December 22, 2006


A reader writes:
My system uploaded an update to the Norton internet security web site list yesterday and your blog was on it. It was blocked by for containing “Sex acts.” Unless your blog has some hidden features I haven’t discovered, I suspect that you were put on the list by someone as a means of enacting liberal free speech (Speech for the left, but not for those who would disagree with them). I’m not sure what the process is to get you on or off the list (or maybe the hidden features make it a fair cop).

This is the first I've heard of anything like this. Is it really happening, and if so, what can I do?

UPDATE: I'm getting some good help in the comments, and just to be clear, I don't actually think it's a political plot. It's most likely that they just have an aggressive program, and since I talk about sex here sometimes, I got snagged. You probably don't want your children reading my blog. This isn't a blog for little kids! Anyway, it sounds as though Norton/Symantec is going to be secretive about how they operate their filters, so what can you do? I've thought of deleting all the F-words, but it's a lot of work to do that. And who knows how to get off the list once you're on?


Gerry said...

"Is it really happening"

The answer to this question depends on the scope of your question. Do you mean, is it really happening in general to websites, or do you mean specifically to the Althouse blog?

If the former, then yes. Part of the Norton Internet Security suite includes a feature to "Blocks Web sites you don’t want your children to visit." Symantec (the company behind Norton) maintains a Black List of websites (including the reason for the blacklisting). The blacklist is automatically downloaded to subscribers using the LiveUpdate functionality of the software, just like virus definitions and similar.

Is it happening to Althouse specifically? This, you would have to ask the people who use Norton Internet Security. I suspect so, because of the mail you got.

Individual users can 'override' the black list, though, either by adding additional sites to it on their computer or by setting the software to allow certain sites that would otherwise be blacklisted. Your mailer can do so, and should either consult their documentation or contact Symantec customer support for how to do so.

If I had to guess the reason why, I think it would be because of posts like the one you did about the iPod vibrator. And also knowing a bit how these 'net nanny' programs work, I would bet that if one has decided to block you, others will likely do so for the same reason.

As for what you can do-- you can contact Symantec, but I am guessing you will not find much success in that regard, because of posts like the one I mentioned above.

Basically, it boils down to this-- there are products out there that people can choose to buy which will block sites that include topics that some people consider 'adult' in nature. If one posts things that might get considered as such, then one can end up being blacklisted.


Art said...

You obviously must have said a "magic word" that puts you on the naughty list. What are the words? They can't tell you because that way you could use a word that means the same thing as the "magic" word but hasn't been determined to be "magic" yet.
Kafka had nothing on the guardians of decency. (Thanks, Tipper)
Or maybe it was just a programming error. But they probably can't tell you that, either because, well, they can't exactly figure out how the whole thing works.

The verification word is "zorof" I used to watch that series on TV. he that investor guy who now backs liberal causes?

Gerry said...

By the way, Ann, I am in queue to chat with a Symantec analyst to see what I can find out. I'll let you know, via email, what I find out.

Mark the Pundit said...

I use Nortonn Internet Security at home and at work, and it is updated daily with these lists and other things, and I have never had a problem viewing any blogs - none have been "blacklisted."

Mortimer Brezny said...

Lesson Learned: If you don't want to be banned for explicit erotic content, remove any photos of Ann Althouse from your blog. She's just too much for these haters to handle.

Elizabeth said...

What is that leads some people to immediately suspect "the left" in any and every problem they encounter? Ann's blog triggered a net nanny--it must be the damn leftists!

BarbO said...

This sounds similar to a problem I've had for the past three months--I can't get Powerline, Tim Blair, Captain's Quarters--all sorts of right wing blogs, but no problem with left wing ones (yes, I like to read both sides). No one can figure out why--the sites are blocked from every computer in the house--even wireless laptops other people bring over. We've set the router back to default and checked the antivirus. No luck. At least I still get Althouse....

Simon said...

Mortimer Brezny said...
"Lesson Learned: If you don't want to be banned for explicit erotic content, remove any photos of Ann Althouse from your blog."

Must be all those "scantily-clad photos of Professor Althouse" that she mentioned in podcast 75. ;)

Dawn Braun said...

I am no expert, but my first thought would be to assume that spyware was to blame, and not some polical agenda.

