It’s no secret that I think internet filters are not only unethical and counter to everything librarians believe in, but that filters also don’t work for crap. And now the filters are finally fighting back.
Some customers of FortiGuard, WebSense, and Barracuda (filtering products marketed to schools and libraries) are reporting that the internet filters are blocking the San Jose Public Library’s new website, sjpl.org, from their customers and marking our library’s website as spyware, spam, and/or “inappropriate.” Why? No way to know and no ideas why. Filtering companies don’t tell their customers or anyone else how and why things are classified the way they are. It’s considered a “trade secret.” This lack of transparency is one of the problems I have with the technology behind filtering software–you don’t know what’s there and never will.
While of course I don’t actually believe the filters targeted me (in case anyone missed that), this is a lovely and personal case example of how filters don’t work. Filters mis-classify sites and block constitutionally protected content all the time. And in case anyone is going to argue that perhaps the people who owned our domain before we did perhaps mis-used it, they did not. There was nothing at the domain for over two years before we had it–it was simply empty and unused. Before that it was a squatter site for a couple of years…one of those nasty link-ridden sites we all hate so much. And before that, it was the library’s website (they lost the domain somehow before I was hired).
If you want to read more about how much I think filters are unethical and ineffective at doing what parents and politicians think they do, you can read my chapter on internet filtering and intellectual freedom in the brand new Library Technology Report I coauthored with by Jason Griffey and Eli Neiburger: Privacy & Freedom of Information in 21st Century Libraries. Or you can read the two longer posts I’ve written about filtering: “SJPL Internet Filtering Study – Testing Results,” and “Why internet filters don’t work and why libraries who filter are wrong.” Or view the presentation I gave at the 2009 Internet @ Schools conference: Trying Not to Filter.