Internet blocking and its effect on VoIP traffic

VoIP internet censorship

Internet shutdowns

With news this month that Turkish authorities blocked access to both Twitter and YouTube in part of their crackdown on subversive social media activities, it continued a worrying trend of governments blocking access to Internet services in an attempt to quell the rapid spread of criticism.

While Turkey’s actions are not particularly noteworthy in the grand scheme of Internet blocking by governments, it is the first time an associate country and potential future member of the EU has behaved in such a way.

Mainstream media concentrate on the blocking of well known web sites but did you know that many areas are also blocking voice over IP (VoIP) services such as Skype and Apple’s facetime meaning sometimes the only way to communicate is the ‘old fashioned’ way – by telephone.

The good news is as Buzz Conferencing is entirely telephone based, your conference call will work without problems.

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Internet censorship is nothing new across the globe, with both Eritrea and North Korea unsurprisingly leading the league table for online censorship closely followed by Saudi Arabia.

Only last year, North Korea took their attempts at censorship to new heights when they were heavily suspected of instigating the online attacks on Sony Entertainment due to their anger at an upcoming film release poking fun at the PRK regime.

The resulting leaked e-mails eventually say Amy Pascal stepping down from her position as head of Sony Pictures. While the scale and impact of North Korea’s actions are unprecedented, nation states have long been accused of targeting both foreign governments and international corporations. No country more so than China.

The Chinese government has some of the strictest controls on Internet usage and employ huge resources into the control and monitoring of all online behavior.

At the last available count, the Chinese Internet police force numbered two million staff members; resulting in Amnesty International to report that China has more imprisoned journalists and cyber-dissidents than anywhere else in the world, with crimes ranging from signing online petitions to calling for reform or pointing out corruption.

Interestingly, the huge range of blocked websites in China have allowed certain companies to grow massively, unencumbered by foreign competition, the Alibaba group has grown into one of the largest e-commerce sites in the world, recently recording over $9 billion of sales in a single day.

Internet censorship is the west is nothing new either, most western countries at a minimum block access to websites containing child pornography and terrorism related content.

However, pressure from Hollywood studios and record labels have seen countries, particularly the UK, block access to several websites suspected of linking to material infringing copyright.

While there can be no argument on the legality of copyright infringement it is a worrying precedent that outside commercial factors can so easily alter the landscape of a country’s internet use, especially when the EU does not consider the act of linking to material an infringement of copyright law.

In essence, the UK government due to the business interests of overseas companies has blocked several websites operating completely within the law.

Equally France has been listed on the watch list of Reporters without Borders for heavy-handed treatment of online investigators and journalists, introducing some rather broadly worded legislation covering Internet access that could easily be interpreted many ways to suit a myriad of agendas.

While the United Kingdom remains the only EU country to be placed on Reporters Without Borders enemies of the Internet list, France is likely to soon join them, moving up from the ‘under surveillance’ list.

A free and open Internet?

While not censorship in the traditional sense, the growing lobbying in the US and across the EU for a change to the current system of net neutrality poses the biggest threat to an open Internet.

In essence, this would see ISP’s have the power to decide which websites load quickest, which websites are accessible and which websites are not.

Aside from the huge freedom of speech issues this throws up, it would most certainly hurt small businesses and severely impede smaller enterprise with few but the huge corporate presences being able to afford to compete.

From a business point of view, the spread of online censorship should cause alarm. Regardless of the size of the company or product your business relies on online, no one is immune to governmental shutdown – see Google’s adventure in China and Hong Kong to find out how precarious the relationship can be.

If you are relying heavily on certain online sources for the running of your business, you need to be aware that you could find yourself very quickly shut out of one or more markets, unable to communicate easily with clients and colleagues in an instant.

Obviously a solid, reliable call conferencing service negates this and will keep your business running smoothly regardless of outside influences.

One thing is clear, the face of the Internet is constantly changing, how we engage online is completely different from ten years ago and who knows what the next 10 will bring.