The unintended consequences of blocking webmail

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

No matter how hard you try, you can’t effectively block anything on the internet. My favorite angry tech geeks just mentioned the great quote from John Gilmore, “the internet interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.” That’s not exactly what happened when they blocked webmail at work, but it might as well have been. There’s a free wifi signal in our building provided by the DC government. I have no idea why it’s there, or who it’s meant to serve, but it’s been great for me. However, it goes in and out a lot. You have to authenticate with an email address every time it drops you, and sometimes that would happen every few minutes. It could be really frustrating, especially when I really needed that connection. It was the only connection I had for the laptop where I do all my work, and when it wasn’t working, I couldn’t get to source control, I couldn’t do all sorts of necessary work tasks. So, when they blocked webmail on the official work network, the DC wifi took a beating. They started blocking on a Monday, and through Wednesday, the DC wifi was totally useless. Even when it would successfully authenticate me, it wouldn’t let me do anything. What happened next? Whoever runs that wifi network must have upgraded some equipment, because now that connection is better than it’s ever been. They must have gotten complaints from whoever is actually supposed to be using that network, and took steps to improve it. And now I have a pretty reliable connection. It hurts my argument that work needs to buy me a Blackberry, but I didn’t really need a Blackberry. In some sense, everyone wins here. People aren’t checking webmail on the official work network. As misguided a security policy as that is, it remains their right to block webmail. And I have a better uncensored connection that helps me be more productive at work. Clearly I’m not the only one using it, and the others undoubtedly benefit from the increased quality of the wifi service. More and more, we have to realize that everything is available on the internet. You can accept that, figure out how it affects your business, and move forward. Or you can waste resources fighting against it until you realize that no amount of censorship, lawsuits, or new laws will ever stop the flood of information.

Posted in: complaint , economics , stupid people , the internet , work