Parental filters? It’s about time companies started treating employees like adults

Yesterday, while taking advantage of a break between classes to update my page, the warning shown above came up on my navigator. The site I was trying to reach, 123RF, is an image bank I use very often to illustrate my entries. Despite being perfectly legal and a perfectly logical destination for a content creator and professor, it had been blocked by a corporate filter.

The warning notes: This site was categorized in: Adult Themes, Nudity, Pornography. It would appear that somebody decided that because of a few photographs of nude models, the site should be seen as pornographic, and could presumably be distracted by flicking through the images, all of which have a very sexy (WTF?) watermark across them. As the man said, it takes all sorts to make a world.

There are few things more absurd than using the equivalent of a parental filter in the workplace. Such behavior is typically justified by the IT guys by saying things like: “You wouldn’t believe what people get up to on the internet,” then going on to explain that somebody was once caught downloading a movie, while another employee was found watching a porn film, and that others had been accessing pages during work time that had nothing to do with their job.

Let’s be clear about this: installing parental control filters in the workplace is patronizing and out of date. Which isn’t to say that somebody who consistently uses work time to look at inappropriate material, or updating their Facebook page needs to be reminded of what they are at work for, and if they don’t come up to scratch, they should be kicked out.

Anybody who uses their time at work to download movies or watch porn is an idiot, and as a rule, it’s not a good idea to employ idiots. Preventing that person from wasting their time is probably a waste of the company’s time, and the management might want to think about replacing him or her.

Monitoring what staff get up to is a waste of time. Somebody might access an “inappropriate” site for any number of good reasons. Spying on our employees as though they were a bunch of hormone fuelled adolescents is always going to end badly. What’s more, these days, just about any filter can be got round with a little effort, unless of course the IT department is instructed to limit all internet access…

As a rule, simply changing the computer’s local DNS to a Google Public DNS (8.8.8.8 and 8.8.4.4) or adding the site’s IP address to the HOSTS archive will bypass the OpenDNS. Or you could just use your smartphone or iPad. If you want to waste your time at work, there are ways to do it.

Corporate filters are a bad idea, but few companies are prepared as yet to rethink the policies of more than a decade ago. What we need to realize is that it makes more sense to treat people like adults, and to get rid of those employees who continue to behave like children. Like censorship, all filters are an intrusion and have no place in modern companies. They are a reflection of a paternalism that usually masks deeper management problems. In general, people work better when they are treated like adults.


(En español, aquí)

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