Monday, November 15, 2010

Amtrak's questionable Wi-Fi filter

I was on Amtrak's high-speed Acela Express this afternoon, returning home from a wonderful weekend in New York City.

AT&T's 3G wireless can be a little spotty on the train so I took advantage of the free Wi-Fi to check my Twitter feed.

I clicked on a link to a critic's notebook by Charles McNulty, who writes about theatre for the Los Angeles Times. He reviewed Gatz and Angels in America, both off-Broadway.

This is the message I got:

"The page you tried to visit cannot be accessed because it contains content belonging to the category of: Adult. AmtrakConnect blocks access to selected sites that are known to utilize high bandwith or that may contain content that could be considered questionable by some of our passengers."

I was pretty shocked. What "adult" content could there possibly be in a theatre review from the very mainstream Los Angeles Times?

When I got home, I read the reviews and I could not find anything objectionable, not one word or photograph that could be considered "questionable" by anyone. Certainly nothing that would have gotten the page tagged as "adult."

The only thing I can think of is, the Angels in America review mentions AIDS. Maybe that was the trigger for Amtrak's filter? If so, that would be very sad. Or maybe it was McNulty's use of the phrase "hot-blooded" in the Gatz review?

I simply don't know.

Now, I realize that Internet filters are imperfect. Maybe this was just a glitch. Or maybe I'm missing something here. I've sent an e-mail to Amtrak and I'll post an update when I get a reply.

Update: I got reply from Amtrak apologizing and explaining that there was a glitch in the automatic content filter. Typically, they have no issues with links on the Los Angeles Times. I still don't know what, if anything, specifically triggered the "adult content" block. It would have been interesting to find out.

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