Scunthorpe problem

The Scunthorpe problem is the blocking of emails, forum posts or search results by a spam filter or search engine because words in their text contain a string of letters that are shared with an obscene word or one that is considered improper or inadmissible for other reasons. While computers can easily identify strings of text within a document, broad blocking rules may result in false positives, causing innocent phrases to be blocked.

Origin and history

The problem was named after an incident in 1996 in which AOL's profanity filter prevented residents of the town of Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire, England, from creating accounts with AOL, because the town's name contains the substring cunt.[1] Years later, Google's filters apparently made the same mistake, preventing residents from searching for local businesses that included Scunthorpe in their names.[2]

Other examples

Mistaken decisions by obscenity filters include:

Refused web domain names and email addresses

Blocked web searches

Blocked emails

Blocked for word with two meanings

Modified content

Some websites have anti-obscenity filters which automatically replace offensive content with words intended to be equivalent in meaning.[29]

Other instances

Blocked pages

See also


  1. Clive Feather (25 April 1996). Peter G. Neumann, ed. "AOL censors British town's name!". ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy.
  2. 1 2 Declan McCullagh (23 April 2004). "Google's chastity belt too tight".
  3. Paul Festa (27 April 1998). "Food domain found "obscene"".
  4. "Foire aux questions". CBC/Radio-Canada. Retrieved 24 February 2011.
  5. come. Webster's New World College Dictionary. Cleveland, Ohio: Wiley Publishing, Inc. 1910. Retrieved 31 July 2016 via INFORMAL to have a sexual orgasm: somewhat vulgar. ... Slang: semen: somewhat vulgar ... Used by arrangement with John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Cross-referenced from cum: "Slang come (): somewhat vulgar"
  6. Barker, Garry (26 February 2004). "How Mr C0ckburn fought spam". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 25 July 2016.
  7. Cockburn, Craig (9 March 2010). "BBC fail – my correct name is not permitted". Retrieved 24 February 2011.
  8. "Is Yahoo Banning Allah?". Kallahar's Place. Retrieved 24 February 2011.
  9. "When your name gets turned against you". Archived from the original on 5 August 2008. Retrieved 3 August 2008.
  10. "From Matthew Cock's Twitter account". Retrieved 12 April 2015.
  11. "E-Rate And Filtering: A Review Of The Children's Internet Protection Act". Congressional Hearings. General. Energy and Commerce, Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet. 4 April 2001.
  12. "F-Word Town's Name Gets Censored By Internet Filter". Retrieved 27 July 2011.
  13. Chin, Josh (6 July 2011). "Following Jiang Death Rumors, China's Rivers Go Missing". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 7 July 2011.
  14. "Yahoo admits mangling e-mail". BBC News. 19 July 2002. Retrieved 21 June 2013.
  15. "Hard news". Need To Know. 12 July 2002. Retrieved 21 June 2013.
  16. Knight, Will (15 July 2002). "Email security filter spawns new words". New Scientist. Retrieved 21 June 2013.
  17. Kwintner, Adrian (5 October 2004). "Name of museum is confused with porn". News Shopper. Archived from the original on 28 March 2012. Retrieved 24 February 2011.
  18. "Comment headaches". The Peking Duck. 21 November 2004. Retrieved 24 February 2011.
  19. BBC E-mail vetting blocks MPs' sex debate 4 February 2003
  20. BBC Software blocks MPs' Welsh e-mail 5 February 2003
  21. 1 2 3 Sheerin, Jude (29 March 2010). "How spam filters dictated Canadian magazine's fate". BBC News. Retrieved 29 March 2010.
  22. Keyes, Ralph (2010). Unmentionables: From Family Jewels to Friendly Fire – What We Say Instead of What We Mean. John Murray. ISBN 978-1-84854-456-7. Retrieved 21 June 2013.
  23. BBC E-mail filter blocks 'erection' 30 May 2006
  24. Sam Jones Panto email falls foul of filth filter The Guardian 14 October 2004
  25. Maher, Kris (26 April 2004). "Don't Let Spam Filters Snatch Your Resume". Career Journal. Archived from the original on 18 November 2007. Retrieved 11 February 2008.
  26. "Canada's The Beaver magazine renamed to end porn mix-up". Agence France-Presse. 12 January 2010. Retrieved 12 January 2010.
  27. "Black Country Councillor Caught up in Faggots Farce". Birmingham Mail. 24 February 2011. Retrieved 24 February 2011.
  28. "The word 'cock' is banned on RSPB's website". Daily Mail. London. 13 November 2012. Retrieved 13 November 2012.
  29. 1 2 Moore, Matthew (2 September 2008). "The Clbuttic Mistake: When obscenity filters go wrong". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 4 April 2010.
  30. Frauenfelder, Mark (30 June 2008). "Homophobic news site changes athlete Tyson Gay to Tyson Homosexual". BoingBoing. Retrieved 22 December 2008.
  31. Kimball, Bob (17 December 2008). "No. 10: Mistakes part of the Internet game". USA TODAY.
  33. Gye, Hugo (20 December 2011). "What the D***ens is going on? Over-zealous censors filter out favourite TV names (and don't even think of watching an Arsenal game". Daily Mail. London. Retrieved 20 December 2011.
  34. Gibbs, Samuel (21 January 2014). "UK porn filter blocks game update that contained 'sex'". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 21 January 2014.

External links

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