AT&T Blocks (then Unblocks) img.4chan.org

This morning NCAC woke up to a mailbox full of hundreds of complaints against AT&T’s blocking access to img.4chan.org. The mass outrage over AT&T’s action had by that time also reached the company and led to the rapid unblocking of the site. AT&T denied any attempt to censor based on content and issued the following statement justifying the block as a response to a DDOS attack:

Beginning Friday, an AT&T customer was impacted by a denial-of-service attack stemming from IP addresses connected to img.4chan.org. To prevent this attack from disrupting service for the impacted AT&T customer, and to prevent the attack from spreading to impact to our other customers, AT&T temporarily blocked access to the IP addresses in question for our customers. This action was in no way related to the content at img.4chan.org; our focus was on protecting our customers from malicious traffic. Overnight Sunday, after we determined the denial-of-service threat no longer existed, AT&T removed the block on the IP addresses in question. We will continue to monitor for denial-of-service activity and any malicious traffic to protect our customers.

DDOS attacks are a frequent occurrence, however, and AT&T has not previously blocked access to sites in response. Besides, such an attack occupies a tiny fraction of the total bandwidth through the AT&T network and is unlikely to affect it very much. As a result, an inevitable suspicion arises that it was img.4chan.org’s content that made the corporation act in this case. 4chan.org, a gathering place for pranksters, is infamous for starting internet memes (like lolcats, the “Chocolate Rain” video), largely from mockery and derision, which becomes firestorm intense, and spreads to other discussion groups. Members also formulate and drive targeted harassment campaigns. Predictably, the 4chan.org pranksters immediately launched an attack on AT&T – which might have been one of the reasons the company unblocked the site.

The larger issue here is the possibility that a corporation can block or censor websites at will. Can AT&T do that legally? According to Central Gadget it cannot:

Under the FCC’s Comcast/BitTorrent ruling, Internet Service Providers may only slow or cap connection speeds. They are not allowed to block any service or protocol on the internet. Here, 4chan as a web site appears to fall under an internet service, but it is also conforming to standard web page protocols. It appears AT&T does not have the legal right to block 4chan, only to cap customers who are “abusing” their access to the internet.

And, as we have seen in this case, even before any legal action, the angry calls of netroots activists are a very effective weapon against corporate censorship of the Internet. Still, legislation has an important role to play in this, especially as it sorts out net neutrality, the belief that ISPs should not be allowed to block or slow down traffic to any Website. The FCC is currently in the process of adopting a national broadband strategy, during which the fate of Net neutrality could be decided. It’s far from certain that net neutrality will become government policy either, despite widespread support from the public.

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11 Responses to AT&T Blocks (then Unblocks) img.4chan.org

  1. Avic says:

    I am glad to see the NCAC taking a stance on this. The public needs to be made aware of this. AT&T violated the principle of net neutrality, completely blocking access to img.4chan.org. This action is in contradiction to the spirit of a country such as ours, where access to information is seen not as a commodity, but as our right as American citizens. I am personally appalled that a company that specifically stated in the merger agreement submitted to the FCC that allowed it to become the largest ISP in the country that it would not do anything like this has reneged on its commitment to its customers and to the nation, six months after the expiration of that clause. The timing on this couldn’t be better. AT&T has decided to see exactly where its limits are now that it is no longer bound by that agreement.

  2. wj says:

    I don’t understand how a DDoS of a website can affect a user’s access to the entire internet. Also, this is not the first time 4chan has been DDoS’d, so why is it the first time anyone has blocked access to the site?

    Doesn’t add up…

  3. come on people says:

    Listen… 4chan’s owner moot, even admits that in the process to stop the SYN attack, 4chan redirected traffic back out on the internet, this had an impact on some of AT&T’s customers that called and complained.

    http://status.4chan.org/index.html#2174049422947602936

    For the past three weeks, 4chan has been under a constant DDoS attack. We were able to filter this specific type of attack in a fashion that was more or less transparent to the end user.

    Unfortunately, as an unintended consequence of the method used, some Internet users received errant traffic from one of our network switches. A handful happened to be AT&T customers.

    This was NOT some censorship conspiracy.

