Microsoft blocks free software site for gambling

Updated on: 2012-06-25 || Source: bbc.com

Microsoft has wrongly categorised a webpage that lets people donate cash to the Free Software Foundation (FSF) as being involved in gambling.

The mistake means the site is blocked by security tools Microsoft provides to many of its biggest customers.

The block emerged after a developer at one of those customers tried to donate cash to help the FSF's founder after he was mugged in Argentina.

The FSF said the block meant it was being deprived of funds.

Microsoft has yet to respond to the criticism or explain why the site was flagged as being involved in "gambling".

News about the block came to light on the Reddit social news website when a user noticed that his corporate firewall was blocking access to the FSF's donation page.

The user wanted to give cash to the FSF after hearing that its president Richard Stallman had had his bag stolen in Argentina. Mr Stallman's wallet, medicine and laptop were taken in the theft.

The Free Software Foundation campaigns to promote the idea that people should be free to use, create and modify software.

When the Reddit user investigated, he found his employer was using Microsoft's Threat Management Gateway to filter the websites visited by workers. The primary FSF donation page was blocked, said the gateway, because it had been flagged as a gambling site.

John Sullivan, executive director of the FSF, criticised the blocking in a blogpost saying that any tool which cannot discriminate between gambling sites and "an independently audited registered non-profit public-interest charity founded almost 30 years ago" was likely to be doing its users more harm than good.

Many people had been unable to make donations as a result of the block, he added.

Mr Sullivan has submitted a correction and asked that the site be re-labelled as a non-profit or NGO.

"We will avoid attributing this error to malice just yet, and wait for their correction," he wrote.

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