The blacklist is pretty general to block any potential hazard, so you may have a lot of sites that will come up with this message, especially if your blog allows explicit/colorful language.

We don't use Norton at our house for exactly that purpose. We use our windows firewall and Ad-Aware and Spybot.

Good luck.

sonicfrog said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
sonicfrog said...

Zorof was the professor in the 1980 movie Flash Gordon!. He was played by a guy named Topol. It was a bad movie, but so bad it is great. Any movie that has dialogue like:

"I knew you were up to something, though I confess I hadn't thought of necrophilia."

"Remove the earth woman. Prepare her for our pleasure!"

"Flash I love you! But we only have fourteen hours to save the earth!"

"Flying blind on a rocket cycle?"

Klytus: "Bring me... the bore worms."
Aura: "No! Not the bore worms!"

...and finally, a bit of dialogue from Max Von Sydow, who was simply born to play Ming The Merciless...

Ming: "Klytus, I'm bored. What plaything can you offer me today?"
Klytus: "An obscure body in the S-K system, your Majesty. The inhabitants refer to it as the planet, 'Earth'."

The last quote even turned up in a Moby song... and yes, I know the professor's name was Zarkov not Zorof!

Anonymous said...

Ann, er... Althouse, you need to consider that in an attempt to suffer even outlandish criticism and invective without flinching, you routinely leave strings of the foulest language imaginable in your comment strings. One lower case dave comment would trigger any such filter. I must admit that I've occasionally been nervous that someone reading my decidely pg blog would click through to your page and get a snootful of the raving maniacs that appear in your comments--persons that are not prepared for such things.

Look at a site as bawdy as Fark. They have filters that automatically excise or change any foul language or derogatory comments about african americans or homosexuals, for instance, and immediately ban anybody that posts inappropriate comments or pictures, because they know if they don't, Fark will be banned automatically in all work settings, and tumbleweeds will be blowing through the joint when that happens. The denizens there get really peeved at anyone that posts anything that might trip those filters. It's the reason why swears have symbols like @#$% in the middle of them, if a person who is not a mouth breather feels the need to write them down on the internet.

I've noticed that many normal and thoughtful people seem to disappeared in general from your comment strings. It's kinda turning into a zoo, and many people don't want to paste their name next to sociopath ravings.

By the way, I never vote in the online thingies. I was interested in who the other bloggers were when you linked to the list. I thought I'd give them a look. I clicked on your hyperlink, and there was the contest page with the list of entries with radio buttons next to their names. At the bottom, it said: You are not eligible to vote as you have already voted in the last 24 hours. I checked it for a few days running-it said that every day.

I never voted.

amba said...

How'd I mis "the one about the iPod vibrator"???

corporate law drudge said...

The urge to silence those who disagree knows no particular political affiliation

Andrew Shimmin said...

Instructions for defeating the blacklist, individually. It's not very likely that you ended up on the black list because of meddlesome lefties; you really do talk about sex, from time to time. The crawlers they use aren't particularly good at sorting garbage from non-garbage if there's any overlap in the lingo. It's why Breast Cancer sites so often get blocked.

Why is an adult filtering his/her own access?

Mortimer Brezny said...

The point was any picture of Ann is inherently erotic content. At least that's what my pastor says.

Sigivald said...

BarbO: Call your ISP.

Dawn: Norton's tools won't block any website unless you turn on content filtering, so that's a strange reason not to use them. (Now, not liking how much of a complete pain they are, that's a good reason.)

Dawn Braun said...

BarbO said:

"This sounds similar to a problem I've had for the past three months...the sites are blocked from every computer in the house--even wireless laptops other people "

This may be a differnt problem Barb, which may be a filter being used on your Internet Provider Software, being Earthlink or AOL. So it wouldn't be tied to your ROUTER, but customizable filters placed through your account settings.

Also you can change the security settings in Windows,which does not sound like what you are experiencing..

So I am in agreement with Gerry, and hope to hear some feedback on how things turned out.

Dawn Braun

ASX said...

Oh, you conservatives and your victim mentality.

ASX said...

The thing I find funny is that is it conservatives who established the regime of content filtering, to protect their sensitive selves from being exposed to dangerous liberal cultural pollution.

And so what happens when it affects poor ol' Ann?

Why, you blame the liberals, of course!

