Team Murder No Brain No Headache.

13Dec/06Off

Mostly Talking To Myself Here

I started thinking and later writing about this knowing full well that most folks who land here via Google searches like 'fuck websense' will never see it. The post they're reading is four years old and has something like eighty comments attached to it. At one point I was going to take it down simply because some of the information is outdated but relented when I realized that there are a ton of kids trading workarounds through the comment section of that post. I'll skip being the dutiful janitor for that sake as it is the very least I can do.

What is most often misunderstood is why I loathe Websense so much. To be absolutely clear about my motivations for leaving that post up and for generally trying to work against filtering software whenever I can be lazy about it probably requires more explanation than is really appropriate for this space but I'll give it a miserably tired and weeknight shot: I don't begrudge any administrator setting limits on what their resources can be used for. Restricting use is the only sane way to keep your network from being bled dry and to keep your well padded fanny out of the court system. File sharing is increasingly treacherous for large networks and the organizations that support them.

What goes nearly without saying and opening the floodgates to any sort of legal liability really isn't the business that most large organizations are in. Hell, I can even sympathize with the deployment of software like Websense to some degree. It's an easier fix for limiting access to questionable content than most solutions and is very appealing to admins already overburdened with the usual work necessary to keep a bunch of outward facing boxes running and a bunch of users from whining any louder than they already do. In fewer words, I don't necessarily blame people for rolling out things like Websense when they're trying to make the best of limited resources (like people who have a clue, a breed nearly extinct in IT) and save themselves from lawsuits and being car-bombed by right wing Christian activists for allowing children access to blasphemous information not brought to them by Charlton Heston and the Hooah! bar. It is difficult to discount self-preservation as a viable motivating factor in the decision making process.

My problem with Websense is that it doesn't work as intended. Does it block access to sites? Of course, I am in and out of the blocked list as a 'sexual' site which is just incorrect. Should I be blocked because I show so much affinity for four letter words and refer to heads of corporations as 'pigfuckers'? Maybe but I don't think sexual has anything to do with it. The obvious problem here is that human eyes don't review things filtered by Websense even when complaints are filed. I tried communicating with Websense support more a few times four years ago about properly categorizing Team Murder as something offensive other than sexual with no reply, acknowledgment, or consideration otherwise. My case is trivial to say the very least but when you apply this same set of criteria to institutions, like public schools, that should facilitate research on topics like breast cancer or the the abolitionist movement before the Civil War you run into problems. Of course I generally have a problem with broad content filtering because it just doesn't work but I would generally be more accepting if Websense wasn't so clearly marketed towards education and the filtering was properly maintained. It isn't, so I'm not. All this was prompted by a number of new comments attached to the four year old post that seemed generally sympathetic but still thought that crippling research opportunities for the sake of 'the children' was a good idea.

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