84,000 Filter Hits: I Call Bullshit

Some interesting numbers have emerged in the last couple of days in regards to the the “voluntary” filter applied to internet connections by four of Australia’s biggest service providers – in this instance from Telstra, the nation’s largest.

“Telstra has redirected internet users that try to access child abuse materials more than 84,000 times since a voluntary filter program was enacted in July.”

Straight up, I call bullshit on this statement. I believe it will actually be more accurate to say that there have been 84,000 hits against the blacklist – not attempts to “access child abuse materials”.

The concept of “hits” is an interesting one. When you visit a webpage, you initially hit open the source code of that page.

One hit.

As your browser parses the information it finds in that source code, it discovers that it needs to load an image file.

Another hit.

Then another image file. Another hit.

Then an embedded script. Another hit. That script file parses as well, and it generates a bunch more hits. Hit. Hit. Hit. Hit.

Now it’s back to the original source file, and more images need to be loaded. Hit. Hit. Hit.

You’re getting the idea, right?

For example, visiting my terms and conditions page generates at least 31 hits, after all the images, scripts, and other bits and pieces are loaded.

Visiting The Age main page generates a couple of hundred hits each time.

Traditionally, porn sites are riddled with advertising, tracking scripts, and of course – images. Don’t be surprised if a typical single page is responsible for at least 200 hits being generated against the site.

If that site is on the “worst of the worst” list being used for this “voluntary” filter, every single one of those hits might well be counted towards this mythical number of 84,000.

Doing some simple mathematics, I will be generous and say the average typical porn page generates 150 hits. We take 84,000, and divide by those 150 hits.

That’s 560 – and therefore I believe maybe only as few as 560 pages requested. Since July. Spread over how many Telstra users? Thousands and thousands, and very few per user.

Now – I can already hear people jumping up and down and saying “if the filter blocks the original page, then the rest of the hits would never happen”.

They would be absolutely correct.

However, cross-site embedding of images – (where images hosted by one site, are loaded from another and often called “deep linking”) – is common amongst such sites, so if the original source page is not blocked – (and it is trivial and very low cost to register a new domain name, and have a blocked site back up and running within minutes) – images from blocked sites may still be attempted to be loaded, generating blocked requests against the filter.

The bottom line is that it is really hard to tell EXACTLY what’s going on, as there are so many different technical possibilities, but the number will NOT be 84,000.

Stephen Conroy will of course latch onto it to demonstrate how “successful” this filter has been.

Ultimately, even if the number is as high as 84,000, it is probably only a drop in the ocean of total number of requests for this material – given the filter is trivial to bypass.

The knuckle-dragging perverts who want to access this deplorable material are doing exactly that – completely bypassing it.

The 84,000 are probably from people who have inadvertently clicked on something, or more likely, been browser jacked.

A filter does nothing to stop the people who want to access this material from accessing it, and it certainly does not stop children from being abused in its production. Most of this material is not even distributed via websites, and therefore have nothing to do with the filter anyway.

So why is the government proposing to spend millions of dollars a year implementing it on a national level? The answer is that most people don’t understand the technical realities, and they are just playing popular politics.

Child porn and the websites and other internet services that distribute it are disgusting, but what is even more disgusting is that we’re going to spend a whole bunch of money on it, it won’t achieve a thing, and the government would have you believe that they’ve done something about it.

That’s the most disgusting part of it all.