Internet Filters Continue to be Stupid

I got an email today from a teacher friend of mine telling me that the Mandy & Pandy website was blocked by the internet filter at his school. They apparently thought that the nice site selling children’s books to teach kids Chinese contained sexual content – the official categorization from the Websense Enterprise filter was “Sex”. Now, having built the site I’m pretty confident that is a pretty wildly inaccurate categorization of the site. In fact, I don’t see how anyone who looked at the site or even spidered the content of the site could find anything even slightly sexual on it. It’s about a little girl and talking Panda who do such things as walk in the park and learn to count. I did contact them, though I had to go through a long registration process where I was forced to put in a lot of really inaccurate, made up information about myself before I could point out that this was stupid and should be fixed.

So, it seems that a site that could help a kid learn about China and how to speak Chinese is not available at a school and who knows where else because someone set up this very dumb filter and the makers of this dumb filter went out of their way to make it hard to report the blacklisting of the site as foolish. It makes me ask how many other educational opportunities kids are missing out on because of these dumb filters. Perhaps it would be better if young kids were properly supervised when online at school and once they are given internet access, they are taught about what is and is not appropriate content to view. Instead of just using a stupid filter that blocks good things and can miss bad ones, lulling people into a false sense of security, we should focus on educating kids and teaching them about exercising good judgment when online. That is a basic life skill now and should be taught from a young age so it is ingrained as a habit. Kids need to know about not giving out private information, about using good judgment when deciding what sites to visit, how to sift out good things from bad in search engine results, and how to read a web site critically as a source of authoritative information.

But, if you are going to have a filter, at the very least make it one that uses a blacklist produced by smart people with good judgment. Reviewers who are smart enough not to put Mandy & Pandy in the “Sex” category.

Kevin Hall
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