Why I hate web content filtering systems
While on holiday for the weekend, I have been browsing RSS feeds using NewsRob, a convenient offline RSS reader which synchronizes with Google Reader. I came across an article on Kirrily Robert’s blog on the use of the word “offense” in the context of sexism. The RSS content indicated that there were several comments on this post, and so I clicked through to check it out. The result was this:
My phone was connected to the hotel’s WiFi, which apparently has a SonicWALL content filter installed. This filter seems to think that Kirrily’s blog is “Adult/Mature Content”. I’m not sure why this is. Perhaps because the word “sexism” has “sex” in it?
SonicWALL has a web site where one can view their ratings for arbitrary web sites, and it confirms that infotrope.net (apparently the whole site) is classified as Category 6: Adult/Mature Content and Category 41: Society and Lifestyle. There is no explanation of what these categories mean, or how the classification process works.
They provide a form to request that they reevaluate their rating of a particular site, so I did that. Without knowing why they classified this site the way they did, I don’t see how a reevaluation will help, though. They asked me to suggest better categories for it, but none of them made sense. They can’t be serious about using a list of a few dozen static categories for all of the content on the web. Can they?
I wrote them a short note explaining that I did not think the site merited an “Adult/Mature” content rating, a euphemism usually reserved for pornography. I have very little hope that this action will ever elicit a response, and it certainly won’t restore my access to the site this weekend while I’m here. I am not a customer of SonicWALL, and don’t expect ever to be.
I will mention to the hotel that their system caused this problem for me, but I don’t expect them to act on this complaint either. Companies which install content filtering systems don’t plan to spend time maintaining them to make sure that they provide a good quality of service, and this is sure to seem like an unnecessary hassle to them.
This is why I hate content filtering systems. They disenfranchise end users by making content decisions on their behalf, and make it their responsibility to work through the bureaucracy when it goes wrong.