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Surfcontrol blocking Webmaster and team!

Anyone else have content filtering software affecting their work?



9:10 pm on Jul 27, 2007 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

I am wondering if any other Webmasters/Designers are having problems doing thier job because of content filtering at work. Is the Webmaster ever blocked from most of the Web? Is this normal in a business setting?

I work on the Web team at a very large state agency. We have an enormous site covering many program areas. Our team (3 of us) creates pages for program areas, but we also administer many users of a content management system. We must approve content, links to other sites, and review existing material for update. We also design templates, create graphics, and run statistics.

We always had content filtering software to block the bad stuff, but just recently the network folks have taken this to extreme, blocking literally everything they don't deem work-related (hobbies, gardening, finances, food, motor vehicles etc... we're blocked from about 30 categories). Now we are blocked from about a third of the sites that our own site links to because our agency deals with a variety of topics that don't fall within a select few categories.

Our senior designer used to get creative ideas from other sites. She can no longer do this. I have less experience and am currently learning. I'm told that the best way to learn is by looking at site designs on the Web and trying to replicate them. I cannot freely do this now. We can also no longer check external links (sometimes hundreds in one sub-site) without emailing the network guy each time we hit a block. This can happen many times a day, and sometimes he's not there to approve. I do all the stats and I'm blocked from most of our top referrers list and can't see what context people are coming to our site from.

The real kicker is that most of the users we administer got exemptions from the crack-down because they were deemed to have "business purpose" to access the Web. However, somehow they think the Web team does not have business purpose to access the Web.

We have a meeting next week to discuss why we should have access like other users who have gotten exceptions.

I am curious if other Webmasters and designers are in the same boat with Surfcontrol and other content filtering software at work. I'm also looking to hear your thoughts on this topic in general and maybe get ideas to bring up to support my argument from a professional standpoint.

Thank you!


9:30 pm on Jul 27, 2007 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

I worked for a large firm once and filtering software was discussed. I listened to it for a few moments, then said, "If you don't have anything better to spend money and time on than this, I'll assign you some real work." That was the end of it.

The issue of filtering the web for responsible professionals goes beyond the problems you are having, as troubling as they are. It is a symptom of poor management that has problems determining what is and is not important in terms of measuring production.

Tell them you want the filtering shut down now. And if they have a problem with that, it's their problem, not yours. Meanwhile, you have work to do.


9:39 pm on Jul 27, 2007 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member jdmorgan is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

I see this as fairly black and white...

Their zeal to block sites is interfering with your group's ability to get its work done, plain and simple. Instead of begging them to allow you access, turn it around. Put them on the hot seat to explain why you should be blocked, and how they justify the inefficiencies and added costs this causes in your work process.

I lost interest in corporate work because of mickey-mouse stuff like this. If a boss is competent, he/she doesn't need corporate filters or spyware to "control" his/her employees. Instead, he/she should simply fire anyone who does not get their work done, or who has inappropriate content on their screen when the boss drops in for a visit. A quick look at the browser cache will be sufficient proof -- but the corporate-employee spyware vendors are doing a good job selling this stuff.

If your meeting does not work out to your satisfaction, then the next-best thing is for your group to slowly but surely increase the number of requests sent for approval every day until that department has to hire another two people just for approvals. With your referrer log, I'm sure you can come up with a few hundred URLs per day... And send them in one at a time, not in any well-organized format. Then call and keep calling to confirm that they were received and to check on their approval status... :)

Make it *their* problem, and they will fix it.



7:25 pm on Jul 30, 2007 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

That's funny, jdMorgan, that's exactly what we've been doing -- sending them requests one by one. Haven't clicked through the referrers list though because I knew most of the sites were blocked so I couldn't use it. That's a good idea though.

Our meeting is being cancelled because they feel they've implemented a solution by letting us into sites on a timer for one minute per site (with a warning screen that we "are being monitored") so that we can check our links or look at a template we like or whatever.

Unfortunately I have no clout to tell them to shut anything down. Our office of administration has made Surfcontrol a standard for all agencies, however, it is up to individual agencies how far they wanted to take it beyond blocking security risks. Management in our specific agency just went nuts and lost sight of the larger goal.

I do not think this will have any effect of productivity whatsoever, because those who don't want to do work will find other ways to waste time.

I wasn't even advocating taking the filter off; rather, I just want them to stop blocking all the "harmless" categories. I am insulted and offended that they do not trust our team even though our boss approved us having expanded rights, but they could care less how I personally feel.

Any other Webmasters or Designers out there run into this problem?

Anyone know of a tool I can use that will allow me to see how many external links on my site hits this Surfcontrol block?


3:03 am on Jul 31, 2007 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I think you're right to feel insulted, I doubt I would last a week at any company that treated their employees with such contempt.

Personally I would find another job and when I left I would clearly and politely detail to the managers my reasons for leaving.


2:08 pm on Jul 31, 2007 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

Thanks for the support. I guess the consensus is that Webmasters would up and leave if they were to be so disrespected. I am committed to my job and am otherwise happy so it's not really an option. We fight red tape all the time with everything we do, and we generally know how to play the game. However, this obstacle is something that affects us more directly because it stunts our work and, IMHO, for no good reason (and it's insulting not to be trusted -- I have Web on my phone and even though nobody tracks that, I don't sit and surf it at work).

Does anyone else out there have content filtering affecting their Web work, and if so, in what ways is it affecting you?


