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A Custom Objectionable Word List Ate My Homework 386 386

theodp writes "Among the first three schools using Chromebooks for Education is the Merton Community School District, which decided to go Chromebook after the Wisconsin Dept. of Public Instruction (WDPI) issued a news release (created using PDFMaker for Word) announcing that all Wisconsin schools can have access to Google Apps for Education by simply downloading a Google Consent Form (Microsoft Word format, oddly) from the WDPI website, completing & signing it, and submitting it to Google. And to help get the schools going, a separate Wisconsin Google Apps for Education website aims to jumpstart things with weekly webinars, the first of which — Getting started with the Google Apps for Education Control Panel — shows school officials how they can sandbox 'Naughty Students' and filter objectionable content. While Google illustrates how a list of 'custom objectionable words' can be used to flag and/or block students' e-mail with some cute examples — different spellings of 'booger' and a regex to block variants like 'b00g3r' — things get considerably nastier in the real world, as this NSFW custom objectionable word list used by the North Canton City Schools shows."
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A Custom Objectionable Word List Ate My Homework

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 28, 2011 @08:36AM (#37233072)

    Can someone cut the extraneous crap and useless hyperlinks of this story and also re-edit so this is actually readable? I have no idea what the story is here.

  • by Registered Coward v2 (447531) on Sunday August 28, 2011 @08:37AM (#37233080)
    I tried to type but after the f and 2 * and K it disappeared. Dam
  • by jonfr (888673) on Sunday August 28, 2011 @08:54AM (#37233140) Homepage

    If in doubt, do not use Google Censor.

    But this is just beyond stupid I must say.

  • by shoppa (464619) on Sunday August 28, 2011 @08:55AM (#37233142)
    Took me a while to decode the original article because it manages to wander all over the place.

    Synopsis: The Scunthorpe Problem all over again [wikipedia.org]
  • by Joe_Dragon (2206452) on Sunday August 28, 2011 @09:33AM (#37233296)

    Just wait for it to fail the breast cancer test and who will take the blame then?

  • by uglyMood (322284) <dbryant@atomicdeathray.com> on Sunday August 28, 2011 @09:36AM (#37233304) Homepage
    The objectional word list is hilarious if you imagine it being read by Porky Pig.
  • by kilodelta (843627) on Sunday August 28, 2011 @09:43AM (#37233344) Homepage
    They blocked 'scrotum', 'screw', and 'gonads'? This ought to make the science and engineering classes interesting.
    • by betterunixthanunix (980855) on Sunday August 28, 2011 @09:54AM (#37233402)
      Engineering classes? Before college? Not likely in this country.

      As for scrotum and gonads, I do not recall hearing those words mentioned in any biology and "health education" classes, so I guess that will not be a problem either. If you are reading this and thinking, "What the hell is going on with education over there," you must have not been paying attention -- American education is second rate. Schools in America are really meant to condition people to accept a particular social order and hierarchy (unless you are wealthy enough to send your children to private school).
  • by Lunatrik (1136121) on Sunday August 28, 2011 @09:45AM (#37233352)
    Banning words is pretty bad, but what do you think the admin staff can do with a "concern" list? If you click through to the North Carolina google doc filter, you get the following set of words:

    gun shoot stab knife kill hurt fight murder attack punch hate suicide cutting drug drugs pot weed marijuana grass blunt toke stoned beer alcohol booze drunk gay lesbian porn sex molest molested molesting naked nude

    Based on the site, admins are forwarded messages with those terms but they are still delivered. If I was a parent I would not let my kids play in this sandbox...

  • by Runaway1956 (1322357) on Sunday August 28, 2011 @09:48AM (#37233370) Homepage Journal

    I know, it's Sunday, traffic is low, and Google has more servers than anyone. But, I'm watching "Anonymous user xxxx has opened this document" pop up, repeatedly. And, I'm just wondering if we could ever slashdot Google to death. It would be fun to try!

  • by AngryNick (891056) on Sunday August 28, 2011 @09:54AM (#37233406) Homepage Journal
    Seeing how many people actually read TFA is more interesting than the topic. 2,157 annon viewers and counting.
  • by dpbsmith (263124) on Sunday August 28, 2011 @09:56AM (#37233428) Homepage

    This doesn't look like a case of censoring the Venus de Milo, or blocking email from someone named Scunthorpe, or anything like that. Nor are there obvious political or religious overtones.

