NY Times on SmartFilter's not-so-smart "nudity" block for BoingBoing

Snip from a report in today's New York Times by Tom Zeller, Jr.:

"Access denied by SmartFilter content category," was the message a Halliburton engineer in Houston said he received last Wednesday when he tried to visit BoingBoing.net from his office computer. "The requested URL belongs to the following categories: Entertainment/Recreation/Hobbies, Nudity." Yep.

"When it happened I was pretty put off," said the employee, who did not want to be named because the topic involved company filtering policies, "as I enjoyed the little distractions it provided me during the workday." It was a sentiment that, over the last two weeks, united oppressed employees — and citizens — all over the globe.

The culprit, SmartFilter, is a product of Secure Computing of San Jose, Calif. It is marketed in a few different flavors to corporations, schools, libraries and governments as a sort of nannyware — a way for system administrators to monitor and filter access to Web sites among users of their networks. This is accomplished with a central database of millions of Web sites organized into 73 categories — things like "General News" or "Dating/Social" or "Hate Speech."

At some point late last month, it seems, a site reviewer at Secure Computing spotted something fleshy at Boing Boing and tacked the Nudity category onto the blog's classification. The company's database was updated and, from that point on, any SmartFilter client that had its network set up to block sites with a Nudity designation would now automatically block Boing Boing.

The impact quickly rippled across the globe, which had the ancillary effect of outing corporate and government SmartFilter clients, as their employees and citizens, now deprived of their daily fix of tech-ephemera, blasted their overlords in anonymous e-mail messages to Boing Boing's editors, who then posted them to the blog. Halliburton is a customer. So, apparently, are Fidelity Investments and American Express. And in the space of a few days at the end of last month, reports came in that citizens in the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Saudi Arabia had also been blocked.

Reg-free Link. Above: what 'net surfers in Saudi Arabia see today when they try to access BoingBoing.

Previously on BoingBoing:

- Saudi Arabia joins league of BoingBoing-deprived nations
- BoingBoing banned in UAE, Qatar, elsewhere. Our response to net-censors: Get bent!
- ISPs in Iran, Tunisia also use SmartFilter (which blocks BoingBoing as "nudity"
- Stick Michelangelo's "David" on your blog to protest censorware
- BoingBoing now censored in the UAE (and elsewhere)
- Argonne National Laboratory is blocking Boing Boing