Norton removes ‘Sexual Orientation’ firewall category following PinkNews report

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PinkNews Exclusive
Internet security provider Norton, has responded to criticism of a firewall category named ‘Sexual Orientation’, which had blocked the public from accessing sites such as PinkNews and Stonewall in public spaces, to remove it.

The firewall, provided by Norton ConnectSafe, previously blocked sites under certain categories, and despite containing no adult or explicit content, both PinkNews and Stonewall were in the banned category.

Some franchised branches of coffee giant Costa used the firewall to block such sites under a category named ‘Sexual Orientation’.

Smaller chain Joe & the Juice tweeted in the face of similar criticism to say that it had not been aware that its firewall, also provided by Norton, contained such a category, and said it did not condone blocking such content.

In a radio debate with Costa Coffee Managing Director Jason Cotta, Communities MInister Stephen Williams criticised the firewall, and questioned why such a category even existed.

Mr Williams said it “is not that this site is blocked because it’s pornographic. I can see the case of why people would want to block that. But it says it’s blocked because it’s ‘sexual orientation’, so the point is, within Norton anti-virus there is an option of blocking anything to do with sexual orientation.”

When informed that the category may be in breach of the Equality Act, a Norton spokesperson told PinkNews that it had made the decision to delete the category, and recategorise any sites contained therein: “We have recently decided to delete the Sexual Orientation category in Norton ConnectSafe, and are currently in the process of recategorising the sites previously in this category to other categories which we believe will be more useful to our customers, for example: ‘News’ and ‘Not-for-Profit’.

“Symantec believes that the Internet is a fantastic tool for all, and is empowering to all groups seeking advice and support, as you detail below. Our Rulespace and Norton Connect Safe technologies are constantly evolving and we are committed to working to ensure that the categorization service we provide is correct, appropriate and regularly reviewed.”

The spokesperson continued: “This categorization information can be used for web filtering, parental controls or a variety of other applications. Our customers are free to choose how they use the categories and which filters to apply. The technology is currently used in Norton ConnectSafe, the service which is offered into certain Costa Coffee shops, and Joe and the Juice. Norton ConnectSafe uses Symantec Rulespace categories in order to provide filtering for the web.

“Our Symantec RuleSpace web categorization technology provides a comprehensive web site, web page and content categorization service. The Symantec Rulespace technology classifies every site on the web according to set categories, based on the content appearing on the site.

“We aim to define each category based on best industry practice, research findings and customer input and we regularly adapt these categories to suit market need. Whilst individual sites do not opt in to a particular category, we are happy to consider reclassification requests at any time, as we recently did with PinkNews.”

Aid and development charity Oxfam last year responded to a report from PinkNews which found that access to LGBT news sites was being blocked from terminals operated by the charity, to say that it was the result of an automated firewall, and is not company policy.