    Context matters--what happens to a student who actually uses a "bad" word in an innocent context--"It was a bitch and she had the purtiest coat. I said to the feller owned her, ' When she finds pups,' says I, 'I'd like one.'"--Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, "The Yearling." Or someone who quotes the F-word passage from "The Catcher in the Rye." Or someone who just barely crosses the line in, let's say, a creative writing piece that too-accurately reports the colloquial language of her peers. The actions the school takes matter. But the list itself, as a trigger for action, seems pretty sensible.

    One could easily write an essay on eroticism in Walt Whitman ("I sing the body electric,") or Shakespeare playing to the groundlings ("Spake ye of country matters?"), without violating the list.

    This list doesn't look like ludicrous overreaching to me. I enjoyed my giggles from reading it as much as anyone else, and am amused by its being available in an open Google Docs document. But it doesn't reflect poorly on North Canton schools.

    Any high school student who uses these words in a piece of schoolwork is either committed a mistake--a mistake that could potentially cost them a job if their adult life--or they're engaged in a breaching experiment. Either way, it is perfectly appropriate for the school to take some kind of action.

    • by _0xd0ad (1974778) on Sunday August 28, 2011 @10:48AM (#37233700) Journal

      So this one time, I read a book about this kid in Holland who stuck his finger into a queer hole in a dike and probably saved the entire country. Then I went to shop class and screwed a few faggots together (managed to prick my finger in the process). But what do I know, I'm just a stupid homo sapiens. Blue-footed boobies are, of course, naughty, as well as tits, as well as cocks. Wouldn't want anyone seeing a male chicken, for christ's sakes! Ask Dick Cheney, I'm sure he'd agree.

      The list is "perfectly appropriate" and "reasonable", and anyone using those words has "committed a mistake" and probably shouldn't ever get a job, anywhere, ever.

      (ten. if you found them all, you win a fucking prize.)

    • by jimicus (737525) on Sunday August 28, 2011 @10:51AM (#37233712)

      Did you actually read the list or did you just take a quick glance at it?

      The following sentences could cause a filter to trip:

      "The external male sexual organs - or gonads - are the penis and the testicles. The testicles are enclosed in a sac of skin called the scrotum". (Virtually any biology work concerning sex would suffer equally - "vagina", "clitoris", "orgasm" and "ejaculate" are all in the list).

      "The role of chimney sweep Bert in Mary Poppins was played by actor Dick van Dyke".

      "As part of this woordwork project, each item is held in place with a single screw."

      While I doubt the filter would block on just a single instance, if you're talking about (for example) actor Dick van Dyke, chances are his name's going to appear in the essay several times.

      I've never yet seen a filter which was worth a damn. But I have worked in a school (albeit some years ago) and the consensus of opinion there was very much along the lines of "the filtering may never work properly and we may be stuck with something that on the face of it causes as many problems as it solves - but the sort of problems it causes are likely to cost us a lot less than the sort of problems it solves."

    • by betterunixthanunix (980855) on Sunday August 28, 2011 @10:54AM (#37233734)

      Any high school student who uses these words in a piece of schoolwork is either committed a mistake

      Oh yeah? How about an essay that contains something like this:

      Although it is less relevant in the modern world, the Bible does contain a prohibition on beastiality (sic, the list doesn't spell this word correctly), which indicates that such practices were known among ancient near-east cultures...

      Yeah, it is really a stretch to think that a student would use one of the words on the list in their schoolwork. Many of the words on that list could easily be used in an academic context even at the high school level. A student might be talking about dog breeding and use the word "bitch" appropriately, or might write a report about the history of the gay rights movement which contains various slang words.

      The actions the school takes matter. But the list itself, as a trigger for action, seems pretty sensible.

      It is sensible if your goal is to condition students to believe that censorship is normal and that if you are going to discuss certain topics it must be under the supervision of an authority figure. What do you think reaches students at a deeper level: a class about the US government which happens to cover the bill of rights, or a censorship system that the students must submit to every day? How much respect for freedom of speech do you think these students will have, after spending years dealing with this sort of censorship?

