Comcast’s protected browsing tool found to sometimes 'accidentally' block Steam and Paypal

Flickr via Mike Mozart. Click for original.

(Image: © Flickr via Mike Mozart)

There are many bad places to visit on the web, ones that will leave your PC infected if you're not careful. To protect users from these insidious destinations, Comcast has baked a "protected browsing" feature into its Xfinity XFi broadband service. Unfortunately, it sometimes acts too aggressively and blocks access to legitimate sites. This has largely flown under the radar, but with net neutrality rules on their way out, we're hoping this is not a precursor to a hobbled internet.

That's probably being a little hysterical, at least for now. Or maybe not. Either way, Comcast's protected browsing feature continues to aggressively filter out sites that don't always need it. TorrentFreak is the latest portal for fall prey to the filter. The site reports that a reader alerted it to the fact that it is now being flagged as "suspicious."

Source: TorrentFreak. Click for original.

TorrentFreak is not a pirating site, though it does report on pirating and copyright news. Comcast's block seems to be based on controversial content, and not any actual threat posed to visitors.

DigitalMusicNews picked up on this and pointed to a couple of prior occasions that Comcast's filter blocked legitimated sites. Back in December, a Comcast subscriber complained of not being able to visit the Steam store. And in January of this year, some customers couldn't access PayPal.

These were both accidental blocks, though the incidents highlight the power that ISPs have over the web at large. The workaround is to disable protected browsing. Doing so offers Xfinity subscribers unfettered access to the web. But will that always be the case?

Time will tell. One thing that's interesting, however, is that Comcast removed its "no paid prioritization" pledge from its net neutrality page on the very same day the FCC announced plans to repeal the rules. Since then, the FCC voted 3-2 to do exactly that, and the rules disappear on April 23.

Of course, the internet operated mostly fine before net neutrality rules were put in place. We're crossing our fingers that continues to the be case once ISPs are no longer bound those rules.