Thursday, June 11, 2009

UPDATE: Internet Problems and "Technical" Discrimination

UPDATE: Received a response from OpenDNS regarding the Coffee Bean wi-fi:
We only provide network admins with the tools to block content on their networks, we as a company do not block anyone for any reason. If this user ( chooses to block a particular type of content on their network, we cannot interfere.

You however, as a consumer, have every right to boycott their business for the way they choose to block content on their networks.

If you have any other questions or need further assistance, please don't hesitate to ask - we are more than happy to help!

Interesting. And I want to be clear. I never mentioned a boycott. That was them. Waiting to hear from Coffee Bean themselves.

This post generated a bigger response than expected, from Facebook, Twitter, comments here and email. I'm glad to see I'm not alone when experiencing "technical discrimination." (Naturally, I never thought I was, hence my ranting.)

I will keep you posted on development. As Jeffrey posted under comments here, hopefully with a friendly request, we can rectify the situation and have one less place that blocks genuine LGBT content.
Hi UTF Readers,

Unfortunately, I'm experiencing internet problems and am unable to post as usual. But here's a quick story.

As a result of AT&T failing me on my internet connection, I went to a Coffee Bean where free wi-fi is advertised as a reason to come and sit around and drink their coffee.


Kind of. As I am going through my news feed and clicking on different blogs, I get this message:

If you can't read it, it says that Pam's House Blend is blocked due to "sexuality." (Same thing for Towleroad among others.) Click on it to enlarge.

Sure, this shouldn't be anything new to us - we experience "technical" discrimination all the time when we try to visit newsworthy sites issuing stories on LGBT issues, while at work or at the library, simply because the word "gay", "lesbian", the dreaded "homosexual" and other similar key words are detected. As a result, we're immediately blocked for the reason, as described above by OpenDNS, the wi-fi source for Coffee Bean, of "sexuality."

Naturally, I wrote a rather angry email telling them they need to do a better job determining what is porn or "adult" and from what is a news or editorial blog. If I typed in "heterosexual", would the sites pulled up be blocked?

I doubt it.

I've heard the excuses before from techies about how hard it is to filter porn out while still trying not to block non-adult LGBT sites.

But then we reach a deeper issue. Is the LGBT population feeding the popularity of LGBT porn, thus making the "homosexual" key word more equivalent to porn than a description of who we are (though many of us hate that word), thus justifying the wingnuts arguments against us about being simply a sexually driven population? Or is it simply so many people are in the closet and make these LGBT porn sites and their corresponding key words so much more popular than we possibly could on our own? (Again, another issue there.) Or is it just downright discrimination?

Or is it all these things?

I don't know. What I do know is that I'm trying to continue to blog on LGBT issues - just bear with me as I weed through "technical" discrimination.


  1. If these filters are simply going on words such as gay, lesbian they are going to eliminate thousands of sites, including mainstream media sites. I am not an expert on this type of technology but surely there is a way they can filter out adult sites from news/editorial sites. Pam's and towle are not video or picture sites which should be a way for the filters to determine that it is not an adult site.

  2. If somehow you see this, please check if PFOX or any ex-gay or anti-gay are unblocked.

  3. PFOX is unblocked as well as Exodus International. Hmm . . .

  4. What about educational sites such as (the encyclopedia)? A lot of students use coffee shops as places to do research and write papers. Would all gay studies sites be blocked?

  5. Why don't you post a corporate email for Coffee Bean & we can politley ask them to rectify the situation? It might not be intentional. And they may be able to quickly fix the problem if we loyal customers express or concern.

  6. I think I was robbed, again. I should be getting blogging credit. LOL.

    No worries, it's all good.

    Nonetheless, could it be a software glitch?

    Sure, why not? It worked for Nashville, Tennessee...

  7. Go to a coffee bean and try to get on unite the fight - the advocate - - - it all works.

    If they were filtering for "gay" "lesbian", etc, none of these sites would have come up.

    Clearly something got snagged in the filter.

    This is such a non-story.

  8. I went to The Coffee Bean out of concern for what I have read here. I was able to access all of the gay news and culture sites I regularly use, including Pam's House Blend.

    Does Unite the Fight have another agenda here? Is it not ironic that our community is so quick to condemn without knowing all the facts? Isn't that what this site trying to prevent in the first place?

  9. Was sad to hear about this, and this whole story seems kinda off - especially now that Opendns issued a statement - so I did my own research. is a service that has users "categorize" websites by "tagging" them. Home users/school users/business users, etc.

    Once a sufficient number of ppl indicate it as being a part of a category - "nudity" or "porn" or whatever - it gets tagged that way and filtered.

