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Internet filtering software ‘damages educational opportunities’

Censorware fails test. Again

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Surprise, surprise, Internet filtering 'wrongly blocks many sites', according to a new study on the use of this technology in schools.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Online Policy Group ran "Internet searches on Internet searches of all topics from the state-mandated curriculums of California, Massachusetts, and North Carolina", through two censorware packages, N2H2's Bess and SurfControl.

Here are the preliminary conclusion, based upon the examination of nearly a million web pages.

Schools that implement Internet blocking software with the least restrictive settings will block tens of thousands of web pages inappropriately, either because the web pages are miscategorized or because the web pages, while correctly categorized, do not merit blocking.

  • A large proportion of blocked sites are miscategorized-- probably about half of the sites blocked.

  • Although curriculum topic categories more often blocked by N2H2's Bess product in an East Coast high school include such topics as the Klan (36% blocked), firearms (50%), drunk driving, slavery, genocide, and perjury (33%), they also contain topics such as pogo-stick (46%), comedy (42%), personal care (32%), likes and dislikes (32%), blend sounds to make words (24%), write or dictate short poems (32%), and "examine the effect of political programs and activities of Populists" (100%).

  • Schools that implement Internet blocking software with the least restrictive settings will block between 1/2% and 5% of search results based on state-mandated curriculum topics.

  • Schools that implement Internet blocking software with the most restrictive settings will block up to 70% of search results based on state-mandated curriculum topics.

The report is published in full in mid-October. Here is the URL (there's nothing there yet, so this is for bookmarking purposes only). In the meantime, you can find links to more EFF advisories on censorware here. ®

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