What a perfectly seamless world view you have.

Steve Donohue said...

I second Sippican.

David53 said...

If you have a world view with seams what does it look like?


Simon said...

Andrew Shimmin said...
"Why is an adult filtering his/her own access?"

My experience has been that a lot of them don't actually understand what they're doing - they just install the stuff they're told they need and try not to think about it. The average user is familiar with how to use a computer to read email and browse the web, maybe to type a document, but they aren't intimate with its mechanics. I had an email from a guy not long ago who referred repeatedly to "Outlet Express."

The computer has succeded precisely because it's become like a car: you don't need to know how it works to use it. I have no idea what process happens when I press the accelerator, but I know what the result is; likewise, your average user knows to open Firefox (or at least, to click on the blue "e"), and they know how to use google. I'd suggest that most people who are commenting on blogs (and who are doing so without typing in all caps) are above average users.

Mortimer Brezny said...
"The point was any picture of Ann is inherently erotic content."

You know, it must be a peculiar thing to be in your mid-fifties, and have a few commenters half your age who, for want of a more discrete way to put the point, think you're certifiably hot.

Too Many Jims said...

"I suspect that you were put on the list by someone as a means of enacting liberal free speech."

This kind of paranoia/sentiment detracts from real arguments about the existence and dangers of PC regulations.

But let's assume the reader is right and this is some grand leftist conspiracy to keep people from reading Prof. Althouse, isn't there a rather simple solution for the reader? The product is on the reader's system. If it is those crazy leftists at Norton that are blocking Prof. Althouse, couldn't the reader just remove it? Or do I have a right to complain that National Review is enacting conservative free speech by not including lefties' views in their magazine which I subscribe to?

Pogo said...

I rigged my own internet security system to block myself, as I find my posts to be largely vain, judgemental, argumentative, and generally insufferable.

So, you know, that way I can't even read this very post. Keeps me guessing what I'm actually reading anymore.

For Elizabeth: if not for conspiracies by the left, who is there to suspect for these obvious acts of treachery? I for one am glad to know that Norton (and, who knows, maybe McAfee) are part of the Grand Liberal Plot. Like those verification words. Clearly left-leaning (and -damn them- in code).

Gerry said...

Holy moly.

I think my head is about to explode at the surreal experience I just had. Ann, "you've got mail."

Ann Althouse said...

So, some of you are saying that I'm blacklisted just because somewhere in the comments, some people have used the F-word or whatever. Any ideas for a method to go back and find them? Also, note my emailer says he has me blocked because of sex acts not simply bad language.

Gerry said...


Having some knowledge about the way those blacklists get generated, I highly doubt that any language in the comments section did the trick.

I strongly suspect the iPod vibrator post did.

And I failed miserably at trying to find out how to get you off the blacklist.

Simon said...

"So, some of you are saying that I'm blacklisted just because somewhere in the comments, some people have used the F-word or whatever. Any ideas for a method to go back and find them?"

I think Gerry's right, but on the off chance that he isn't, go to google and type the following into the search bar:


(obviously replace the asterisk with a u). That gets 256 hits.

Simon said...

By way of comparison, the same search of Daily Kos produces 48,100 hits. So if they haven't been blacklisted for expletives, I can't imagine that you have.

And for that matter, I'm not sure that I follow why the Ipod vibrator would trigger inclusion, either. That post doesn't rise to any serious standard of explicitness.

Pogo said...

Conspiracy, I tell ya.

(P.S. verification word yohis ...need I say more??)

Ann Althouse said...

I don't get what it was about the vibrator post. Is it because the link took you to a site that sold a sex toy?

I've deleted the link there.

Can I get un-blacklisted by deleting things? I got that link through Metafilter, so by that standard, Metafilter should be blacklisted.

Ricardo said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Simon said...

I'm chatting with a Symantec person now. Will update.

Simon said...

"Can I get un-blacklisted by deleting things?"

One of the two questions I've posed for them is how to get unlisted. The other is the criteria for getting on there in the first place. I'll let you know if they come back with anything useful.

Ricardo said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
GPE said...

My suggestion: Don't change a thing about your site, retroactively or now. First and foremost, this detracts from the essence of your blog, that which makes it...well, makes it Althouse. To do otherwise would be to alter your character to fit the constructs of what some proprietary software package deems acceptable. Don't do it.

