Centre for Internet & Society

Results from a nation-wide empirical study on web censorship

Abstract: State authorities in India order domestic internet service providers (ISPs) to block access to websites and services. We developed a mobile application, CensorWatch, that runs network tests to study inconsistencies in how ISPs conduct censorship. We analyse the censorship of 10,372 sites, with measurements collected across 71 networks from 25 states in the country. We find that ISPs in India rely on different methods of censorship with larger ISPs utilizing methods that are harder to circumvent. By comparing blocklists and contextualising them with specific legal orders, we find concrete evidence that ISPs in India are blocking different websites and engaging in arbitrary blocking, in violation of Indian law.

The paper authored by Divyank Katira, Gurshabad Grover, Kushagra Singh and Varun Bansal appeared as part of the conference on Free and Open Communications on the Internet (FOCI '23) and can be accessed here.

The authors would like to thank Pooja Saxena and Akash Sheshadri for contributing to the visual design of Censorwatch; Aayush Rathi, Amber Sinha and Vipul Kharbanda for their valuable legal inputs; Internet Freedom Foundation for their support; ipinfo.io for providing free access to their data and services. The work was made possible because of research grants to the Centre for Internet and Society from the MacArthur Foundation, Article 19, the East-West Management Institute and the New Venture Fund. Gurshabad Grover’s contributions were supported by a research fellowship from the Open Tech Fund.

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