Tuesday, November 6, 2001 Volume 67, Issue 54


 
 









 

Filter software limits web material

Michael Ahlf

One of the interesting debates that keeps popping up on technology fronts is the question of public places like schools and libraries "filtering" software,
which supposedly stops children from accessing indecent material on the Internet.

This week, something interesting popped up on Slashdot (www.slashdot.org), a list of sites that fell victim to the filters even though there wasn't anything improper there. While the main list is long (395 Web pages total), a few highlights might be in order.

There were about 20 AIDS/ homosexual advocacy sites on the list. Also fairly common were medical pages, and, of course, political advocacy sites like
Wisconsin Right to Life and Planned Parenthood.

In the interest of humor, I thought the bizarre might be more appropriate. The Aberdeen Independent (www.aberdeen-indy.co.uk) was blocked on the
grounds that it was pornographic. As this newspaper has won the honor of being Scotland's best independent newspaper four years running, it's
interesting to see it blocked. The only mention of pornography I could find was the headline "Pornography takes over financial site for children."

ActionFit (www.actionfit.com), makers of custom-made leotards and swimsuits, were blocked for adult content. Something about photos of people
wearing swimsuits, apparently, as if our kids don't see that every time summer rolls around.

A site on mathematical formulae (www.silcom.com/~barnow1/HTransf.htm) was blocked for being sex-oriented. I'm not sure how a homogeneous
matrix can be sexual, but apparently they have figured it out.

Southern Alberta Fly Fishing Outfitters (www.albertaflyfish.com) gets caught, too. Something's fishy about this.

Andalusian Horses (www.andalusianhorses.com), a horse breeding stable, is blocked as well. Can't have our young ones seeing unclothed horses,
can we?

The Electronic Activist (gemini.berkshire.net/~ifas/activist), containing a list of contact information for national and state representatives, was blocked for
sex, nudity and mature content. I'm not sure how contacting our representatives hits any of those, except demonstrating maturity. The site is also
affiliated with the Institute for First Amendment Studies (www.ifas.org), and it seems the filtering companies may have a bone to pick here.

Poster Service (www.posterservice.com), a shop where you can pick up posters cheap, got blocked. It's either the collection of bikini babe posters or
the Homer Simpson "got beer" poster that caused that, but there's still nothing indecent there.

For the weird and wacky, don't expect to see urban legends (www.snopes2.com) if you're using filter software. While it does have a section on urban
legends dealing with sex, I couldn't find anything truly explicit on hand.

And if you want something truly weird, Cyberpatrol blocks the site www.vvm.com/~jevans/flichens.html for, of all things, sexually explicit content. I
imagine someone must have issues with an explanation of plant reproduction.

Just to put it in perspective, the analysis observed a total of 6777 URLs, of which 395 appear wrongly blocked. Even so, the content blocked was very
suspicious, and makes it seem as if the filtering software has goals above and beyond protecting from indecent content, since it seemed very

viewpoint-oriented.

Ahlf, a senior electrical engineering 
major, can be reached at mahlf@mail.uh.edu.


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