An orgy of rude words defeats web police

April 20, 2007

"Orgy", "fetish", "nude" and "erotic" are among the words featuring in internet addresses visited by staff and students at Strathclyde University, writes Phil Baty.

But rather than reflecting a community of scholars distracted by online sex and pornography, the words have all featured on legitimate work-related websites. Some occur so often on perfectly innocent websites that the university has removed them from a list of banned "stopwords", which block access to sites.

Strathclyde's IT department has a list of websites and stopwords that might be expected to appear in addresses of porn websites, IT officer Jethro Binks explains in a universities IT discussion forum. When a computer user keys in a stopword, access is denied and they receive a warning message reminding them of the conditions of using the facilities.

But many of these stopwords block access to legitimate sites. "Orgy is common in any sort of site that uses co-ordinates (org x, org y)," Mr Binks writes.

"Fetish" quite innocently featured on the website of the Federated European Tourism Information Systems Harmonization (http://fetish.t-6.it).

The Times Higher has learnt that "erotic" was preventing, for example, access to the website of Mirna Lerotic ( www.lerotic.net ), a PhD student at Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York. "Nude" hit a number of sites, including those featuring the word "menu", such as "menudemo".

"We long ago gave up any pretence that we could block access to porn," Mr Binks writes in the internet discussion.

A Strathclyde spokesperson said: "In particularly problematic cases, the stopword has been removed; in others, the legitimate site has been 'whitelisted'."

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