TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Popular Web Site Falls Victim to a Content Filter

Popular Web Site Falls Victim to a Content Filter

Monty Solomon (
Mon, 6 Mar 2006 00:57:07 -0500

The New York Times
March 6, 2006

THERE are lots of ways to describe Boing Boing, the Web's obliquely
subtitled "Directory of Wonderful Things," which draws millions of
eyeballs to its relentless, stylistically minimalist scroll of
high-weirdness each month.

It is a site where, on Saturday morning, there were links to video
games that "subvert post-industrial capitalism," federal legislation
aimed at digital radio technology, a guitar made out of a toilet seat
and a new species of brown shark.

But nudity?

"Access denied by SmartFilter content category," was the message a
Halliburton engineer in Houston said he received last Wednesday when
he tried to visit from his office computer. "The
requested URL belongs to the following categories:
Entertainment/Recreation/Hobbies, Nudity."


"When it happened I was pretty put off," said the employee, who did
not want to be named because the topic involved company filtering
policies, "as I enjoyed the little distractions it provided me during
the workday."

It was a sentiment that, over the last two weeks, united oppressed
employees -- and citizens -- all over the globe.

The culprit, SmartFilter, is a product of Secure Computing of San
Jose, Calif. It is marketed in a few different flavors to
corporations, schools, libraries and governments as a sort of
nannyware -- a way for system administrators to monitor and filter
access to Web sites among users of their networks.

This is accomplished with a central database of millions of Web sites
organized into 73 categories -- things like "General News" or
"Dating/Social" or "Hate Speech."

At some point late last month, it seems, a site reviewer at Secure
Computing spotted something fleshy at Boing Boing and tacked the
Nudity category onto the blog's classification. The company's
database was updated and, from that point on, any SmartFilter client
that had its network set up to block sites with a Nudity designation
would now automatically block Boing Boing.

The impact quickly rippled across the globe, which had the ancillary
effect of outing corporate and government SmartFilter clients, as
their employees and citizens, now deprived of their daily fix of
tech-ephemera, blasted their overlords in anonymous e-mail messages
to Boing Boing's editors, who then posted them to the blog.


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