How can a site like Outoilet, targeting South African schoolchildren, hide behind the distance and anonymity of a Russian host? ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK explains.
The Outoilet chat portal reflects the very worst of South African society. Yet, it resides on a server somewhere in Russia.
Its host is an innocent-sounding mobile content server called WAP Explorers Network, or WEN, hosted in Russia. The owners of WEN may not even know what content Outoilet carries, since they define themselves as a hands-off service provider, allowing anyone to create a content or chat site for free. In turn, they allow the sites to be accessed from cellphones anywhere in the world. The cellphones need only be WAP-enabled, which covers more than two-thirds of the phones in the South African market.
The creator of a WAP site on WEN is allowed to remain anonymous. The registration process merely requires an e-mail address, which can in turn be set up on any other free web-based mail service. As they explain on their site, in English:
‚Our service is a system, that allows you to make rather powerful and functional WAP-sites directly from your mobile phone absolutely free-of-charge! Site builder supports creation and edition of WML pages, color HTML and xHTML pages. You may also create and edit JPG, GIF, PNG and WBMP pictures, create GIF-animations. Besides, you don’t need any special knowledge in site building …‚
The creator of Outoilet only needed to sign on anonymously as a site builder, create the chat rooms, generate the traffic, and make ad space available to international online advertising networks, who are concerned only with how many eyeballs view an ad, and not the context of the ad.
And traffic came in droves. According to visualizetraffic.com, outoilet received around 50 000 visitors a day. South Africa accounted for just under 10% of these visitors, just behind the Russia Federation (11.8%). Most visitors to the site, however, came from Indonesia (28.2%) and India (13.4%).
Further, ‚The average Outoilet.wen.ru visitor visits about 4.9 pages before leaving again, this means that their servers handle about 251,968 page views per day and a total of 3 page views per second.‚
But according to the hosts, the site should not even be the free-for-all it had become.
The dozen or so terms and conditions of WEN are in Russian. The second of these may seem relevant (translated from Russian): ‚The content of sites is not censored by the Administration of WEN.RU before posting on the Internet. Validation is performed only after receiving complaints about a particular site. If the complaint is legitimate, it could be followed by complete removal of the site.‚
However, previous complaints have resulted in no action on the part of WEN, despite number 4 stating: ‚The site owner undertakes not to use the services WEN.RU for purposes contrary to the Russian and Ukrainian legislation, as well as international law.‚
Moreover, Condition # 9 states: ‚STRICTLY FORBIDDEN: sites containing child pornography, as well as any methods of its promotion (links and text that even hints at it) … For non-compliance with these requirements, the site may be deleted without notice and irrevocably, and data about the owner may be referred to the appropriate authorities to open a criminal case.‚
Now that the site has been blocked by South Africa’s two largest mobile networks, is the threat over? Hardly. The WEN.ru service has already made it possible for alternatives to emerge, such as umgosi and empchat. World Wide Worx will attempt to engage with the site owners to address all of these avenues of violation of children’s rights. At the very least, what had been a 6-lane highway of abuse can be reduced to a side alley.
¬∑ Follow Arthur Goldstuck on Twitter on @art2gee
See also: How Outoilet was taken out