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Amtrak Blocks The Stranger, OKCupid

By Erica C. Barnett February 3, 2011

The new free wi-fi service on Amtrak's Cascade line between Vancouver and Eugene, OR has already hit a snag: Users report that the system's blacklisting software, which prevents users from accessing "inappropriate" is blocking sites it shouldn't be blocking---including OKCupid and The Stranger.

WSDOT's Amtrak spokeswoman Vickie Sheehan said Amtrak installed the software, made by a company called Nomad, intending to block "those sites that have significant inappropriate content---porn or graphic violence or any of those types of images. ... We have children that ride the trains, and we don't want to offend our other passengers who might inadvertendly see things on people's screens."

Sheehan said The Stranger's web site "has a good deal of adult entertainment content, which is probably why it's getting snagged in our filter." However, she adds, "I was just on their site looking around, and I didn't see anything that was overtly offensive to me."

According to Amtrak's web site, the company blocks "content deemed to be inappropriate for public viewing" as well as streaming video and sites that offer downloads larger than 10 MB. In contrast, airlines that provide wifi generally only block internet-calling services.

Sheehan says the agency will eventually be able to "whitelist" certain sites, but that "until we get a definitive answer [from Nomad] about when they can have that capacity in place," Cascades passengers will have to live without online dating and alt-weeklies. In the meantime, "We're keeping a list of the individual sites" that passengers contact WSDOT about.

The only other site Sheehan says she's heard complaints about is Microsoft Downloads, which allows downloads larger than 10 MB.

Amtrak encountered similar problems on its Acela service in the Northeast, where its blacklisting service snagged everything from Facebook to eHarmony to a site called The New Gay---a block that initially prompted charges of discrimination. (Amtrak subsequently unblocked the site).

Stranger editorial director Dan Savage and tech department director Anthony Hecht did not immediately return emails for comment.
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