Open Letter To SonicWALL: We Are Not Porn

UPDATE: Help us get delisted as porn.
• Submit a ratings review request here.
• Enter our URL: http://www.consumerist.com
• Select RATING REQUEST
• Enter URL again.
• Enter your email address.
• Under “How should this URL be categorized?” we suggest 33: “News/Media.”
• Suggested explanation: The Consumerist is a consumer affairs blog, not a porn site.
• Click Submit

Dear SonicWALL,

Recently several of our readers reported that SonicWALL has begun blocking The Consumerist http://www.consumerist.com as pornography. We are a consumer affairs blog, not a porn site. That multiple users, from multiple different companies, reported this within a few days of each other, indicates some change in the SonicWALL filter.

We contacted one of your reps yesterday who said the only way we could be blocked is if a sysadmin manually added us. After we reported this, one of our readers who uses SonicWALL and is a sysadmin also reported that his SonicWALL had started blocking us. He had not added us to the block list.

If there’s something you can do, either add us to a whitelist or change your algorithm so if a site simply mentions the word “pornography” it doesn’t get picked up as porn, that would be appreciated, by us and your customers.

Sincerely,

BEN POPKEN
EDITOR, THE CONSUMERIST
CONSUMERIST.COM

SonicWALL’s contact info and the sysadmin’s letter, inside..


SonicWALL Contact info:

Email here.

Khai T. Tran
Channel Account Manager
Toll Free: 888.557.6642 x 8725
T: 408.962.8725
F. 408.962.8748
Kttran@sonicwall.com

Peter Martincic
Channel Account Manager
Toll Free: 888.557.6642 x 7978
T: 408.752-7978
F. 408.962.8748
Pmartincic@sonicwall.com

SonicWALL
Corporate Offices
1143 Borregas Avenue
Sunnyvale, CA 94089-1306 USA
P +1 888.557.6642
P +1 408.745.9600
F +1 408.745.9300


Jay writes:

    “Just wanted to let you know that Sonicwall’s response is bunk – I’m the sysadmin for a school district running a Sonicwall system and just last week it randomly began blocking the site. I assumed it was because of the verbiage used in the “How not to be a fat f***” article (I have our filter trained to block anything with that word in it), but after reading this story [which said The Consumerst was being blocked as porn] I know it’s horseshit.

    I had to actually go in and allow the domain manually, so this is definitely something that was in their content filter list that you subscribe to as a Sonicwall customer. Kind of ironic that they would block this site when they have such terrible customer service in the first place. Might want to remind them of that.”

Comments

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  1. Ben Popken says:

    By the by, yes we did also email this letter to SonicWALL.

  2. Mr. Gunn says:

    Does Cory from boingboing know about this, because he’s all over this kinda stuff.

  3. kevin8159 says:

    I could see why somebody would ding this site as porn. Many of those “gawker” pictures are not in the best taste and show pornographic poses.

  4. Kornkob says:

    Silly question but:

    Has any sysadmin who uses Sonic Wall contacted them to complain? Seems to me that SW might be more inclined to change their behavior for their customers, as opposed to someone who is decidedly not a customer.

    I imagine that SW gets a fair number of ‘hey– why are you censoring me?’ complaints from people who get blocked which might have caused them to be pretty non-responsive to complaints from 3rd parties.

  5. Antediluvian says:

    Lots of filters block sites considered “objectionable,” so I can’t agree that SonicWALL considers The Consumerist to be porn per se. Do we know that it’s “blocked as porn” on those systems, and not merely “blocked”?

    Fred Phelps’ site is objectionable (to me, at least) and I know many filters block it. It’s unlikely to be considered porn.

    Or perhaps it’s all the stories about iPods, Macs, Zunes, XBoxes, etc bundles w/ bonus porn that triggered the blocking?

    Filters suck.

  6. ChazB says:

    @Grady – This should definitely be brought to Cory’s attention. He’s been dealing with this kind of bullshit for a while now. I’m sure he could provide some advice on how to circumvent the filter. I recall BoingBoing doing several articles on the topic.

  7. Amy Alkon says:

    It’s disgusting. How do you find out if your site is among the currently blocked? I’m advicegoddess.com – a syndicated love/dating/sex advice columnist who occasionally mentions the P word and swears liberally in life on on her site.

    I was told by somebody a while back that I was blocked — don’t remember if it was by these turds or other turds. I’m also blocked by some libraries.

    Remember freedom of speech? I have a vague memory of it.

  8. Lee Jones says:

    Hm. We use a TZ170 here with the content filter package (I admin) and you’re not blocked. Go figure.

  9. Ben Popken says:

    Here’s messages from 2 readers:

    —-

    Just got into work and was doing my usual round of news gathering. When I went to jump from bloglines to consumerist to check out a dealhack link, I got this

    http://mcsey.com/images/consumerist-blocked.jpg

    I am the administrator of the filter/firewall, so I know what I block. The only content categories I block are “Pornography” and “Nudism” and sure enough in my logs “Category:4 – 00.14.51.03.CC.3E – http://www.consumerist.com/

    From SonicWalls documentation

    Website Blocked (Basic Service)

    When a user attempts to access a website that is blocked by CFS settings, an entry will appear in the log. In addition to the IP address of the machine and usually the name of the blocked website, this entry will contain a blocked category number. These category number are:

    * 1. Violence/Hate/Racism
    * 2. Intimate Apparel/Swimsuit
    * 3. Nudism
    * 4. Pornography


    They are blocking you as PORN!

