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Re: http status code for site blocked

From: Tex Texin <tex@i18nguy.com>
Date: Mon, 09 Dec 2002 16:40:10 -0500
Message-ID: <3DF50DBA.A5C101AE@i18nguy.com>
To: toby_phipps@peoplesoft.com
CC: cooldude_pk@hotmail.com, www-international@w3.org

Toby, thanks your comments are helpful.

I am disappointed there hasn't been more discussion of the subject.
I hoped someone would at least chime in and identify that the matter was
a concern and being addressed somewhere in the W3C or elsewhere. 
Perhaps I need to raise it with IETF or some other organizations.

This is a significant problem:

1) The web is designed to be a single application. Clearly this breaks
down for many users around the world since from their view point links
are broken inexplicably and unpredictably. Perhaps, the web should not
be designed as a single application. If there are services and content
on the web that may be blocked then one cannot depend on integrating
them. It therefore should have distinct applications that consist of
accessible pieces.

For example, I can imagine that several web behaviors should be changed
to maximize accessible links depending on the location of the viewer.
Search engines could rank pages taking into account pages containing the
fewest blocked links depending on the user's vantage point.

Clearly, the single web is preferable in design and practice. But for
some parts of the world if this cannot be achieved we should be
considering alternatives that behave better for them.

2) Publishers and (web) service providers don't know if they are
reaching their intended audiences. I can invest millions in a Chinese
web site and not know if it will be viewable in China. Further, people
in China may not be able to tell the investor of the problem. If your
domain is blocked, e-mail cannot be sent to you.

3) You may be accessible one day and blocked the next. You will not be
informed of the change in status.

4) There is no process for reversing a blockage or even discovering why
you may have been blocked.

5) Just to be clear, sites being blocked are not necessarily political
or controversial in any way. Some authorities block until they have a
reason to unblock.

6) Blocking leads to a stratification of the web by corporate size. (In
addition to the stratification by region.) Large companies have a
presence in foreign countries giving them a greater ability to influence
and remove blocks. Smaller ones do not have the access and are therefore
more likely to be blocked and unable to remove the block.

7) Blocking is going to impact web services. Web services should
consider recommending appropriate behaviors when blocking occurs.
(This is clear to anyone that has visited countries with strong
censorship. Broadcasters are suddenly off-air for periods of time (days
not necessarily minutes). Businesses too are impacted.)

I understand that governments insist on their right to control
information flow. However, having recommendations about how blocking
could be handled could improve the web processing. (Examples, such as
Toby cites are helpful.) Conversely, gathering some information about
the nature of content that is likely to be blocked might allow
publishers and service providers that want to, to avoid giving offense.
(I understand some reasons might require confidentiality. Fine, knowing
the remaining reasons is still helpful.)

I would like:

a) a group in the W3C to address this (to).

b) an http code for blocked. (I will take it up with IETF).

c) W3C recommendation(s) for working with blocked URIs- e.g. ways to
distinguish being blocked from other kinds of failure and
appropriate behaviors such as an image to be displayed if images are
blocked, etc. .

d) Guidelines for not offending censors. I suspect there are non-obvious
offenses to warn about.

e) Guidlelines for getting unblocked. Perhaps soliciting/promoting the
creation of organizations within censoring bodies for the purpose of
accepting appeals to be unblocked.

f) If necessary, the creation of a representative body so little guys
can get unblocked.

OK, I know these are not all W3C responsibilities nor am I likely to get
them in the short term.
I did want to promote the idea that blocking is not simply a fait
accompli that should just be accepted as-is.
Given its existence, we can improve the way the web works by proactively
taking it into account.
If we don't examine it more closely then there isn't one world wide web,
there are multiple regional webs.

Is this worth pursuing? If so, where is the best place to take this up?


toby_phipps@peoplesoft.com wrote:
> Some ISPs I've seen in the Gulf are very up-front about their blocking and
> simply redirect blocked sites to a page stating the fact.  For example, I
> was recently in the UAE and their nationalized ISP redirects connection
> attempts to sites that they have blocked for any reason (hosted in Israel,
> objectional content etc.) to a basic "access denied" page.
> The Emerati internet provider's (www.emirates.net.ae) blocked page simply
> states "Emirates Internet denies access to this site." and provides a link
> to their homepage.  True, it doesn't explain why the site is blocked or how
> to go about challenging the blocking, but it's a lot better than leaving
> the user guessing as to why the site is unreachable.  An interesting
> side-effect is that they detect the type of request to the blocked site.
> If an image is being requested directly, they serve a "blocked" image
> instead of the whole page.  That way, even if only a portion of a page is
> blocked (due to an image being linked to from a blocked site), it's still
> obvious why it doesn't display.  Can get very interesting with a portal
> homepage such as Yahoo where the Yahoo content it self was OK, but several
> of the advertisments were blocked.
> For those interested, I've cached the image they used here:
> http://www.atsui.com/images/blocked.gif
> If there's such a thing, I'd call this more of a "responsible censorship".
> At least the user knows exactly what has happened rather than be left
> guessing...
> It would be nice to have a standardized way to reflect such a denial, so at
> least those organizations willing to be up-front about their filtering can
> return a status code that can be intercepted and dealt with by the user
> agent like other http error conditions. The approached detailed above is
> quite effective, but is only one example of how this is done.
> Toby.
> cooldude_pk@hotmail.com wrote:
> >hello,
> >I am from Pak
> >istan and i have to agree with Tex. sometimes it can get very fustrating
> when a site is blocked by the government, host, policies of even the
> >domain registrar without out prior knowledge. I causes the webmaster to go
> through hell trying to figure out whether the problem might not lie at his
> end.

Tex Texin   cell: +1 781 789 1898   mailto:Tex@XenCraft.com
Xen Master                          http://www.i18nGuy.com
XenCraft		            http://www.XenCraft.com
Making e-Business Work Around the World
Received on Monday, 9 December 2002 16:40:16 UTC

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