies to hand over the personal data and encrypted messages of Indian users.
India's internet censor and IT ministry have both proposed laws that would allow authorities to trace the origins of encrypted messages. The legislation would also compel tech companies including Facebook, Twitter and Apple to proactively monitor
and remove objectionable content posted on their platforms.
The new rules essentially mean breaking encryption and collecting much more data than WhatsApp currently do, which amounts to mass surveillance.
A WhatsApp expert said that the app is designed to not collect or store a record of who wrote and sent every message on the platform. The company would have to redesign its systems and revise its privacy policies in order to comply with the
And of course if WhatsApp continues to operate in repressive regimes like India and Australia then worldwide users will be able to infer that all their messages can also be decrypted at the behest of the authorities in any country.
The Indian government's effort to block citizens from watching pornography hasn't quite worked, according to website analytics data. On the contrary, overall consumption of internet porn may have increased over the past few months with traffic
shifting to other sites and the use of proxy servers.
Fifty-nine of the banned websites, data of which was shared by SimilarWeb, a web analytics company, received an average of 1.7 billion monthly visits before the ban and the figure dropped to 0.8 billion visits after the ban. However this drop has
been more than compensated for by visits to at least 441 other websites that are not banned. These websites together received an average of 0.6 billion monthly visits before the ban and two billion after the ban. Adding these together reveals
that monthly porn site visits increased from 2.3 billion to 2.8 billion as a result of the ban.
There are other factors also contributing to why the ban is not working.
First, at least 42% of the websites in the banned list (345 of the total 827) are still accessible on the internet if users write https instead of http in the web address. These accessible websites include the top three porn websites in India --
Xnxx, Xvideos and Pornhub.
Second, Indians are also accessing the banned porn websites through easily available proxy networks or virtual private networks (VPN) that hide their identity and location, and in turn let users bypass any such ban. A sudden surge in the number
of visits to some of the most popular proxy service websites makes this fact evident.
For instance, proxy site kproxy.com received 2.3 million visits from India in November, according to ComScore. This was more than twice its average of 0.9 million visits in the previous three months. The increased use of proxy services by porn
consumers in India is also evident from data on Google Trends, a tool that quantifies the popularity of search queries over time. The popularity of search terms like porn proxy, porn site proxy and porn vpn in India rose seven to 10 times in the
week the ban was announced.
Third, the list of the 827 websites that were banned does not cover a wide enough range of such sites. Among the 500 most visited porn websites in India, according to ComScore data, only 59 websites have been banned. Among the top 10, only five
have been blocked.
Fearful of state censorship being imposed on internet TV, several internet TV companies that operate in India have collaborated on a set of self censorship rules.
Netflix and Indian rival Hotstar plan to adopt these rules whilst noting that the country's laws currently do not mandate any censorship of content on online streaming platforms.
A draft of the censorship rules state that the platforms would prohibit content that shows a child engaged in real or simulated sexual activities, is disrespectful of India's national flag or encourages terrorism. The rules also ban content
which deliberately and maliciously intends to outrage religious sentiments of any class, section or community.
Amazon Prime Video will not sign the code, though it helped draft it, as the company does not want to act in the absence of government-mandated regulation, a source said.
Participating companies will appoint a person, team or department to receive and address any consumer-related complaints.