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PTA ‘erroneously’ blocked access to mainstream websites

Updated June 03, 2019

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PTA directed ISPs to block access to, among other websites, alibaba.com, bloomberg.com, buzzfeed.com and gsmarena.com. —Illustration by Hammad A Abbasi/File
PTA directed ISPs to block access to, among other websites, alibaba.com, bloomberg.com, buzzfeed.com and gsmarena.com. —Illustration by Hammad A Abbasi/File

ISLAMABAD: Users were denied access to several popular websites, including an online shopping platform, for nearly a week after the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) directed internet service providers (ISP) to block them.

On May 26, the PTA directed ISPs to block access to, among other websites, alibaba.com, bloomberg.com, buzzfeed.com and gsmarena.com, saying that they were hosting “unethical” content.

Buzzfeed.com is a popular media and entertainment website, bloomberg.com focuses on business and markets news, alibaba.com is an online shopping platform and gsmarena.com carries information on mobile phones.

When contacted, a customer service representative at Nayatel, a private ISP, told Dawn: “These websites have been blocked following directions from the PTA.”

Subscribers on Telenor and Zong had trouble accessing Buzzfeed, Bloomberg and Alibaba using their mobile phones, while some Ufone and Jazz subscribers were also unable to connect to them.

Most representatives within the mobile network industry were unaware, and seemed surprised when Dawn reached out to ask why their subscribers had not been able to access some of these websites for the last few days.

An official at Ufone suggested clearing one’s internet history or restarting devices and trying again, while an official at Telenor said the websites seemed to be restricted at the source.

“At first, I thought there was something wrong with my mobile phone. But then I could not access Buzzfeed at home for four days either,” said Nida Abbasi, who visits the entertainment website frequently.

Shehryar Saeed, who frequently uses Alibaba – especially to shop for toys for his children, also complained that he had not been able to connect to the online shopping platform.

Pakistan Telecommunication Company (PTCL) technical support confirmed that instructions were passed down by the PTA to block access to these websites.

“The directions actually come from the Ministry of Interior, which also identifies objectionable or controversial content posted on a particular website and tells the PTA to block it,” a member of PTCL’s technical support team said.

The PTA on Saturday night denied blocking access to these websites, saying that the authority has not issued any instructions to deny users access to bloomberg.com, alibaba.com or buzzfeed.com.

However, a list of several thousands of websites – available with Dawn – that ISPs have been directed to block access to included alibaba.com, bloomberg.com, buzzfeed.com and gsmarena.com.

Fresh directives were issued to the ISPs late Saturday night, after Dawn reached out to the PTA asked for more information on why the websites were not accessible.

In their directive, seen by Dawn, the PTA asked ISPs to unblock the aforementioned websites, which the authority said had been erroneously included on the list of websites hosting objectionable content that have been blocked by the authority.

Published in Dawn, June 3rd, 2019