Ford may find that porn sticks around

Following Ford's amnesty on offensive material, the company is going to have a difficult time making sure its computers are clear, say experts

Internet filtering experts have criticised Ford's plan to remove pornography from its workers' computers.

On 4 March, Ford issued a two-week amnesty to its 20,000 UK workers to remove any offensive, including racist, material either downloaded from the Internet or received via email from their machines. The car manufacturer offered help from its computer systems managers to remove the content during this period.

However, Internet filtering experts have expressed doubt that Ford will be able to search and catalogue the millions of files throughout its 345,000-strong global workforce. Search firm Inktomi currently catalogues data held on companies' internal servers but has not yet extended this to individual workers' computers. This would be a highly labour-intensive exercise.

Many companies are unaware they have a problem with offensive material on their workers' computers, according to Martyn Richards, European head of filtering film Tumbleweed. He said, "If you ask me whether there will be any pornography on a PC in Ford within two weeks from now, I would say 'definitely yes'. Most people don't know how to start cleaning up their PCs."

It is far easier to monitor email traffic and Internet sites visited in real time than to clean existing content on hard drives. Workers taking laptops home complicate matters even more. Using a computer for both work and personal use adds to the problem. "How do you draw the line at what is offensive and what is pornographic?" said Richards. "Different organisations will have different views about what they will and will not allow."

"In the example of Ford, you cannot expect to enforce a clean-up of computers content by sending memos." Automated filtering technology is seen to be the solution, together with lists of sites that are forbidden.

Regional variations add a further level of complexity. For example, what is considered normal for an advertising department in Europe could be offensive in the Middle East.

Johanna Severinffon, marketing manager at filtering firm Websense, said software exists that can be custom-tailored for individual workers at specific locations that will allow them to visit particular Web sites. "We have all innocently clicked on a link in an email, or in a search engine, that takes you through to a site that is inappropriate," she said. "It is better to block out it out in the first place and then you will not have a problem. Then the employee is spared embarrassment and the company is protecting itself and its reputation."

Spam or unwanted email is a curse for an increasing amount of people in the workplace who find their email address innocently harvested by a growing multitude of spammers, filling their inbox with a variety of dubious offers ranging from the pornographic to get-rich-quick merchants and reverse-ageing 'specialists' for example.

The problem with inappropriate material in the workplace is so deep-rooted that companies need to have a combination of software automated filtering and a clear company policy that leaves workers in no doubt what is permissible while not infringing their privacy. In Switzerland, companies deal with stricter privacy laws by using software which bounces back potentially offensive emails from workers, and sends a request for them to modify the content before it can be sent.


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