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Vodafone lifts wifi block on gay content

Vodafone lifts wifi block on gay content

‘Computer says no’ is not discrimination: so if you have been discriminated against by a computer system, it doesn’t count.

That is the astonishing claim made by leading mobile phone operator, Vodafone, attempting to explain why their software appeared to have blocked access to Gay Star News itself.

Last week, trans activist and Gay Star News reader, Tara Hewitt, complained she had been unable to access our story about claims that creating an LGBTI school was being considered in Manchester, north west England.

Hewitt was trying to read the story via the wifi network on Arriva Buses route 329, in Warrington, but was treated, instead, to a Vodafone parental content advisory note saying the block could only be lifted by someone aged over 18.

Actually, users of the Arriva wifi are double filtered.

A spokesperson for Arriva told us: ‘Our wifi providers utilize Vodafone sims to deliver the free internet service on board our vehicles, but we do not rely on the filtering these sims offer.

‘To prevent misuse of the wifi, we employ a standalone international online monitoring tool to screen content and block websites when and if they fall into the blocking parameters, regardless of their content.

‘We can confirm that Gay Star News is not a website which features on the blocked list created by our monitoring facilities and we are speaking to Vodafone in order to ascertain the reasons behind why their filters prevented access to it.’

Vodafone told GSN they have recently changed their filtering supplier to Optenet, who ‘have slightly different categories than those of the provider we used before.’

They went on: ‘We believe the new system blocked this by mistake. We ensured that it was unbarred as soon as we could.’

However, when we asked why they would make use of a filtering system without first ensuring that it was fully compliant with UK equality law, Vodafone disclosed to us a new view on discrimination. They responded: ‘These systems are automated and therefore do not discriminate in any way.’

In fact, whether a system is automated or otherwise is largely irrelevant in UK law. What counts is the outcome.

Alice Ramsay, a lawyer specializing in discrimination law from the firm Leigh Day, explained: ‘Service-providers have a duty under the Equality Act 2010 to ensure that they do not discriminate against the users of their services.

‘Having internet filtering software that blocks a website because of LGBTI-related content could well amount to a breach of the law if the reason the website is blocked is because it relates to sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

‘An automated filtering system could potentially be discriminatory if the criteria applied by the system puts, for example, a gay person at a particular disadvantage and the filtering criteria applied by the system are not a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.’

We asked Vodafone for further comment on this issue, but they have not responded.

Gay Star News has been actively campaigning against internet filters that discriminate against the LGBTI community since 2013.

If you believe your internet has been blocked unlawfully, do ask the internet provider what steps they have taken to ensure their filtering conforms with the law – and do let us know what they say by emailing us here.