Silly filters

November 4th, 2009 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post reports:

The pornographic connotations of the word “teen” are stopping emails from reaching the government department responsible for youth issues.

The Social Development Ministry is blocking any emails with the word – or its plural, “teens” – from getting through, because it is often associated with advertising for online pornography.

But Labour deputy leader Annette King has labelled the firewall ridiculous, and called for the problem to be fixed.

The word is on a blacklist of terms blocked by the ministry, meaning that only email addresses on a “white list” can receive messages containing those words.

Annette is right – how stupid. Blacklists or filters based on words are almost always over-reaching. Smart anti- programmes look at a whole host of stuff to assign a probability something is .

Social Development Ministry chief information officer David Habershon said the word teen was blocked because it was often used in advertising for “adult websites”.

“We base our parameters in terms of the words that are on the blacklist based on best practice.”

He would not say what other words were blocked.

The ministry was “continually refining” its list, but had to seriously consider which words were acceptable, he said. “When we find examples of particular words which are legitimately used within certain business units we amend our systems accordingly. But in doing so, we have to weigh up the impact of removing a particular word against the benefits.”

I despair at the thought of departmental staff sitting down and deciding what words to block. Just use a “smart” anti-spam filter that learns as it goes.

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13 Responses to “Silly filters”

  1. Angus (536 comments) says:

    http://nominister.blogspot.com/2008/11/no-muffins-and-socialism-in-krudds.html

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  2. davidp (3,576 comments) says:

    Agreed… No commercial anti-spam product works by looking at single words. That wouldn’t just be stupid, but monumentally stupid. I wonder if the journalist has got things wrong and “teen” is just one of the scoring criteria for spamishness, rather than being sufficient on its own.

    Having said that… Way back in 2001 or so I did experiment with using the simple keyword filtering options in my employer’s mail gateway software to see if we could filter the tiny amount of spam we were receiving then. I ditched the whole idea after about two days. One of the things that convinced me it wasn’t a viable approach was that we blocked an e-mail from the World Bank who did legitimately want to give “millions” of “dollars” to “Nigeria”. You think you’ve devised a perfect three point filter for a scammer’s begging letter, and an international organisation triggers it.

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  3. Swiftman the infidel (329 comments) says:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R1DiaMBIHZY

    An old one but a good one from Dick Emery on ‘filters’!

    Well worth watching.

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  4. RRM (9,784 comments) says:

    I’ve been trialling a single-point filter of my own design when reading Kiwiblog recently.

    Any post containing the words “Socialist”, “Socialism”, “Pinkos” gets ignored.

    So far, so good :-)

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  5. cctrfred (42 comments) says:

    No, this is an ideal way to improve business language. Block emails containing “going forward”, “aspirations”, “meeting outcomes”, “enhancing productivity” and the like.

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  6. perfectvampire (21 comments) says:

    Hmmmm, if I remember correctly from my time at MSD (it was a very painful time, so I won’t guarantee my recollection of that period), the email filter was actually configured to dismiss and block based on single words. I’m certain there were times when I forwarded the odd joke with a swear word from home through to my work address and got a kick-back email in response.

    The IT systems at MSD are (or were) incredibly locked down, and stuck in a 90s timewarp… oh how I miss you 1996 edition of Mozilla Mail!

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  7. Bevan (3,923 comments) says:

    But Labour deputy leader Annette King has labelled the firewall ridiculous, and called for the problem to be fixed.

    Surely she should be keeping her nose out of this? Sounds to me to be purely an IT operations issue where a request could be made through the Public Service – does it really need some ex government reject to throw their weight around to try and make themselves feel relevant.

    Seriously doesnt sound like the kind of thing that warrants press coverage or any ministers attention, regardless of whether they are government or opposition – how much is she being paid to spearhead IT issues in the media?

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  8. 103PapPap (131 comments) says:

    Lucky Scunthorpe isn’t in NZ

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  9. Put it away (2,878 comments) says:

    An organisation I deal with had to get kiwiblog whitelisted after triggering the web filter for profanity…

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  10. jabba (280 comments) says:

    I had the Herald “quarantined” once because of the word MAGNUM .. it referred to the ice cream, not the gun.

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  11. Tookinator (221 comments) says:

    I remember that story about the UK town of Scunthorpe. The local council had put filters on the emails and it took them a while to figure out why they weren’t getting any!

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  12. jcuknz (704 comments) says:

    And we pay taxes to let these stupid twits play at this URRGH!

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