September 29, 2004

Banned Censorware Report : "BESS (N2H2) and The Ineffable Name"

[Continuing the homage to Banned Books Week, I've described below another Censored Censorware Report ]

BESS (N2H2) and The Ineffable Name


For no one can utter the name of the ineffable God; and if any one dare to say that there is a name, he raves with a hopeless madness.

-- The first Apology of St Justin, Chapter 61

This report was going to discuss "unsearchable names" of N2H2's censorware program BESS. That is, names which could not be searched because they matched banned keywords. Just to illustrate the concept, though not banned here, consider "Dick Van Dyke" (if you didn't know that was a real name, wouldn't it sound made-up?). As N2H2 (the censorware company) put it:

Search Terms
This category restricts access to search result pages based on key words that are known to return offensive results, but does not block access to search engines.

Examples of these key words are very offensive, so are not included here.

So offensive that they cannot be named?! That's almost Biblical. When I decrypted N2H2/Bess, one of the blacklists was a long sequence of various names and name-patterns. It was actually pretty amusing. As in, who were all these people? How (in)famous did you have to be, in order to get your name on the list?

There was plenty of material here. Compare for example China censored keywords. But this wasn't about China, it was about a US company, which could sue me. So since I didn't have the protection or support I needed, the report was derailed, and eventually the research was essentially destroyed.


Do not play the Name Game if you are called Chuck.

[I don't know if I would have left in this little joke, it's edgy. I always want to have my material be good reading in terms of the writing itself. But I get flack for it. One very well-known free-speech activist claims I don't get my reports read and covered because the literary quotes are too much fluff]

Granted, this material was not the most earth-shattering of revelations. But I think the specifics were a worthwhile research contribution, which would have been a useful addition in opposing censorware propaganda. However, the mathematics was that the upside was likely there would be only a few readers, versus a downside of lawsuit and smear risks. Now, not every report has exactly the same amount of legal risk, and I don't want to ignore distinctions. This one was in fact arguably on the lower end. But not zero or practically so. On the other hand, it wasn't a blockbuster, so my paucity of press meant the readership would be minuscule. On the balance, this was low-probability Russian Roulette, but that's still Russian Roulette. It wasn't worth it.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in censorware | on September 29, 2004 11:59 PM (Infothought permalink) | Followups
Seth Finkelstein's Infothought blog (Wikipedia, Google, censorware, and an inside view of net-politics) - Syndicate site (subscribe, RSS)

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