Second, the Symantic product is, as I mentioned, proprietary and they likely have no interest in accepting your word on the content of your blog. Their business, and the purpose of this particular software package, is to lift the burden of thinking from those who purchase their product. So, Symantec decides (more probably their analytical robot software) what is offensive.

In that light, thirdly, my guess is that most visitors to your site are not running this software and the impact would likely be negligible.

Personally, if I knew you were holding back on expressing what ever it is interests you on your blog, Althouse would be less interesting as a destination.

Anon Y. Mous said...

Maybe it was all the vaginas with teeth.

Ricardo said...

If you now censor your own content, so as to comply with some unknown programmer or machine, isn't that going to violate some of your own ethics? Where is the tipping point in wanting to ensure widespread dissemination of your product, and being willing to agree to other people setting the standards for your content?

Gerry said...

Simon, if you can get past the "What product and version do you have installed" then you are a better man than me.

kettle said...

Ugh. Do you really want to expend part of your life trying to figure this out? Symantec will most likely (out of ignorance) be unwilling to disclose any useful, general info about their blacklist and how it is generated. Ugh.

Simon said...

Ann - I sent you an email. I'm still working with them, but we're making progress.

Everything's shiny, Captain. Not to fret.

yetanotherjohn said...

I have had a bit of a chat with the Norton people. It was not enlightening.

After about two pages of back and forth we get to this string in the chat.

John,Can you let me know exact what is the issue regarding these site.

When I went to access these sites instead of going to the site I got the Norton page saying the site had been blocked because of "sexual acts" depicted on the site. Since there was no problem yesterday, I am assuming that they were blocked from the parental control list that was downloaded last night with the live update. I believe the two sites were incorrectly put on the Norton parental control list. What I am trying to find out is why did Norton put these sites on their parental control list. Can you point to something on the site that triggered the decision or did someone complain? I am hoping that this won't become a recurring problem that sites that should not be put on the parental control list are put on it putting just a bit more hassle in my day as I have to create an exception for them. Also, can you confirm that the two sites, and are on the parental control list and when they were added?

Thank you

In order to resolve this issue I suggest you please add this site on Exceptions.

Please follow the link.


I have already added these sites to my exceptions (as I said earlier in the thread). That doesn't answer my question of when did Norton add these sites to the parental control list and why were these sites added.

John,can you give me 2-3 min so that I discuss your issue with him.

I mean discuss your issue with my supervisor .

Thank you for your patience .

John,new update are work on signature there may be some thing on that site due to which it is blocked.

I suggest you please send your feed back to symantec.

Here at Symantec we place a great value on our customers' feedback regarding our products and services. This feedback is used to assist Symantec in implementing changes, which will enhance and improve our customers' experience. Please assist us in this process by providing feedback to the following link:

> Web URL:

Our feedback database is reviewed by management directly, and provides a forum for our customers to send feedback regarding enhancements to any Symantec product or service. I do hope your future interactions with our company are more positive.

End chat

Also, as far as the speculation as to how it got tagged, consider the possible catagories that could be used in regards to sex.

Adult Humor

So there is nothing about language per se, so I would have trouble belieing F*ck (use and I or a U depending on if you are a German or English speaker) in the comments would trigger this. I have seen one other blog tagged for "sex/education/advanced" for apparently discussing how she was coping while her husband was serving in Iraq. Not the call I would have made, but at least something rationale to hang your hat on.

I would think if the link to the iPod "accessory" was the cause, it would have earned the label "sex education/sexuality" as opposed to "sex acts".

I exercised my brain cells and recalled this post which would at least be something to consider as the potential reason.

This is a tale of two predators. The first is a congressman who befriended teenage pages. He sent them cajoling instant messages asking them to describe their sexual habits, so he could get his jollies.

The second is a secretary, who invited a 13-year-old girl from her neighborhood into her car and kissed her. Then she invited the girl up to her apartment, gave her some vodka, took off her underwear and gave her a satin teddy to wear.

Then she had sex with the girl, which was interrupted when the girl’s mother called. Then she made the girl masturbate in front of her and taught her some new techniques.

The first predator, of course, is Mark Foley, the Florida congressman. The second predator is a character in Eve Ensler’s play, “The Vagina Monologues."

