3 August 2012

London Olympics Strengthen Online Border Enforcement


The London Olympics really insists that I not be allowed to understand their site. And they have employed a next-generation border enforcement technology to make certain that I remain ignorant of the games.

I live in London, England, and I understand that there is some sort of sporting event taking place in London this week. In common with many of our fellow Londoners, my wife and I decided to use this opportunity to take a vacation - far away from London. So we gave our apartment to an old American friend who is interested in the Olympics (and has event tickets) and travelled to France instead.

Now to our borders story.

Although we decided to run away from London for a few weeks, we still want to keep in touch with some Olympic news. Various Facebook friends have posted links to results on the official site: http://www.london2012.com. But every time I attempt to click on any reference to this site, I am instantly re-directed to the French version URL: http://fr.london2012.com/fr/. One of my regrets in life is that I do not speak French. (I rely on my wife's considerable language skills for this.) But because I am currently geo-located in France, I appear to have no option but to learn the language.

So far, this is a pretty routine "Internet Borders" stuff: my geo-location results in involuntary redirection of my web browser to geo-localised content. But this is where things get REALLY interesting.

In common with other people who encounter unwanted Internet Border enforcement, I decided to try to sneak around the border. I switched on one of the most common Internet Border "smuggling" technologies today: a VPN. In my case, I switched on my account connected to a VPN that is geo-located in the UK. Under normal circumstances, I would expect the source web site (London2012) to assume that my traffic was originating in the place of the VPN infrastructure - the UK.

But no! Faster than I could say "voila", I was once again instantly kicked over to http://fr.london2012.com/fr/. (And by the way, I mean FAST. Whoever provisioned the system seems to have put a lot of resource behind it.)

So it appears that someone at London2012.com has decided to employ a sort of "anti-VPN" border enforcement technology, and I am once again navigating through the thickets of l'lanuage fran├žaises.

I would love it if some of my network guru friends could explain how this anti-VPN enforcement solution works.

(P.S. I notice that Blogger now gives me the option to report my Location in post. OK, I'm game. But this is an approximation - not the actual address of my holiday home, so please don't try to knock on my door.)

UPDATE (5 Aug 2012)

Following investigation suggested by a few friends, the cause of the heavier enforcement appears to have been a persistent cookie that had been placed on my machine a few days before. Because I was in France when accessing originally, I was diverted to the French site. Because I was on the French site, the persistent cookie appears to have been used to flag my preference for the "French" site. This then over-rode my later direct URL request to drill down on the English language side.

Although I "fixed" the problem by clearing this single cookie, it turns out that I could have done the same by selecting "English" as my preferred language and THEN re-locading the original URL.

Perhaps what we see emerging here is a class of accidental border enforcement as a result of UI features that have not been thought through completely.