      On the one hand, we criticize the Chinese for doing these sorts of things, we criticize Cisco for providing the necessary equipment, and we encourage people to run proxies and Tor exits. On the other hand, we engage in exactly the same behavior when it comes to our schools and students, we use the same equipment, the same sort of policies, and we discourage students from circumventing the censorship apparatus. What are teachers supposed to say when they teach about current events?

  • by jmichaelg (148257) on Sunday August 28, 2011 @10:06AM (#37233470) Journal
    I wonder if it matters to the threat scanner that who ever setup the list of threats at North Canton City Schools doesn't know how to spell encrypted.


    And why would a school block .jobs and .museum? It's as if the school district doesn't want their students to find a job or be educated outside the school.

  • by failedlogic (627314) on Sunday August 28, 2011 @10:13AM (#37233494)

    All the words in this list focus on swearing and swearing only. The words that can actually cause harm to people, words that can be used to utter threats of violence are left out. There's no blocks on murder, stabbing, pipebomb.

    The only thing I can conclude from their fine list is they don't care if the student's hurt or kill each other or express their desire to do so. They just don't want them to make love.

  • by Darkness404 (1287218) on Sunday August 28, 2011 @10:21AM (#37233530)
    So in other words they are making sure that students can't quote (real) literature? Just about any decent book not intended for Kindergarteners has some swearing in it. Not only that but often schools have students read books with "Nigger" as a main part of the dialogue (Huckleberry Finn, To Kill A Mockingbird, etc.) making it nearly impossible to write an essay on that topic. Or what about quoting Shakespeare, this passage from A Midsummer's Night Dream comes to mind:

    Made senseless things begin to do them wrong; For briers and thorns at their apparel snatch; Some sleeves, some hats, from yielders all things catch. I led them on in this distracted fear, And left sweet Pyramus translated there: When in that moment, so it came to pass, Titania waked and straightway loved an ass.

    Heck, half the comedy in the play revolves around the double meaning of the word ass.

  • by BaldingByMicrosoft (585534) on Sunday August 28, 2011 @10:43AM (#37233676)
    Well done on the consent form. Love the way it just drops reference to the real agreement:
    https://sites.google.com/site/wiscgapps/wisconsin-google-apps-announcements/consentformandagreementavailable [google.com]

    Some of the confidentiality agreement is below. Love the way they name Google as "School Official" to mitigate FERPA. I also linked Wikipedia below for CIPA, COPPA, and FERPA. These are federal, not sure what the state laws and guidelines are in Wisconsin.

    Maybe I'm paranoid, and it's okay for targeted ads for tutoring services to follow little Johnny around for a few years. I do feel bad for Wisconsin K-12 IT. I'm sure they've worked hard over the years to provide systems and AAA (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AAAA_protocol [wikipedia.org]) to help students, teachers and school officials protect information and student record data as required. Kiss that goodbye when managed AAA is replaced with self-managed peer-to-peer document security on a per-document basis. What's this "make public" checkbox? Looks cool! How many Wisconsin teachers and administrators are being trained to manage their own data governance in this environment?


    5. Confidential Information.

    5.1 Obligations.
    Each party will: (a) protect the other party’s Confidential Information with the same standard of care, but no less than a reasonable standard of care, it uses to protect its own Confidential Information; and (b) subject to applicable law, not disclose the Confidential Information, except to Affiliates, employees and agents who have a reasonable need to know it and who have agreed in writing to keep it confidential. Each party (and any Affiliates, employees and agents to whom it has disclosed Confidential Information) may use Confidential Information only to exercise rights and fulfill its obligations under this Agreement, while using reasonable care to protect it. Each party is responsible for any actions of its Affiliates, employees and agents in violation of this Section.

    5.2 Exceptions.
    Confidential Information does not include information that: (a) the recipient of the Confidential Information already knew; (b) becomes public through no fault of the recipient (in the case of Google, without Google’s reference to Customer Data); (c) was independently developed by the recipient; or (d) was rightfully given to the recipient by another party.

    5.3 Required Disclosure.
    Each party may disclose the other party’s Confidential Information when required by law but only after it, if legally permissible: (a) uses commercially reasonable efforts to notify the other party; and (b) gives the other party the chance to challenge the disclosure.

    5.4 FERPA.
    The parties acknowledge that (a) Customer Data may include personally identifiable information from education records that are subject to FERPA (“FERPA Records”); and (b) to the extent that Customer Data includes FERPA Records, Google will be considered a “School Official” (as that term is used in FERPA and its implementing regulations) and will comply with FERPA.


