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If Your Name is Dr. Libshitz You Cannot Get An Email Address

This is quite amusing. I came across this article from MSN news entitled " Dr. Libshitz Can't Get an E-Mail Address." Now, what struck me most about the article is the fact that Dr. Herman Libshitz's last name is considered vulgar. Dr. Libshitz applied for an AOL email account but he was denied because his last name was too vulgar.

The entire article can be accessed at this link:


I was reminded that time I was teaching in high school. I used to request our network administrator to assist me in blocking some sites so we did. The problem is, when students use specific key word search like "What is breast cancer?" the page cannot be displayed. So the word "breast" was blocked even if it was used for research purposes and not something vulgar.

I hope some of view can share your views on this. :)

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Comment by Seiiti on January 10, 2009 at 5:09pm
I also remember one company that had a policy against webmail systems, because they considered it as one channel where proprietary information could leak out. So they blocked everything that had ¨mail¨ in the URL - including hotMAIL, gMAIL, MAIL.domain.com etc...

Well, that was a pretty easy one to circumvent by opening an account at www.gmx.de

I remember another company that in the late 90s had blocked all the internet (thinking most of it was waste of time), except for a few URLs (so it was a ¨while list¨ system). They had approved only eGov and academic sites. And a few search engines like yahoo.

So one could ask for clearance also for Google (a new search engine at that time). And with it, the whole internet from google cache came as a bonus.

These two stories are examples of filters based on lists created by humans. And as anything made by humans, they can be circumvented with a different level of investment and creativity.

What about the new filters that will be constantly evolving from the new generation of artifcial intelligence?

One such rudimentary AI example is Akinator, a game that learns from the pattern of users. www.akinator.com

The more people play, the better the filtering system of Akinator becomes, since its database is contantly being fed and updated.

However, the system is always the same - the only thing evolving is the database. What will happen when we have both evolving databases and systems managed by artificial intelligence?

If we look at the timeline of technology development, I would bet one dollar that in around one decade this type of simple human-created noise (from words badly chosen in a ¨black-list¨) will disappear and more complex problems will appear (from artificial intelligence systems).

I'm curious to see the mistakes that such artificial intelligence systems will generate and how we will deal with them.

So, yes - I believe that machines can make ¨mistakes¨ which would be running commands not optimal from their creators... or their evolving system going to a bad direction.

Which is different from ¨simulated¨ mistakes which are part of the software to make random unexpected actions, that make the robot/machine more ¨human¨ and with a personality. One such example is R2D2 droid from Star Wars created by Hasbro - its software includes a random stubborn feature that causes him to disobey the ¨master¨ to make him more fun. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f-CJruzKXhU
Comment by Charity Gamboa-Embley on January 10, 2009 at 7:27am
I think, during that time when we were doing policy editing, was that the "list" was exhausting. We thought we had the list of sites blacklisted as inappropriate and then overlooked some aspects. So it was a constant updating at that time.

Seiiti, I understand what you mean about filters. Those twisted words are so hard to decipher so I ultimately do some guessing. If my guess is wrong, I repeat again. I feel helpless as we are up against these so-called automated reply systems. Perfection perhaps, in this instance? If we cannot type correctly those twisted characters, we get stopped until we get it right. A human being is imperfect. We make mistakes but we revel in the idea that we learn from mistakes. Machines/Robots cannot make mistakes.

Dr. Libshitz just had it tough. Naturally we want our email to have our name in it somehow for easier identification but he was just unlucky to be born with that name. I remember I have a schoolmate before who had the last name "Bacucang." That word means "dirty scars" so she has been the brunt of several ridicule from people until her family decided to make an appeal in court to have their last name changed. The court granted them their request. The court decided that they can choose any family name from their family tree.
Comment by Maureene Bello on January 10, 2009 at 1:51am
Yes, this is always true once technical solutions are in place. However, minor tweaks can be set to have combination of conditions to limit restrictions only to "real" inappropriate access (e.g white list and black list).
In our server, a URL with "sex" in http://www.sex-pistols.net/ is treated differently from a http://www.sexetc.org/. The latter is an educational site while the other is porn. I am not into its detail but many sites offer a whitelist and a blacklist to help secure access (example http://www.squidguard.org/blacklists.html).

For this case, there are no rule to favor how "Libshitz" phrase will be used in the internet world. It appears both vulgar and not. More extreme cases can be found in other parts of the world especially in the Arab countries where security is strictly enforced.
Comment by Seiiti on January 9, 2009 at 5:47pm
I think that individually it was a frustrating experience for Dr. Liebshitz. For the collectivity, I would risk saying this is a good thing.

This is somehow connected to my frustrating experience in trying to understand ReCaptcha's filter against robots, asking me to type some twisted characters.

The more these filters cause such trouble, the more frustration will be built... and engineers will have more incentive to create filters which are more effective (i.e. do not block legitimate people, uses or searches). The reverse is also applicable: the current ways to circumvent the barriers will have to be more creative.

And, overall, the ecossystem gets more complex and ¨evolves¨



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