Popular site "Tagged" Blocked in Qatar

According to one user of Qatar Living, popular site "Tagged" has been blocked by QTEL, which operates in 17 countries and is currently Qatar's only Internet service provider (Vodafone has also been given a license and will begin service soon, according to ictQatar, the country's regulatory body).

The blogger who first noticed the blocking also notes that Tagged is blocked in a number of other countries (including Syria). The story was also covered on Global Voices Online, where a reader commented that QTEL had issued a statement regarding its decision:

"Qtel Update on Community Internet Safety Policy

Decision to Block Specific Social Networking Site in Line with Culture of Qatar and Expectations of Customers

Doha, Qatar

Qtel today provided an update on its Community Internet Safety Policy, following the decision over the weekend to block a specific social networking site within Qatar.

In its role as a licensed Internet Service Provider (ISP) and in response to customer requests, Qtel has a clear policy that aims to prevent damage to the values of the community from harmful material on websites. This policy has received strong support from the local community and ongoing market research shows that families and residents in Qatar overwhelmingly prefer there to be safeguards in place against illegal, pornographic and socially-harmful material.

Outside of these areas, Qtel aims to provide full access to customers to lawful content and to enable them to run applications and services. It has even worked with the operators of a number of popular social networking sites to ensure that its advanced technology interacts effectively with the filters developed by the site owners.

For example, Qtel’s Internet Safety technology has been aligned with the filter technology of the world’s most popular video sharing site, so that Qatar-based customers can access everything apart from material that is tagged as inappropriate content.

In the case of the social networking site blocked over the weekend, because there was insufficient classification or tagging available within this site to selectively apply filters only for inappropriate content, and following a number of complaints from the public, the decision was made to block the site.

Adel Al Mutawa, Executive Director, Group Communications, said: “The decision to block a site is never taken lightly, and we conduct thorough investigations upon receiving requests from the public. In this instance, because it was proving impossible to separate the legitimate from the potentially harmful, and because we saw the potential for damage – particularly to young people – we made the decision to block the site.”

“Qtel believes it has a duty of care to the community, and we will continue to uphold the Internet community safety policy. We will review decisions to block sites on a case-by-case basis, and will use the advanced technology at our disposal to ensure a balance between Internet access-for-all and community values,” he added.

Given the complexity and size of the internet, and the potential for illicit sites to attempt to disguise harmful material, Qtel is aware of cases where legitimate sites have been accidentally blocked. Internet end users who feel a site has been blocked unfairly can contact help@isp.qa and request a review of the decision.

Equally, community members who feel a specific site contains harmful material can contact the same address with a request to review.

Qtel continues to enhance the process of community internet safety in collaboration with the regulator, ictQatar, and is keen to encourage enhanced transparency and consumer welfare across this process."