As the debate around the proposed Great Firewall of Australia censorship scheme in Australia continues, the Government's long awaited censorship trial is due to begin shortly.
While some ISP's are participating only to prove that the filter is flawed, it's the testing procedure itself where things are completely wrong. The number of sites to be filtered in the trial: 10,000.
While 10,000 may be 10,000 too many, it's also no where near close to how many sites the filter will have to block to comply with the Government's guidelines.
We know that among other "unwanted" things, the following falls into the censorship regime: porn, R rated games, certain types of political speech (for example discussion of methods of euthanasia) and possibly copyrighted content.
We can't count every category, in part because we simply don't know exactly how the Government will define what stays and what gets blocked, but we can estimate block rates for porn, because we know R and X rated porn (R Rated stays only with strict age verification, which 99.99% of sites won't meet) is out.
According to Netcraft, there was 182,226,259 sites online in October 2008. "Active" sites (not defined) come in at around 73.6 million.
Estimates of the number of porn sites online vary from 1% through to a massive 35% of all sites online. The most common figure used is 12% (one ref, but common figure)
12% of pages to be blocked by the Great Firewall of Australia would total:
All sites: 21,867,151"Active" sites: 9.12 million (est).
Even if we take the minimum figure of 1%
All sites: 1,822,263"Active" sites: 736,000 (est)
Do any of these figures sounding anything close to 10,000 sites?
I'm told that the more sites listed on a blacklist, the slower the filter becomes because each website requested must be checked against the list. 10,000 sites vs 21.9 million: there is no way the trials can give a representative result of what the implementation of the Great Firewall will do for internet speeds in Australia.
The Government may well say in response that they will not be filtering that many sites, and that may be the case. But if true, how will the firewall be effective if some sites are blacklisted, and others aren't? And that's ignoring finer points like the filter not blocking non-web content, and only maybe blocking P2P, but with filtering technology in its infancy.
The stupidity of this plan goes from bad to worse. If this does occur, god help everyone in Australia, because we might be returning to internet speeds closer to dialup than our already sorry excuse for broadband.
And a little perspective: the number of sites blocked in Iran is said to be up to 20 million, and the figure isn't known for China (and censorship isn't centralized there to complicate things) it is believed to be at a similar level. Soon we'll be adding Australia to the list.
(image via Queen of the Desert on Flickr).