Symantec halts search filter's block of gay websites
SAN JOSE -- A popular online "safe"-search filter is ending its practice of blocking links to mainstream gay and lesbian advocacy groups for users hoping to avoid obscene sites.
Internet filters are mandatory in most public schools and libraries, and they are frequently used as well by anyone offering Wi-Fi, from airports to cafes. They can limit students and patrons from browsing obscene or inappropriate content. But many of those filters have blocked appropriate and important content.
Analyst Bryan Fischer at the conservative American Family Association said some people consider websites advocating gay rights as dangerous propaganda and should be allowed to block them.
"Symantec is simply wrong to deny their customers this option," he said.
GLAAD, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender media advocacy organization, along with The Trevor Project, a youth suicide prevention program, were among those that until now were blocked by Symantec's software, and they are still blocked by several major systems.
GLAAD CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said the change shows that "Symantec gets it."
"It's time that our software reflects our values, and that means filtering out discrimination," she said Monday in advance of the announcement.
Web-filtering systems, including McAfee, Blue Coat, Websense and Netsweeper, divide millions of Web addresses into categories like nudity, marijuana, cults or war games and then allow the network owner to select what categories they want blocked from their systems.
Symantec's Web-content database, which is used by its Web-content filtering and parental-control programs, dates to 1996 and is one of the largest in the industry, including billions of Web pages from around the world.
Symantec, the fourth-largest software company in the world, said the lifestyle-sexual orientation category has been removed from its databases, but that it's still being implemented in some products. The Mountain View, California-based firm said it's also taking a broader look at all of the categories in this database, and it will be eliminating any others that are similarly outdated.