Sunday, April 22, 2007

Boston Bans Boing Boing

Too precious. Boing Boing has been banned in Boston.

The Boston free municipal wi-fi network has banned Boing Boing, the world's best "Directory Of Wonderful Things".

Apparently a link in a Boing Boing story used Google to find additional Boing Boing articles by the author. This link contained a command that turned off the Google "SafeSearch" feature, a filter that limits what we can see on Google, and is normally set to "moderate". This then automatically triggered the ban.

What does SafeSearch do? Says Wikipedia:
"Users can... use "SafeSearch" filtering technology (which is on 'moderate' setting by default)... Google has been criticized for placing long-term cookies on users' machines to store these preferences, a tactic which also enables them to track a user's search terms over time."

Yahoo, Netscape, and AT&T WorldNet also use SafeSearch. Turning it off in the search engine's "preferences" setting may let sites with mature images be seen. It also lets you see the 15,000 sites mistakenly blocked:
"For example, it is unlikely that there is sexually-explicit content on thomas.loc.gov (the Library of Congress's index of federal legislation), pmo.gov.il (the Israeli Prime Minister's Office), nmsa.org (the National Middle School Association), or neu.edu (the main index page of Northeastern University), but all four are excluded from Google searches using SafeSearch (screenshots: thomas.loc.gov, pmo.gov.il, nmsa.org, neu.edu)."

But worse than mechanical over-enthusiasm in blocking sites is the possibility that a public resource should be pre-limiting itself to users who have cookies on their machine that keep track of their searches, and who want to see only links that are "moderate".

The right of free speech must include the right to listen freely.

Any Bostonians wanting to revolt and to see Boing Boing can, of course, easily bypass this ban - and any others - simply by using an Open Proxy server. And here are other ways to defeat censorware - courtesy of Boing Boing, of course.

Notice, if you haven't already, the mayor's seal on the ban notice. Thomas Menino, Mayor of Boston. Signs his work, he does. Collecting votes, he thinks he is.

You would think that a free public service would be free of political filters.

Signs his work, he does...

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