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Wikipedia article censored in U.K. for the first time

ISPs block access to article with controversial image; users also unable to edit other entries

By Jeremy Kirk
December 8, 2008 12:00 PM ET

IDG News Service - For the first time, U.K. Internet service providers have censored a Wikipedia article, one that includes an album cover image of a naked and possibly underage girl.

An unintended side effect of the block left U.K. users of the online encyclopedia unable to edit other articles, Wikimedia said.

The article concerns the album Virgin Killer by German band The Scorpions. The record's cover photo has generated controversy ever since it was released in 1976.

The Web site address of the article was added to a blacklist published by the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), a nonprofit group that works with law enforcement to block and remove child pornography from Web sites.

Some 95% of U.K. ISPs use IWF's blacklist, although nonresidential Internet connections are not affected, according to the Wikimedia Foundation.

Adding the article to the blacklist caused service providers to route Wikipedia traffic through a proxy server, resulting in Wikipedia being unable to distinguish U.K. users from one another by their IP address. That triggered Wikipedia's anti-abuse mechanism, blocking all nonregistered U.K. users from editing articles, according to the foundation.

Two major U.K. ISPs, BT PLC and Virgin Media, maintain that the image should be removed from the Wikipedia entry because it has been classified as illegal by law enforcement authorities in the U.K.

Virgin Media funnels traffic from domains with pages listed on IWF's blacklist through a transparent proxy server, which blocks the offending pages, according to a spokesman for the ISP. He said that Wikipedia appears to be blocking edits from people trying to access its domain through the proxy server.

Although the proxy server transmits the actual IP addresses of users, Wikipedia's systems appear to be looking at the proxy server's IP address only and denying editing access based on that, the Virgin Media spokesman said. Access could possibly be enabled if Wikipedia changed its system configuration, he added.

Wikipedia does use software called MediaWiki, which can interpret X-Forwarded-For (XFF) headers and pick out real IP addresses instead of proxy ones, said Mathias Schindler, a founding member of Wikipedia Germany and a volunteer member of the Wikimedia Foundation's communications committee.

Reprinted with permission from IDG.net. Story copyright 2014 International Data Group. All rights reserved.
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