E-Censorship is Uncompetitive
Whole classes of people in the world see an Internet much smaller than the one I see. Internet censorship always starts off with the best of intentions — save children from dirty pictures, block malicious software, keep workers’ noses to the grindstone, avoid any glimmer of risk or litigation, maintain state security. A Google search in China, for example, doesn’t even report the existence of web sites that the Chinese government blocks from its citizens, according to an article in NewScientist.com.
In the West, cybercensorship is often committed by lawyers who are paid to worry about what happens if some dope on the night shift displays a pornographic GIF, but it’s not just skin sites that are channeled down the Memory Hole. The leading Internet filtering firm WebSense, for example, watches more than 80 categories of suspect web sites. Using WebSense software, a corporation’s network manager, IT manager, or — even worse — HR manager can mix and match which categories out of the 80 are hidden from employees’ view. Your company’s Catbert can restrict the obvious topics like Adult Material, Drugs, Gambling and Job Search, but WebSense offers more “granular” controls for killing off Restaurants and Dining, Hobbies, Streaming Media and MP3. More insidiously, the modern Bowdler can keep the over-curious away from categories like Cultural Institutions, Educational Institutions, Political Organizations, Alternative Journals, Religions (pick Traditional or Non-Traditional) or Abortion Sites (pick Pro-Choice, Pro-Life or both).
Most everyone agrees that he who pays the piper calls the tune: the company is paying for the wire so the company decides how the wire is used. But after it filters out all of the Fun, after it locks out all of the Culture and Ideas, it can then go after the Information that people might mis-use in their work. The WebSense program can choke off Financial Data and Services, Reference Materials, Information Technology sites, Dynamic Content and Instant Messaging, among other too-useful temptations.
If all that the censorship software embargos are the sexy sites, not much is lost, but as the lawyers and HR directors and compliance officers have their quarterly reviews of Internet policy, it’s all too easy to justify adding one more category to the spike. So it happens that a filtered Fortune 500 exec sees only the web sites that the filter-monkeys want him to see; his small business or offshore competitor, on the other hand, usually sees the full Internet — warts and all. And like the Chinese Internet user, the big company browser with all his overhead doesn’t even know what he doesn’t know. To paraphrase Dean Wormer, “fat, scared and stupid is no way to go through life, son.” The less Internet you see, the less competitive you’ll be.