Ethics Dunce: United Airlines

airplane 1There’s got to be an explanation for this other than the one the creates paranoia and dread. But what is it?

Canadian conservative commentator  Mark Steyn, a funny, bright and eclectic author—I learned about him first be reading his book on the decline of Broadway musicals—was flying on United when he discovered that his website, steynonline.com is on a United Airlines blacklist that blocks passengers from accessing the site on the airline’s in-flight WiFi system.

It really was called a blacklist by the airline. Steyn tweeted United during the flight for an explanation. Someone at American had the wit to tweet to Steyn, still airborne, that they wouldn’t block his site.

What’s going on here?

I know that porn sites are blocked by airlines, but conservative blogs and websites? No, it’s not a First Amendment issue, it’s a “Who the hell do you think you are?” issue. Content censorship by an airline? Steyn wants his WiFi fee back, but imagine if hotels, airports and Starbucks adopted this form of private censorship. I’m assuming/hoping that this was a stupid mistake and just incompetence, since incompetence is what United is best at. Yet so far, if the airline has an explanation, it hasn’t been publicized.

15 thoughts on “Ethics Dunce: United Airlines

  1. I used the WiFi at an event at a local school, and YOUR site was blocked, citing “adult content”. My guess is that this is merely over zealous spam filters. It could be a stray ad, or a primitive keyword filter, but I fully doubt there was any human who made these choices to block the sites. The spokesman responding by Twitter was likely telling the truth that they would not knowingly block the site, and hopefully had the foresight to forward the issue to technical support to review and override the filter. There is a trade off in vigorously protecting the planes network from sophisticated filter evasions and incidentally blocking innocent sites. I don’t think it was necessarily incompetance, although they could prove me wrong by dragging there feet I’m restoring the site.

  2. Just about every major business filters the sites they make available to employees and customers. Aside from blocking malware sites, they also try to block things that might create an incident. United doesn’t want customers complaining because their children saw porn or race hate on another passenger’s tablet. Companies buy the firewalls and blacklisting service from third parties, and since there are millions of websites, a lot of them are blacklisted by algorithms or by pools of temporary workers who quickly review the sites. They sometimes screw up, or react to some small part of an otherwise acceptable site — a single image that someone decides is inappropriate. For the most part, this does little lasting harm, since people have many other sources of content.

    (By the way, it turns out my current employer blocks my own blog because it’s on a blacklist somewhere for some reason.)

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