Update [22/08/2012 15:09] Some three hours after this article was published, Airtel has unblocked the youtu.be domain and also removed the keyword filters. That was quick but does it mean that they were blocking the domains without getting any court order? →
India has recently requested websites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to remove pages that contain “inflammatory and hateful content” as these may have been used for spreading rumors in the country that resulted in the exodus of thousands of people from Bangalore and other Indian cities.
India has also placed a temporary ban on sending of bulk text messages (you cannot send more than 5 SMS per day) to contain the spread of rumors in the country.
Visitors to the YouTu.ce website in India are greeted with this page.
Youtu.be Blocked in India
It is not exactly known which pages have been blocked in India following the recent events but at least one website that has been completely blocked in the country is youtu.be which is the short domain for YouTube.com. The main YouTube website isn’t blocked but the Indian court has ordered ISPs to block all youtu.be/* URLs possibly because these short URLs were used for sharing “inflammatory” videos on Twitter and Facebook.
Such a ban can however be easily circumvented by replacing youtu.be in the URL with youtube.com/watch?v= as shown below:
http://youtu.be/videoID [Blocked] http://youtube.com/watch?v=videoID [Accessible]
Airtel Implements Keyword Based Filtering
Indian ISP Airtel has taken an extreme step to comply with the court order.
They have implemented keyword based URL filtering and are blocking all web pages that contain youtu.be anywhere in the URL. For instance, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Youtu.be is blocked and so is labnol.org/what-is-youtu.be (a non-existent page).
In fact, I could not publish this article to my blog because the HTTP POST request had the string “youtu.be” and Airtel filters would block it everytime I hit the publish button. As a workaround, I replaced all youtu.be instances in the story with youtu.xe before publishing and then used MySQL queries to directly update the database.
Indian ISPs are famous for reading too much into these court orders around blocking. When India asked ISPs to block a couple of Blogspot blogs in 2006, they blacklisted the *.blogspot.com domain itself thus blocking access to all blogs in India.