2:21 pm on Jul 31, 2007 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

...they feel they've implemented a solution by letting us into sites on a timer for one minute per site (with a warning screen that we "are being monitored")

Have fun working in such an unprofessional environment - sticky me the company name so I can add them to the banned client list.


2:53 pm on Jul 31, 2007 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

Thanks, bcolflesh, but I must remain anonymous. I do love my agency, its mission, and the work we do. However, it is so large that different people have control of different aspects. Sometimes someone is given too much control over a certain area and they don't understand the impact. Then they can indirectly hurt the agency by affecting others' work negatively and lowering morale. But I don't actually blame the employer because this is coming from too many levels down. Unfortunately, I am many levels below that. :(


6:11 pm on Aug 6, 2007 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

I am still curious if other companies out there block their Webmaster and/or Web teams from the majority of categories on the Web, and if so, how does it impact you? If not, how do you think it would impact you if you were closed off from most of the Web?

We were going to have a meeting about this, then it was cancelled, but now it's back on later this week so I'm trying to get an idea how the rest of the world exists with regard to this.


6:29 am on Aug 7, 2007 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

This reminds me of a midly amusing quote I saw on one of the quote databases:

<Skevin> At a former workplace, I tried to google for "python scripting trim whitespace". The page was blocked. I asked the owner of the company (who set up the blocking software out of the box) and he responded with "Animals have nothing to do with your job. Writing screenplays have nothing to do with your job. And I definitely will not tolerate my employees looking at websites of racist organizations."

The fact is, and this is most noticeable in web development, the things we have to keep track of tend to have the most outrageous names you can think of - anyone without development knowledge listening to us talk would walk away bewildered by topics about AJAX and frameworks and python and rubies and perls and classes and objects and scripts and bugs and apache and styles and...well, you get the idea.

I've lost track of the number of unusual sites I've found solutions to major problems for over the years - blocking sites for web developers - a class of employee which by its very definition needs to have unfettered access to the web is as self defeating a non-solution as I've ever seen.

(It's a non-solution because presumably the employer is worried about employees wasting time cruising the net - in which case the solution is not to cut off one avenue of procrastination [they'll just find another], but to deal with whatever the source of slackness is [lack of work, laziness, whatever]).


10:06 am on Aug 7, 2007 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

It is not just webmasters. I worked for an investment bank that at one point had a white list only policy. This made life difficult, to say the least.

Even after they loosened this to use filtering software there were problems for a while. For example, they blocked access to alcohol and tobacco sites - not helpful for analysts covering alcohol and tobacco companies. Fortunately, the policy got changed fairly rapidly.


10:40 am on Aug 7, 2007 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member vincevincevince is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

You need to tell your boss that you cannot work effectively with this kind of control. Unless your boss is inept, he will understand the implications of not being able to work effectively.

If concerns remain about time wasting or inappropriate website access then perhaps you might suggest site logging with access available to line managers.


2:19 pm on Aug 7, 2007 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

We were fine with blocking porn and racism and any obvious garbage too, but when they started to try and figure out what's "work-related" and block everything else, that's when our problems started.

What KILLs me is that the program-area users we administer have gotten exemptions because they have "business needs", but we are responsible for the whole site (we design the site and sub-sites and then the users make changes thru a CMS) and supposedly don't have the business need.

VinceVince, unfortunately my boss is locked down too. We have clerk-typists that are exempted because their supervisors have requested it for "business need" (they have to touch the Web for some reason or other). But my boss, responsible for our entire Web presence, is still trying to get a meeting because a request from her AND her boss wasn't good enough. This is because we are in the information technology bureau so we are probably too close to it. The program areas slide under the radar.

I hate to say it but we are also three ladies in an IT bureau of all men! Not sure if that has anything to do with it but I wouldn't be surprised.

Steerpike, you are right about those crazy names! I laugh when I think if I heard myself now 20 years ago (especially discussions of robots and spiders crawling out of control! LOL what would we have thought as kids in the 80's?)


5:12 am on Aug 8, 2007 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

Lilydale, I have a suspicion that your situation is not about what privileges your group needs to do your jobs, but rather a turf war between departments. I can just picture your next inter agency organizational meeting the network group standing up and arguing that the web group is redundant and should be absorbed into the network group, that the network group already does much of the same work anyhow, that the network group has to approve web sites for access before the web team can approve them. In my experience it's the way of agency internal politics.


5:55 am on Aug 8, 2007 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member vincevincevince is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

I presume your boss has some budget of his own for IT equipment or similar? Have him put in the following order:
New network card for each team member
Router large enough for all team members
ADSL/cable modem based on locally available services

Another option is to make use of the web server and install a proxy server there. Then have your team proxy through your web server. Would take ages for them to catch on.


4:25 pm on Aug 8, 2007 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

It very well could be politics. I don't know. That's our big question is "Why"? Like was said before, if they really were worried, they could just let our supervisor monitor us (but our supervisor was the one requesting the exemption -- and her supervisor supports that -- so go figure) For me it's more the principle at this point, but it looks like we may be just giving up.


8:50 pm on Aug 9, 2007 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

Thanks for all your opinions and support! We did finally get this resolved at the meeting today. Now we are only minimally restricted (from the bad stuff we wouldn't need anyway) so we can finally do our job with no problems.


2:53 pm on Aug 10, 2007 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

That's good news. A bit late, but I remembered reading about a trick used somewhere. Apparently, if you could get them to unblock Google translation services, you can use it as a proxy by having it do an "English to English" translation on whatever page you need to access.

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