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Monday, 13 May 2013

Marks and Spencer latest victim of automated content filtering

Your can forget using Marks and Spencer's free ecard service if your friend is called Dick (or, presumably, lives in Scunthorpe).

After reports that a pensioner was unable to send a card to her friend Dick due to the firm's automated profanity filter, a spokesperson claimed the filter was there "to protect people from harassment" and consequently would not be altering their policy.

Which got me wondering how much protection their automated system offered...

Here's an ecard I sent to myself that didn't get blocked (forgive my childish use of language):



There's a serious point: time and time again I see a reliance on automated content blocking to offer some level of "protection" that impacts legitimate uses of the system whilst being relatively easy to workaround.

In this case I could harass someone simply by spacing-out the insults.

If the service provider then tried to catch insults with spaces in between they would undoubtedly end up blocking even more legitimate uses, like a card to my good friend* Alf Ucker.

I have no issue with companies like Marks and Spencer using such content filtering to warn people against a thoughtless use of offensive language, but to claim such systems are there to protect people from harassment is a stretch - especially since, as I have shown, they can't stop all offensive messages getting through.

(* = imaginary!)

@JamesFirth

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