UAE Seeks Feedback On Flickr Filtering

In an unprecedented move, the Telecommunications and Regulatory Authority (TRA) of the UAE is giving users the opportunity to submit feedback over the blocking a number of sites, including Flickr. Internet Service Provider (ISP) du, followed larger ISP Etisalat last year in blocking "offensive" sites, including Skype, a number of blogs, and information on the Dutch anti-Islam film Fitna. Users are greeted with the following text upon attempting to access such sites:

The Internet offers us a great opportunity to communicate, share knowledge and do good.
Unfortunately, the website you are trying to access has content that might hurt the religious, cultural, and moral sentiments of our fellow users in the UAE.

Until recently, however, du had not followed suit in blocking Flickr, stipulating concerns about technical difficulties. The TRA is seeking feedback on what level of filtering, if any, would be appropriate for Flickr and other blocked sites.

The vast majority of photos on Flickr are appropriate for all ages, and underage users are only shown photos marked "safe for all ages" (though the age limit is certainly easy to circumvent). Flickr users say that there are artistic nude photos on the site, which may have been construed as pornography by the filters.

Flickr has faced controversy before. One user's account was suspended after he posted a photograph of a child smoking a cigarette (the photo, taken in Romania, showed a young street boy smoking; the photographer did not ask the child to smoke). Another controversy involved Flickr restricting photos marked "adult" to all users in Germany, due to their strict laws involving minor access to websites.

Only time will tell what users will decide, or whether or not the TRA will actually listen to them, but one thing is for certain: While it's nearly impossible to determine the number of Flickr users in the UAE, there are over 120,000 photos geotagged there (by comparison, there are fewer than 5,000 tagged in Sweden, a country which has nearly 5 million more residents), many of which can be attributed to residents, rather than tourists.

Although the UAE's political filtering is minimal compared to "internet enemies" such as Saudi Arabia and Syria, its social filtering scheme is pervasive, blocking out a vast number of sites related to sex and sexuality, LGBT issues, alcohol, and gambling. The UAE also blocks more innocuous sites, including portions of Facebook and MySpace, as well as a number of blogs.