Friday, June 17, 2005

Internet monitoring

You know what’s really, really really annoying? Well okay, lots of things, but pretty high up on my list is when some moronic Internet-monitoring service classifies my site as porn and blocks it so that it can’t be accessed by anyone working in an office where this service is used.

There’s this Net-monitoring filter called Fortinet, which has, for no obvious reason, put my blog (and a few other blogs I know of, including India Uncut and Gaurav Sabnis’s Vantage Point) in the category “offensive”. This first came to my notice a few weeks ago when my own office started using this service. I came in to office one day, tried to access my site and found instead a message saying:

“Accessing this site is a violation of your user policy. This site has been rated: pornography.”

Of course, I raised hell with our systems staff and eventually got them to unblock my blog URL on our office server. But since then I haven’t been able to access a few other sites from office.

Anyway, things were quiet for a few weeks – none of my friends had a problem opening my site from their workplaces and so I didn’t follow up – until today, when Black Muddy Shamya, who works for Headlines Today, messaged to say he couldn’t access Jabberwock; his office had started using Fortinet.

So what process does Fortinet use to monitor and pass random judgement on websites? Well, one obvious way would be to scan sites that have objectionable pictorial content (mine doesn’t) or profanity (which I usually avoid) and to stamp “pornography” on them. Now this would be silly enough in itself – how can you realistically censor the Internet? – but what’s much worse is that there clearly isn’t a fixed set of guidelines for classifying sites. Blogs that are full of explicit language, for instance, have not been blacklisted and can still be accessed on my office server. I spoke to one of my systems guys about this selective screening and his theory is that Fortinet acts on people’s complaints: if someone writes to them saying my site is offensive and supplies a URL to one of my posts where, say, the F-word has been used (in the post or in a comment), well that’s enough “proof” for these guardians of cyber-space morality. Seems a reasonable explanation to me, based on what I’ve seen so far.

For now I’m trying to find out how I can contact Fortinet and send them a polite but firm mail asking them to kindly de-porn me. If you know anything about how these Net-monitoring services operate, or if you have been unable to access my blog, or have faced a similar problem with your own site, please write in.


  1. Just out of curiosity, am I blocked from your office? Am I offensive? Am I pornographic? I know I am but what does the filtering software say?

  2. Ha *laughs in muted fashion because is still worried about having been filtered* No I don't think so, but will check when I'm in office tomorrow. This is serious though, because more and more offices are using these indiscriminate filtering services.

  3. No wonder my site's hit rate has fallen a must be all those people in India using Fortinet.

    And I used the F-word once on my blog.......must be that. Since i still haven't uploaded a single picture...:-))))))

    On a more serious note....this is extremely troublesome........I hope you can knock some sense into the folks running Fortinet.

    This actually looks like a story that rag the TOI would pay to feature! :-))

  4. This is why 'technology' is so bloody irritating, eh? I used to work at a big-name magazine in E-states some years ago and they had blocked even, for a while. After a major hue and cry salon was unblocked, but other blocks remained. I can't fr the life of me remember what they were but they were pretty egregious. Interesting to note that our desi corporate robotic techies, like their American counterparts, have finally caught on to that.Now, if they only used it for the good!

  5. Shudder!!! I am now worried.. my 5.5 visitors, all come from Indian IT firms...and most of em come looking for naked Mumait Khan pics(I had a passing mention of it- no, not naked, just Mumait Khan).
    Seriously I wonder, if my site is too blocked :o I do know that Honeywell blocks almost any portal --Indiatimes is rightly caught as porn site in their filters ;-) (no, I dont work for them)
    Last time you complained about Indicom, your blogging solved it. Hope this time too you can teach Fortinet guys a let us know.

  6. Hey Jai, check out this URL to understand how blocking websites like yours works.

    and then proceed to this page to find out what this guy did to the guys who blocked him.

  7. Must be because of your suhaag raat posts :P

  8. Cool, you're a banned site :)
    Now I'm feeling left out. But if it makes you feel any better, Yahoo is blocked on some of the comps in our office.

  9. I swear sometimes and I don't seem to be banned anywhere:( Am I just that ineffective?

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  11. my office uses a similar software that looks for "keywords" and blocks all "objectionable" material. Sometimes when we are researching a project we are unable to access a site because the page has the word "music" mentioned in it.

    most people in our office have downloaded the firefox browser. firefox has a downloadble browser extension called "vbrowse." It bypasses all the security protocols and allows you to browse any page that you want to. Or you can go too site and surf to your heart's content:

  12. Thanks for the tip, Mandar. Will give it a try.