Technology that blocks LGBTI content online is putting people in danger

Two women who are censored thanks to Netsweeper is helping six countries block LGBTI content | Photo: All Out

Imagine if your government blocked all online content on LGBT+ issues, including life-saving information on HIV prevention.

It’s happening right now in countries like the United Arab Emirates thanks to a Canadian company called Netsweeper.

Online communities have become critical spaces for LGBT+ people, especially youth, to connect and find support.

This is particularly important in places where homosexuality is criminalized.

For the LGBTI individuals facing widespread persecution and discrimination in the six countries where Netsweeper’s services are in use, the technology is bad news.

An extensive report released by Canadian researchers from The Citizen Lab shows how Netsweeper’s software allows governments to filter out information on ‘Alternative Lifestyles.’

That includes a ‘full range of non-traditional sexual practices, interests and orientations.’

censored rainbow by netsweeper

Photo: All Out

Blocking more than just gay porn, Netsweeper blocks LGBTI support

The Citizen Lab report shows how Netsweeper’s technology labels non-pornographic LGBTI content as porn. It mistakes materials related to sexual health as adult content.

In other cases, countries are able to create custom blocking lists, allowing them to restrict access to LGBTI news websites.

Both All Out and Gay Star News have reached out to Netsweeper and received no satisfactory response.

So with R3D: Red en Defensa de los Derechos Digitales we at All Out have launched a petition asking the company to stop providing “LGBT+ censorship” filters.

More than 31,000 people have already joined the campaign.

In response, the Canadian government, which has provided financial support to Netsweeper in the past, agreed to review any additional funding. They will only give more if Netsweeper pledges to adjust their products.

They will have to comply with international guidelines.

Access forbidden to gay content All Out Netsweeper campaign

Photo: All Out

Canadian Government puts pressure on Netsweeper, but so can you

As a Canadian business, Netsweeper must comply with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

According to this agreement, companies have an independent responsibility to respect internationally recognized human rights, and that such responsibility exists “over and above compliance with national laws and regulations”.

However, by helping governments around the world censor LGBTI content, Netsweeper is doing precisely the opposite. Moreover, they are making it harder to counter the stigma around LGBTI people.

The technology is erasing online spaces where those conversations could start.

We at All Out will keep working to get Netsweeper in line. But your support can make a difference.

If you agree technology should not be used to violate rights or fuel discrimination, please add your name to the petition now.

Yuri Guaiana is a Senior Campaigns Manager with All Out.

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This Canadian company allegedly provides software to censor LGBTI content

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A Canadian tech company has come under fire for allegedly providing filtering software censoring LGBTI content to anti-LGBTI governments.

LGBTI advocacy group All Out has teamed up with Mexican organization R3D, which defends human rights in the digital world, to shed a light on the issue.

The two have joined forces to urge Canadian company Netsweeper to stop providing LGBTI censorship filters to homophobic governments. Moreover, the LGBTI group wants to ensure that tech companies don’t use such technologies to violate human rights.

The online petition

Activists started an online petition to put an end to this LGBTI-related content censorship. They addressed Perry J. Roach, Founder and Chief Executive Officer at Netsweeper Inc.

They also reached out to the Canadian government, which agreed to review their recommendations.

‘Helping countries like the UAE censor LGBTI content online, including life-saving information on HIV prevention, is a gross violation of international human rights guidelines,’ Senior Campaigns Manager at All Out Yuri Guaiana told Gay Star News.

‘We are glad the Canadian government agreed to review our recommendation that any additional financial support to Netsweeper will be made conditional on their commitment to human rights.’

Guaiana furthermore said that more than 27,000 people have signed the petition so far. They are asking Netsweeper to stop providing these filters censoring content identified as ‘Alternative Lifestyles’.

‘We’ll keep demanding that,’ Guaiana also added.

Netsweeper has faced criticism in the past

This is not the first time Netsweeper has faced criticism.

Last year, Citizen Lab, a security and human rights research group run out of the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto, published a report on the use of Netsweeper in 10 countries cited for systematic human rights problems. They analyzed activities in countries such as Afghanistan, Bahrain, India, Kuwait, Pakistan, Qatar, Somalia, Sudan, UAE, and Yemen.

‘Netsweeper’s services can easily be abused to help facilitate draconian controls on the public sphere by stifling access to information and freedom of expression,’ said Ronald Deibert, who runs Citizen Lab.

How does it work?

The report also explains how the technology provided by Netsweeper works.

The software blocks Google searches for LGBTI-related keywords and non-pornographic websites by mischaracterizing them as sexually explicit.

GSN has reached out to Netsweeper for comment.

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