Foley is now universally reviled. But the Ensler play, which depicts the secretary’s affair with the 13-year-old as a glorious awakening, is revered. In the original version of the play, the under-age girl declares, “I say, if it was a rape, it was a good rape, then, a rape that turned my [vagina] into a kind of heaven.” When I saw Ensler perform the play several years ago in New York, everyone roared in approval. Ensler has since changed the girl’s age to 16 — the age of Foley’s pages — and audiences still embrace the play and that scene at colleges and in theaters around the world.

Ann Althouse said...

Thanks, John.

Now, this Norton parental stuff, it's not the same as what businesses use, right? I'd be upset if people couldn't get here from work, but maybe this isn't the case. I do discuss sex a lot on this blog, and I'm not going to change that. The NYT discusses sex a lot! Not everything is for children.

I'm going back and deleting the F-word on old posts and comments. It will take a while to do it though, because there's a lot, even from some of the good commenters. (It's interesting to see the names of some commenters from the past. There are people we used to see all the time tha we never see anymore. I wonder what happened to them. Did they get tired of this blog? Did they die? Did they change nicknames? Did they kick the internet habit?)

Ann Althouse said...

I agree that I shouldn't change my blogging, but it's not really anything to put asterisks in the F-word and to expect other people to. I did that early on. The first time I wrote the word out was quoting President Bush.

Ann Althouse said...

Yetanotherjohn: So... you think it was quoting David Brooks that did it! David Brooks, discussing a big political scandal and a widely produced play. That's rich.

GPE said...

Now, this Norton parental stuff, it's not the same as what businesses use, right?

Small business, perhaps. When I was consulting more actively, I'd be working on site at various businesses of various sizes. It runs the spectrum from those who have no controls in place over employee web habits to draconian measures. Most seem to have some sort of monitoring in place and tend to weed out the problem employees rather than the "problem" web sites.

What ever the case, corporate proxy servers are likely to utilize enterprise grade filtering strategies and not the Norton product. Norton is meant more for individual PC's and such.

Mortimer Brezny said...

And who knows how to get off the list once you're on?

Stop saying things like "get off"?

Mortimer Brezny said...

Also, note my emailer says he has me blocked because of sex acts not simply bad language.

Well, being is a succession of acts. And being Ann Althouse is very sexy. You're too sexy for Norton Internet Security. Too sexy for this blog, so sexy it hurrrrrts....

Anon Y. Mous said...

I still think it was the Britney's Crotch post. In the comments, you posted a link to a photo of an actual real-life (you more delicate readers may want to cover your eyes) vagina (scroll down for the more graphic photo). Though you warned NSFW, I don't think that buys you any leniency with the filters.

Simon said...

Mort - gilding the lily...

Gerry said...

OMG. Sex acts! I sure hope I didn't cause this with all the times I told Doyle to go f himself!

downtownlad said...

Who uses those filters anyway?

Elizabeth said...

For Elizabeth: if not for conspiracies by the left, who is there to suspect for these obvious acts of treachery?

Pogo, I give up. Who? Perhaps, if we don our tinfoil hats together, we can get to the bottom of this. Whoever they are, we can outwit them.

heh. My verification word: sshtt

It's as if blogger knows we're being filtered.

phillywalker said...

I tried to read Althouse at the public library and was blocked because of sexual content. I was also flagged once at work, and have stopped reading at work. Probably better for my career, anyway.

But it was a fun break in the day while it lasted.

Simon Kenton said...

Too Many Jims wrote:

"If it is those crazy leftists at Norton that are blocking Prof. Althouse, couldn't the reader just remove it?"

TMJ, you're aiming the reader into a Hotel California experience. You can get rid of Norton, if you know how to uninstall; and when that fails, search and destroy all folders; and when that fails, use regedit; and when that fails, get through to the company to get a concealed utility from their website; and that may get it out. If not, format c: and reinstall windows and all the rest of yoru software. I've been dinged here by the hostess for quoting the Eagles, but you can stab it with your steely knives, but you still can't kill the beast.

Norton and my Black List, now and forever, one and inseparable.

Revenant said...

Yeah, Norton is like herpes -- incredibly annoying and you can never really get rid of it. I switched to Mcafee, which is somewhat less annoying.