by Simone Kaplan

WEB POLICY – The Dark Side of the Web

Mar 15, 20022 mins
IT Governance

Sex, drugs, gambling?it’s all in a day’s work for Harold Kester. He spends his days surfing the Internet for websites dedicated to pornography, racism and online gaming?sites that would get the average employee fired in a second.

As the CTO of Websense, a San Diego-based Web filtering software developer, Kester’s job is to examine suspicious sites submitted daily by its clients. He and his staff classify sites according to 28 different languages (including Urdu, a language widely used by Muslims in Pakistan and India) as well as 78 content categories such as racism and hate, sex, gambling, violence, drugs and weapons. The newly categorized sites are entered into a master database, which can then block certain categories.

Content management is old hat for Kester, the former CTO of Encyclopedia Britannica. “I’ve been looking at text classification for 17 years, and this is the most interesting application I’ve had for that background,” he says.

That doesn’t make it easier to look at some of the things he sees. Some are truly strange, while others are deeply disturbing. “There was the site for people who are addicted to Chapstick,” he recalls. “Then there were the sites for people who are sexually interested in feet, stuffed animals, really obese women. There are also sites that advocate rape or extreme hate, and that’s hard to deal with.”

Websense’s clients are often less interested in whether their employees are surfing the Victoria’s Secret catalog online than they are in maximizing bandwidth and managing productivity, Kester says. They just want to be sure people aren’t downloading huge, bulky sound files or playing Quake for hours when they’re supposed to be working.