    ——

    Just recently, I went onto the consumerist at work, and i got this message:

    This web site has been blocked by the SonicWALL web filter. Reason: “Pornography”

  10. mondogeek says:

    I’m the sysadmin who wrote in above –

    @kevin8159
    See, the thing is that this is something that just started happening. I’ve been happily reading Gawker blogs at work for quite a while with no changes to my filter. Last week this just started happening without me making a single change to my server whitelist. As Ben reported above, the SonicWall-provided content filter is picking this up, so it’s on their end.

  11. scoobydoo says:

    Submitted a request for re-rating. Lets hope they do what they promise.

  12. FLConsumer says:

    Screw Sonicwall — get IPCop. Free, plenty of filtering options available, including real-time content monitoring, not just some arbitrary block list. I dumped a Sonic setup for IPCop when I had requests for MySpace access (ugh) but still needed to filter objectionable content. IPCop + Dansguardian works beautifully. Oh, did I mention it’s FREE (open source) with no recurring costs?

  13. FLConsumer says:

    Screw Sonicwall — get IPCop. Free, plenty of filtering options available, including real-time content monitoring, not just some arbitrary block list. There are also numerous black/white lists available and are highly customizable. I dumped a Sonic setup for IPCop when I had requests for MySpace access (ugh) but still needed to filter objectionable content. IPCop + Dansguardian works beautifully. Oh, did I mention it’s FREE (open source) with no recurring costs?

  14. Kornkob says:

    Remember freedom of speech? I have a vague memory of it.

    No one’s speech is being restricted here. Your message is still getting out to your audience. However, some folks who have decided that some of the speech on the internet is not appropriate for their company are using a product that cuts those messages out. This is no more censorship than when a person blocks a channel on their television. It’s merely a choosing to not get certain types of messages.

    In this case it seems that Sonic Wall is making a mistake in how they assess a site and thus doing a disservice to their customers, who wish to filter a certain kind of message.

  15. Submitted

    The current rating for this URL is completely innacurate. This is a news/media site.

  16. mackjaz says:

    Submitted:

    “The Consumerist is a consumer affairs blog, not a porn site.
    Thanks”

    Happy to help…

  17. He says:

    Are you guys maybe on the same ip or a very similar ip to fleshbot? Don’t do that. Every one of these companies will keep blocking you. Get another ip. If they don’t block the ip, people can just do a local dns override in their hosts file to still access fleshbot. It’s not inaccurate, it’s just not a well reported error.

    nslookup:
    > fleshbot.com
    Non-authoritative answer:
    Name: fleshbot.com
    Address: 209.11.51.41

    > consumerist.com
    Non-authoritative answer:
    Name: consumerist.com
    Address: 209.11.51.41

  18. RandomHookup says:

    Does screaming “we’re not porn!” increase the likelihood you will be identified as porn? Inquiring minds want to know.

  19. Michael says:

    Considering the piece you wrote up about a computer loaded with racist child porn, I’m surprised they didn’t create a new category just for you:

    5. A combination of 1 & 4.

    And have you ever shown a Wal-Mart picture which had a glimpse of their intimate apparel or swimsuit section? There you go, you’re a number 3 offender as well.

    I suppose people could use a web-based public proxy to get around the restriction, but that’s a little ridiculous. I’ll send them a note, too, but given my previous experience with these people deciding a website of mine which displayed Byzantine religious icons was porn, I’ll really be surprised if they remove you from the block list.

  20. Sheik says:

    We have a SonicWall where I work, have never had any problems.

  21. Sheik says:

    Amendment to above statement. I do work at a non-profit, and they don’t have any content filter enabled. So maybe its only with the higher level of security.

  22. grant0 says:

    I asked for a review for you guys. Come on, I am sure if you search CNN.com they use the phrase “Pornography” without showing any. And they are obviously not a porn site. Way to suck, SonicWall.

  23. mcsey says:

    Submitted my rating re-request, but what “He” said about the ip lookup is probably the reason.

  24. Antediluvian says:

    Ben– Thanks for clarifying that the SonicWALL was calling The Consumerist “porn” and not blocking as some other category.

  25. Ben Popken says:

    I don’t think it’s by ip address. Fleshbot, Gawker and Consumerist all share the same ip address, yet Gawker is classified as “Category 31: Web Communications.”

  26. He says:

    My bad.

    There is a fairly reliable trick then to get around a filter that isn’t blocking by ip then. Put the following line in your c:winsystem32driversetchosts file:
    209.11.51.41 consumerist.com

    This sort of thing worked with websense a year ago, haven’t tried it since. It’s not the best fix, but if they fail to give in and you don’t run the network, it’s worth a shot.

  27. cjc says:

    If you’re not able to muck

  28. cjc says:

    If you’re not able to muck around with local settings or install, say, onion routing software, you can use Google as a proxy:

    http://www.google.com/translate?langpair=en|en&u=consumeri…

    Basically, you’re telling Google’s language services to translate consumerist.com from English to English. Yeah, there’s a Google frame there, but who cares?

    I haven’t tested this against SonicWall (Caribou Coffee’s free wifi is filtered using SonicWall, and that’s where I first saw the block on Consumerist.com), but I can’t see how they’d block Google.

  29. infinitysnake says:

    “How do you find out if your site is among the currently blocked? “

    Amy, check out:

    http://www.securecomputing.com/sfwhere/


    Smartfilter has you under two categories.

    If you’re blocked through them, you’re probably blocked through most…but you’re only blocked if their clients choose those categories.

    But don’t feel bad- these guys censor everything interesting on the net. I’m blocked pretty much everywhere that uises this stuff.

  30. infinitysnake says:

    Link to the exploding tables complaints:


    http://www.consumeraffairs.com/furniture/martha.html

  31. infinitysnake says:

    Oops, wrong spot. :-P