Air France accidentally bans 'Post' Web site

The screen says, in French, that access is not allowed due to 'aggressiveness of content.'

air france 88 (photo credit: )
air france 88
(photo credit: )
On September 20, Argentine businessman Muki Tannenbaum was passing through Paris's Charles de Gaulle Airport. Coming from Beijing, he was waiting for his corresponding flight to Buenos Aires. As a first class passenger, he decided to go relax in the lounge provided by Air France, a rest space that provides travellers access to computer work posts. An avid reader of The Jerusalem Post, Tannenbaum tried to connect to the newspaper's Web site. Instantly, a window opened on the screen informing him, in French, that access to was not allowed, due to what was said to be the aggressiveness of its content or views espousing terrorism, revisionism, or discrimination. Maariv, Yediot Aharonot, and Debka were all censored for the same reason, he discovered. Tannenbaum boarded the plane in frustration prevented from reading the Israeli press and even more so, perplexed: Why was Air France grouping Israeli daily newspapers with media distributing illicit content? On September 28, Alain Hugot, a regular Jerusalem Post reader en route to Amsterdam, discovered that the Post site was also banned from computers at the joint Air France-KLM lounge at Rome's Fiumicino Airport. Air France professed its good faith: "We were completely unaware of this situation and we deplore it. Managing access to the Internet is entrusted to an external supplier, to whom we will give instructions immediately so that these newspapers will be accessible without delay," promised Air France spokeswoman V ronique Brachet. Indeed, since October 4, the sites in question were readmitted into Air France's domain. Access was reestablished the same day the airline was made aware of the problem, said Air France Israel spokeswoman Odette Soferi. Olfeo, the company whose Internet filtration service is used in Air France lounges, also provides the service to public libraries, hospitals, and the offices of businesses and local governments throughout France. The Jerusalem Post and the other sites were therefore also banned from the screens of Web surfers at the library of Paris's landmark Pompidou Center, the University Libraries of Toulouse, the airport of Bordeaux, Agence France Presse, Thales Defense, Brittany's regional government offices, and a host of other firms and organizations. Olfeo itself an important partner among a network of research and information management bodies in the private and public sectors admitted the mistake freely, citing a desire to offer the maximum guarantee to its clients, though occasionally the system gets carried away. "We operate automated and manual procedures simultaneously," explained Olfeo director-general Alexandre Souill . "First, our automated system carries out a selection based on key words and links recommended by different sites. Then the selection is verified manually. We are particularly vigilant regarding pedophile and revisionist content, which we seek to block at all costs, and because of this we occasionally catch 'clean' sites in our nets." "Bear in mind that hundreds of sites are created each day, and currently the Internet counts several billion sites. This clearly complicates the verification process of our technicians. For example, in the past we have accidentally banned medical sites since certain anatomical terms set off an alarm in our system, which grouped them with pornographic sites. In the case of The Jerusalem Post, I imagine that its Web site is cited by revisionist sites, which led to its being banned." The Israeli newspapers placed on the black list by the program have henceforth been reclassified generally as "media" which will help provide a more pluralistic selection of information sources to all of Olfeo's private and public-sector clients, as well as to Air France passengers. Daniel Kennemer contributed to this report.
Send us your comments Michael Storch, Jerusalem, Israel: Kind of embarrassing how long all those companies and libraries had no access to the JPost before somebody noticed ... Wanda Martin, New York, USA: It smells like Arab “oil.” LJ Kelley, Norway: Oh, please. I work a lot with computers and am aware that certain web filters use keyword blockage. For example, if the word "terrorism" were to show up to many times, the site would be blocked. The only was to stop this is to manually override for specific sites. The JPost article also talked about how Air France said certain medical sites were banned due to use of other words (such as body parts). Stop assuming Europeans hate you, cause that is doing you more harm then the idiots that do hate you. Adam Weinrich, Washington DC, USA: This possibly exposes anti-Semitism in a very modern and concrete way. The heuristics used by the French software security police are reflective of the training and thought processes of their creators. Anti-Jew: In; It’s very difficult to create these complex filters and they reflect the neural networking of the people that are doing the censoring. When you computerize something, you can measure it. This could lead to a revolutionary approach to more objectively identify prejudices in societies. Fay Dicker, Lakewood, NJ, USA: Bravo to all those whose responses were unanimous in their disbelief and derision that the blackballing of the Post and other Israeli media was "accidental." The internet is a pernicious instrument in the