free html hit counter Updated: Dumb Filter | John Battelle's Search Blog

Updated: Dumb Filter

By - February 27, 2006

Boing Boing has recently been added to a blacklist of “nudity” related sites run by the US-based company Secure Computing, resulting in its being banned in entire countries – like the UAE, as well as many corporate firewalls. Here’s the editor’s searing response. I think it’s well worth reading. From it:

Today, we’ve learned that Internet Qatar, the sole ISP in the State of Qatar, has also banned BoingBoing.

We’ve heard from librarians in Africa who want to watch the video of the American Register of Copyrights denouncing Congress, employees at the Australian Broadcasting Company, students, and workers around the world who can’t gain access to our work.

At fault is a US-based censorware company called Secure Computing, which makes a web-rating product called SmartFilter. But SmartFilter isn’t very smart. Secure Computing classifies any site with any nudity — even Michaelangelo’s David appearing on a single page out of thousands — as a “nudity” site, which means that customers who block “nudity” can’t get through.

Last week, Secure Computing updated their software to classify Boing Boing as a “nudity” site. Last month, we had two posts with nudity in them, out of 692 — that’s 0.29 percent of our posts, but SmartFilter blocks 100 percent of them. This month, there were four posts with nudity (including the Abu Ghraib photos), out of 618 — 0.32 percent.

In fact, out of the 25,000+ Boing Boing posts classed as “nudity” by SmartFilter, more that 99.5 percent have no nudity at all. They’re stories about Hurricane Katrina, kidnapped journalists in Iraq, book reviews, ukelele casemods, phonecam video of Bigfoot sightings (come to think of it, he doesn’t wear clothes either), or pictures of astonishing Lego constructions.

….The question of keeping your child from viewing content you don’t want them to see can be addressed more efficiently locally, with tech tools like the browser Bumpercar. As BoingBoing founder (and father of two) Mark Frauenfelder explains, “My daughter and I found a bunch of great kid-friendly sites and have added them to the ‘white list.’ As a parent, I have local control of the sites she visits instead of handing over control to a remote group of people that I don’t trust to do my job of being a parent.”

NudityThe fact is, there’s no effective way to censor the Internet in broad strokes. Only dumb CIOs and totalitarian governments like the UAE believe that adding censorware to your network will prevent the naughty stuff from slopping in.

Update: I love this approach to the SmartFilter problem: BB is asking bloggers to post this image (at left) on their site as a protest, in the hopes that soon enough, SmartFilter will be all filtered out.

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9 thoughts on “Updated: Dumb Filter

  1. todd kennedy says:

    to be fair, boing boing does occasionally feature nudity on it’s page. there are times i’ve been reading it at work and had to close the browser quickly because the image did not jive with our “work place policies”

    so it’s not a totally wrong mis-categorization.

  2. Mr Juggles says:

    If Secure Computing’s clients didn’t want this type of filtering, don’t you think they’d change their filter? Maybe this is what the market wants.

  3. ZF says:

    Before we get carried away hyperventilating here we should pause to note that Boing Boing may well be exactly the sort of site a place like the UAE wants to filter out, i.e. this company may understand its clients very well.

  4. to be fair, boing boing does occasionally feature nudity on it’s page. there are times i’ve been reading it at work and had to close the browser quickly because the image did not jive with our “work place policies”

    Fair enough, but in that case filter out the nudity, not a whole site just because it contains a very small amount of “unacceptable content”.

  5. dataguy says:

    I like the Boing Boing site a lot. However, it’s not exactly a “G” rated site in my mind. Not only is a small amount of their content not appropriate for a young audience but some of the sites they link to on the home page (Suicide Girls, Disneyland Orgy poster and Fark) keep me from being able to introduce the site to my daughters. I think the tone of Boing Boing’s response is a bit too offended. I would like to see Cory Doctorow admit that there are audiences for which Boing Boing is not an appropriate site.

    Having said that, I think pushing back in an attempt to get “Smartfilter” to improve the quality of their filtering is a good cause.

  6. People interested in the subject may enjoy my censorware research, particularly the reports SmartFilter’s Greatest Evils and SmartFilter – I’ve Got A Little List. Let me know if there’s anybody who will fund and defend such investigations. I had to abandon the research for lack of support, and too much risk of getting sued.

  7. Joe Hunkins says:

    Penis posting won’t play in Peoria, and it shouldn’t. I don’t worry about MY kids, who have good supervision. Collectively we must worry about the kids of parents who aren’t there for them. The internet community is failing miserably in this respect, leaving responsibility at the door of “better parenting” because we can’t come up with a good solution. The shame is on us more than the censorship crowd.

  8. Joe Hunkins says:

    Hmmm – my previous post which has the word P**S was censored? OK with me as I think we need more content controls, but what’s YOUR justification? You are saying that commercial/ censorship is fine, just be sure not to censor any sex stuff?

  9. Collectively we must worry about the kids of parents who aren’t there for them.

    I don’t think seeing the pubic region of Michelangelo’s David sculpture is the worst of these kids’ problems.

    I don’t think seeing the pubic region of Michelangelo’s David sculpture is going to turn them into sexual predators or sociopaths.

    And I certainly don’t think seeing the pubic region of Michelangelo’s David sculpture is really going to have more of a harmful effect on any child more than the evening newscasts.

    One man’s opinion. Your right to dissent is safe with me. :)

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