As I noted in yesterday’s post, web filtering is increasingly being looked to by governments worldwide as a viable solution for dealing with unlawful and/or unwanted content on the web. In a number of countries including Saudi Arabia, Australia and China, various types of web filtering techniques are being either used or trialed, in order to prohibit access to specific websites and domains. For those of us who oppose such filtering on the grounds that it limits both free speech and open access to information, this is a deeply troubling trend. Even more troubling, however, is the fact that it’s not always clear where in the world web filtering is taking place. Some governments have tested or even implemented such systems without informing the public, forcing many of us to resort to guesswork when trying to determine where and how the web is being filtered.
Herdict Web, a new web-based tool from the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet and Society, aims to solve this problem. Using the magic of crowdsourcing, Herdict (a portmanteau of “herd” and “verdict”) collects and aggregates reports submitted by users around the globe, in order to create a map of where in the world sites are either blocked or otherwise inaccessible. The resulting data will tell us a lot about how and why site outages occur on the web and as an added bonus, will likely generate a far more complete picture of the extent of web filtering around the globe.
To contribute to the Herdict project, simply head over to the site’s “Participate” section, where you can either help test domains that have recently been reported as inaccessible or conduct a new test. They’ve also got a Firefox plug-in, which allows users to contribute information to Herdict as they’re browsing the web and encounter inaccessible sites.
A quick glance at the “Herdometer”–a Herdict/Google Maps mashup that maps data from the herd onto a world map–reveals that Herdict doesn’t yet have a lot of information in its database. Given that the site puts reporting tools into the hands of users, however, I imagine that it won’t be long before it becomes an indispensable instrument for tracking web filtering as it happens.