    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FERPA [wikipedia.org]

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Children%27s_Internet_Protection_Act [wikipedia.org]

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Children%27s_Online_Privacy_Protection_Act [wikipedia.org]
  • by urusan (1755332) on Sunday August 28, 2011 @10:51AM (#37233716)

    There was a 2000% uptick in talk about barriers designed to impound water.

  • by a whoabot (706122) on Sunday August 28, 2011 @11:04AM (#37233806)

    So are no students going to graduate cum laude?

  • by nccstech (2448566) on Sunday August 28, 2011 @11:05AM (#37233814)
    Hey everyone, I am the author of the "bad word" spreadsheet being discussed. I got an email from a slashdot users letting me know about the discussion, so I wanted to share what I can from my perspective on this topic. As usual, there is always a lot more to the story than you will get from just looking at one piece of information (the spreadsheet) and hopefully I can help explain that. You certainly may not agree with what our school is doing (that is fine) but I at least want to make sure you have the full story. Note: In posting this I am not speaking officially for my school district, but am simply trying to explain the situation from my personal perspective. First, it is important to realize that the spreadsheet you see is a work in progress. Up until January 2011 our students did not have school-issued email accounts. This is still a brand new venture for us, and we have been and will continue to modify our policies. I really appreciate the feedback many of you have provided. You have lots of good points that I believe will help us as we continue to develop this. So, first question... how did we come up with this list? We wanted to give students email accounts to help increase communication and collaboration. However, this was something new for our district so we had to be careful when rolling it out. We developed the student email guidelines through meeting, surveys, and discussions with teachers, administrators, guidance counselors, students, parents, community members, and our board of education. The list of what resulted. For the launch of our email system the consensus was to have some sort of word filter, and to keep email sending with out district. Over time I hope we can open up email so students can send outside of our domain as there are obvious benefits for them to be able to communicate with people in businesses and other schools around the world. However, we felt it was best to start out more restrictive, and the work toward more openness over time. Change in a public school system is like steering a large ship with a little rudder. It takes time. There are a lot of people involved and we need to help people along with these changes. Anyway, we made the actual list of "bad words" by working off several other lists provided to us from other schools and organizations that have been doing this themselves for years. We combined their lists and edited it down to what you see. We removed loads of words that did not seem reasonable to filter (you would be amazed at what was on the original lists). We continue to revise the list (again we have only had this for about 8 months) and will certainly run through the suggestion many of the posts here have brought up. Yes, we realize that a filter list is not going to stop inappropriate words. Students can use all sorts of variations. However as a school providing email to children, the consensus of our community to to provide some level of filtering. More than that though, we have added the topic of responsible use of technology to our curriculum so we can help our children work through this topic. Again, thanks for your feedback, and feel free to ask me additional questions. Eric
    • Interesting. Thanks for stopping by and inviting conversation.

      I do have a few questions though. What does the filter do? Does it block the words, or flag them for review? Does it search for exact words, or would it ban words-in-words such as "multithreaded" and "cumlative"? Are you going to have to come up with an exception list to un-ban those words?

      Personally I disagree with censorship, because it's always going to be a losing battle: too little benefit, too much cost.

    • by betterunixthanunix (980855) on Sunday August 28, 2011 @11:44AM (#37234030)

      you would be amazed at what was on the original lists

      I am amazed at what remained on your list. What were you thinking? Not only did you block large numbers of works used in a typical biology textbook, you even managed to block words that would be relevant to bible discussions.

      However as a school providing email to children, the consensus of our community to to provide some level of filtering.

      So you are training your children to accept censorship and to run to authority figures whenever they need to discuss certain topics? If your school district were in a country like China or Myanmar, this policy might make sense.

    • by dstar (34869) on Sunday August 28, 2011 @11:49AM (#37234068)

      So, do you have an excuse for having 'gay' and 'lesbian' on the 'concern words' list?

    • by SPrintF (95561) on Sunday August 28, 2011 @01:46PM (#37234902) Homepage

      Um. Dude. Paragraphs.

  • The real story here is: never ever EVER farm your software tools out to "the cloud" . It's URL filtering all over again.
    Feel free to reply with your remote-control-of-your-car analogies :-)

Staff meeting in the conference room in %d minutes.