  4. garfalk says:

    what i love the most, is that the service reps either LIED to us, or had no idea. i’m really hoping it’s the latter, because companies lying is almost as bad as censorship.

  5. Anon says:

    Glad to hear you take a strong stance on this. What AT&T did was illegal.

    Even if the block is lifted and it only lasted for ~24 hours, what was done is still illegal. The duration of time does not change the fact that it is a criminal act of censorship.

    Also, I contacted AT&T’s tier-2 tech support management about this multiple times, and they lied to my face and told me that the the problem was at 4chan’s end and not AT&T’s. I also have several conversations saved with AT&T’s lower-level online tech support in which they ALSO lied to me.

    “I understand your concern and I would like to inform you that AT&T do not block any web site. Also this is a known issue and AT&T has confirmed that this is not the issue from AT&T’s end.”

    “It is only from the Web site server end as AT&T has already confirmed.
    Sir, If we would have blocked any web sites than we surely had informed you, but this issue is not from the AT&T, it might be temporary server issue with that web site.”

    My faith in them goes downhill — not only did they censor the internet, they apparently directed all of their employees to lie about it. Smooth.

    • Avic says:

      Sorry to say, mate, but what was done legal, at least for now. In January 2007, a bill was introduced that would have made this action illegal. Our president was one of the co-sponsors of that bill, and the Democratic Party in general was the impetus behind it. I hope that this will bring this egregious violation of the rights of 15% of the internet-using American public to the attention of toe congressional Commerce, Science, and Transportation committee members as soon as possible, and (whether through modification of the bill introduced two years ago or through the authorship of a new bill) attempt to safeguard our right, the right of every American citizen to unfettered internet access, free from the censorship that could eventually lead to an Orwellian megacorporation controlling what we can and cannot see. If our elected government has seen fit not to violate net neutrality, the corporations we pay for internet access surely have no right. Please do everything in your power to remind them of this.

  6. B. says:

    I’m glad that this issue was resolved so quickly. It’s almost terrifying to imagine what would have happened if AT&T got away with this.

    Thank you to the NCAC for their quick response.

  7. ace says:

    And once again, it NEVER fails with the incessant lying, as lying is a way of life for these hacker creeps. I salute AT&T for blocking viruses, trojans and nasty spider scripts, as that is what the REAL truth is as to WHY AT&T has flashed the middle finger [blocked] to 4 Chan. Why should AT&T waste time and energy in dealing with viruses, trojans and uncontrollable script programs emanating from the 4 Chan site?

    I don’t condone censorship and I certainly don’t condone lies “in the name of lulz”. The only thing 4 Chan has proven again and again, is that they are infantile and violent. A bunch of two year olds who go on tirades. And just like an out of control two year old, they need some REAL hard slaps from the school of hard knocks.

    Any consequences or denial of internet access to AT&T customers due to NAZI actions emanating from 4 Chan [or any other hacker creeps for that matter], I pray that they are caught, rounded up, prosecuted beyond the extent of the law, thrown in a windowless cell and locked up forever until the day they die.

    I commend AT&T for taking the step forward and I sincerely hope that other ISP’S follow suit ASAP. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH. Hackers cause destruction, chaos, waste everyones time and energy. Normal people on the net are SICK AND TIRED of these two year old tantrum antics that 4 Chan displays on a daily basis. These hacker creeps really and truly need to GROW THE F*** UP.

    • Avic says:

      Sorry to hear that you are so misinformed. Only about 10-25% of the fan base of 4chan is the negative hacker stereotype you mentioned in your post. Blocking the legitimate use of a website for all members due to the actions of a few of the members is not appropriate. Imagine if a few ex-convicts moved into your neighborhood, and the city evicted you and rest of the block to kick out those criminals. Now, even though only a small portion is the real issue, the larger innocent population has suffered.

      Also, allowing one site, even if it was 100% malicious, only sets a precedent to allow the blocking of all websites eventually. Hopefully this is an eye-opener for you.

  8. Pingback: High school student sues Amazon for deleting 1984 from Kindle « Blogging Censorship

  9. bypass says:

    i’ll back to read it … thanks anyway

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