hands of biased individuals harboring so much hostility to Jews and Israel. It would truly be justified and appropriate for Americans and Israelis to "accidentally" elide France, and perhaps most of the EU, from their plans or purchases in the future. Juan, Washington DC, USA: The same software that considers Israeli newspapers "extremist" seems to also have policymaking powers at the French Foreign Ministry. This incident will be listed as reason #7729013 for why my friends and I won't travel to or through France. Marc, Lausanne, Switzerland: Air France "deplore it"? Olfeo "admitted the mistake freely"? Oh boy! Who can just believe it? "Quelle arrogance"! Why are there no apologies? It will be my duty to ignore Air France as an airline. Jean Rosenberg, Paris: We Parisians are not surprised by the blocking of such websites as the "violent" Jerusalem Post at our local airport. After I noticed that I could not read Jpost and the reason, I couldn't help myself. So I quickly checked Palestine - Net, which of course was easily accessible. Simply disturbing. Josh Pashman, New Haven, CT, USA: On Monday, August 15, 2005 I was in AF's CDG lounge waiting for a flight from CDG back to the US. This was following a weekend au Paris and previous month spent in Israel, exploring Israel, Jewish roots, and the conflict from all sides. Logging onto AF's lounge computers I sought out JPost... shocked to be turned away. CNN worked. NYTimes. BBC. Al Jazeera. A few other Israeli sites were blocked. Many not. Regardless, I was completely floored by such an experience. 2 months later still uncertain quite what to make of it, but surely it could not be a simple accident. Blanket censure of national papers.... from Israel? I am a lefty, but even my Zionist streak smells something a bit wrong here. Likely using up the rest of my AF miles on freebie flights and then find a new airline. Robert Honeyman, Miami Beach, FL: Oh, come on, people. There is no conspiracy or anti-Semitism here. The software in question was likely made sensitive to Jewish reference without anyone giving thought to the fact that Israeli papers will make inordinate reference - relatively speaking - to Jews. Outside of Israel, most websites that do that are very likely anti-Semitic hate sites. Sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar. Even in France. Eduardo Ebenstein: What's really a wonder to me is how we can continue to be so na ve - or pretend to be so. It’s the same old formula -hate- (or call it however you like it anti-Zionism, anti-Israel, anti-Jew or...) disguised in every possible form. To that, add the fear Europeans have of the Arabs who live among them who openly try to erase, and of course ban us in every way. Almost perfect equation, but there’s nothing new under the sun; we the Jews build good will for this world and justice, Divine justice will prevail. Jatima Tova to everyone! Albert Capino, Paris, France: Olfeo nero? "Accidentally" blacklisted huh? Fortunately, there are fewer accidents in handling data than flying planes. Behind every keyboard there is a human being with its own mind. And in this case, there are too many coincidences. Maariv, Yediot Aharonot, and Debka all censored by accident? Come on! Oh, by the way, I won't get to Air France's seat booking on my computer: it has "accidentally" been erased... Lior, London, UK: This did not occur through a technical mishap or poorly written software. Computers are only as efficient as the people who program them. This results from technical and deliberately specified parameters being laid down beforehand. The end result is bad enough, but the motivation behind is even more insidious in that it derives directly from the assumption of an ethical and moral equivalence between the policies of a democratic state, with an independent judiciary and its armed forces and the actions of barbaric terrorist groups. I lived in Paris during the worst of the terrorist outrages. I see that the French have now forgotten them. The French also believe that they run the EU and this is just a foretaste of what will happen to free speech if that behemoth is allowed to usurp any further the rights of European citizens. Jane, Herziliya, Israel: As a frequent visitor of the Netherlands, I can testify that the Jerusalem Post is never openly for sale in the papershops of Holland. Sometimes you can buy them from under the counter. As they say, "for security reasons," but the reality is that the whole of Europe is blackmailed by foreign inhabitants and the "real" Europeans are afraid of reprisals. Jack Levey, Columbus, OH, USA: If the UN and the EU get their wish to take over governance of the internet, we can look forward to more banning of Israeli media, websites advocating on behalf of Israel or Zionism, and websites that expose or combat anti-Semitism. Of course, given the UN's demonstrated bureaucratic incompetence, it's likely that no one will be able to log onto any website for any reason. David Hersch, Cape Town, South Africa: Oh what technical gobbledygook spouted by Air France and their supplier, Olfeo. The real test: did this ban apply to Arab and Islamic Websites and sites that should be banned? A follow-up by the Jerusalem Post would be most interesting. Juan, Washington DC, USA: The same software that considers Israeli newspapers "extremist" seems to also have policymaking powers at the French Foreign Ministry. This incident will be listed as reason #7729013 for why my friends and I won't travel to or through France.