    (Categories are here: was flagged by opendns users as "sexuality".

    (, and the screen shot originally posted confirms that it was blocked for being in the sexuality category)

    Opendns describes sites in the sexuality category as "Sites that provide information, images or implications of bondage, sadism, masochism, fetish, beating, body piercing or self-mutilation."

    Why WOULDN'T the Coffee Bean filter out the "sexuality" category? Can you really have customers using wifi and looking at fetish sites? self-mutilation sites? Of course not.

    Looks to me like Opendns users miscategorized the site and Coffee Bean took the blame in a big way and all over the damn internet. Sweet internet slander, guys.

    Shady business all around. Don't know who I'm more bummed on - Opendns users for being so closed-minded and quick to judge, or Unite the Fight for being so quick to accuse and speculate...

  10. I want to quickly address some of the concerns here. I want to point out that I contacted OpenDNS asking THEM why these sites were filtered because they were providing the filters. In my original post, I mention Coffee Bean once. I directed my angry email to DNS.

    They responded as they did (see update) citing that it was the businesses who determined blocked content. I'm asking Coffee Bean for a response. The Advocate has also asked for them to respond and have yet to hear back.

    My post was more out of frustration about how we as a community faced "blocked" sites at work and at libraries a lot of the time simply because of the terms connected to us and how said terms are automatically linked to porn, nudity and s&m and many more items that SHOULDN'T be seen in public places, but are somehow linked to us.

    I didn't start judging Coffee Bean. But I was upset that yet again, I couldn't get work done at yet another place because people or filters had flagged sites simply because they're LGBT.

    Like the commentator above said, we face closed-mindedness. And THAT'S what I was reacting to.

    I'm glad to hear these sites are coming up on other Coffee Beans. But as you see in the image in my post, they weren't at the one I was at. TWO DAYS IN A ROW.

    Hopefully Coffee Bean can clear this up for us.

  11. Pam's House Blend is not a sex website. There's no graphic content in it whatsoever.

    TOWLEROAD, on the other hand... One of these days, we bloggers have to discuss the incessant need for some to feature porn, some as part of their online activism.

    There is no misunderstanding, no one is calling for a boycott. All [we] want to know is why certain websites are blocked and others are not.

  12. OpenDNS is right - businesses determine blocked content - by category. CBTL blocks the "sexuality" category based on the OpenDNS definition of it (referenced by another poster.)

    OpenDNS labels pamshouseblend as a "sexuality" site, and bam - it's flagged and blocked by CBTL's filters.

    Sure, CBTL can go and unflag that specific site, but if OpenDNS categorized it as sexuality, of COURSE it would initially be blocked.

    Until someone contacts CBTL and alerts them to the error, it's going to be blocked. You can't expect a coffee chain to go thru the millions of sites that OpenDNS flags as "sexuality" and CONFIRM that they're actually sexuality sites. Who has time for that?

    I just wish the original post hadn't dragged CBTL into it since that your posting was picked up by The Advocate. There are "Coffee Bean is Anti-gay" items all over the internet now, and it's completely false. Looks like a lot of bad press for CBTL for an issue that's really OpenDNS's, and certainly a part of a much broader discrimination issue.

  13. Update - posted on pam's blog

    A bummer of a mistake (0.00 / 0)
    I don't want to jump in front of my staff who are going to respond to this better than I can, but this was just a mistake on OpenDNS's part in two ways: 1) blocking your site and 2) having a support response that was a bit more biased than it should have been.
    I love our support department because our team is not outsourced to some far off country and is made up of real human beings in San Francisco with real opinions and who really care about giving our customers and users high-quality support. 99.99% of the time, that's awesome. Every once in a while (this might be the first time) I look at an answer and scratch my head wondering what they were thinking. I think you'll find this all gets cleared up in a couple of hours as folks roll into work and we'll send responses to UniteTheFight and the other sites.

    Also, in case anyone wonders... no "heads are going to roll" as a result of this, it was just a technical mistake and a slightly blunt support response from a well-meaning person on my team. I'm confident neither will happen again. :-)

    David Ulevitch
    Founder, OpenDNS

    ps, the irony is that I can say with a very high degree of confidence that nobody at OpenDNS, least of all our support department, has any issue with LGBT sites. If you ever see our blocked page again in error just flag it for review."

  14. If these filters are simply going on words such as gay, lesbian they are going to eliminate thousands of sites, including mainstream media sites. I am not an expert on this type of technology but surely there is a way they can filter out adult sites from news/editorial sites. Pam's and towle are not video or picture sites which should be a way for the filters to determine that it is not an adult site.