The Commission for the Protection of Minors in the Media (KJM) of the German media authorities has ordered the blocking of the popular online platform xHamster, which had been under threat for months. According to the commission, German Internet providers should block access to the website because the platform doesn’t comply with German requirements for the protection of minors. The fact that several providers want to challenge the directive in court further illustrates how questionable the decision is.
Shortly after the KJM’s decision to censor xHamster nationwide, the provider PŸUR filed a public objection and announced that it would have the authority’s order reviewed by an independent court. From the provider’s perspective, several questions are being raised, including with regard to the principle of net neutrality.
It looks like the company is not alone in this. The largest German providers, Telekom, Vodafone, 1&1 and Telefonica have all announced their intention to review the blocking order.
Even the conservative newspaper FAZ notes that network blocks are not only unpopular, but could with some justification be seen as censorship.
The KJM’s blocking order was the result of a campaign coordinated by the head of the North Rhine-Westphalia State Media Authority, Tobias Schmid, who pursued it over many months despite massive opposition. In some international media, Schmid’s actions have been described as a “one-man war on pornography.”
The whole action against a single company seems not only questionable, but also pointless in terms of actual real life consequences. xHamster also sees it that way. A spokesperson for the platform told dpa that the network block imposed by Schmid is extremely pointless. After all, the supposedly protected young people can simply switch to other international sites and platforms and be exposed to far more extreme content there.
The company also says that it is prepared to cooperate. If the requirements apply to all firms in the industry, the company wants to comply with the KJM’s stipulations immediately. At present, however, the company sees itself as the scapegoat of a private vendetta by the head of the regulatory agency, which is apparently overstepping its guidelines.
On the other hand, observers suspect that the KJM will also take a look at other platforms and providers, and that the action against xHamster could merely be a first step.
However, the pointlessness of the agency’s approach is not only shown by the fact that any blocks are easy to circumvent with VPN providers that disguise the end user’s IP. Moreover, the blocking is only directed against individual domain names.
xHamster can therefore still be accessed under alternative domains such as xHamster2.com or xHamster.desi even if the providers block xhamster.com. For each additional domain, the KJM would have to initiate a new procedure. The whole thing seems to be not only a harassment against a single company, but plainly useless. A sad joke of governmental incompetence, as it unfortunately happens time and time again in Germany.