How to treat your customers like children

Every few weeks I get email from folks blocked from viewing metafilter at work, asking for my help. I’d never experienced it, so I usually tell folks that if they don’t know the right IT person to ask, maybe they shouldn’t browse the internet on the job.

I’m staying in a hotel in San Francisco right now and they offer free hotel wireless, which is nice. What isn’t nice is that they’ve got a proxy server set up, just like a lot of large workplaces. You can probably guess where this is going.

Here’s what I get when I go to any site that ends in .metafilter.com

And just to show you how lame the system is, it thinks Glassdog is mature. A quick scan of the average day’s posts there shows you just how catty and immature Glassdog can be.

There doesn’t seem to be much rhyme or reason. BoingBoing works fine, but Waxy.org doesn’t. Why on earth should a hotel wireless network care if you want to visit “chat” sites? Why insult your own guests?

update: Cory asks where it is, and it’s the Villa Florence, which is a Kimpton Hotel. The network is surprisingly controlled, as I couldn’t VPN around the block, but ended up using a public proxy to get to all the sites I wanted to. I contacted their proxy czar (he’s listed on the error pages) to see why they do this.

A friend came up with a possible explanation: they might put the proxy up to block employees from goofing off, and didn’t bother to build a separate employee network from the hotel customer network. If that’s the case, I sincerely hope the same employee computers used to browse the web aren’t the same computers that capture my credit card info during check-in. Seems like a bad security problem waiting to happen.

It’s not a bad hotel, I’ve got a bed with surprisingly high thread-count sheets for a lowball Priceline offer. But if you’re a internet type person traveling through SF, you might want to skip the Sir Francis Drake and Villa Florence hotels while they have this network control in place.

update #2: I heard back from the hotel IT lead and they had added the proxy for employee surfing, which they never intended to apply to the hotel customer network. He said they are working on lifting the proxy for guests today.

I also found out that the software “SmartFilter” that ran the hotel proxy apparently uses the same database nationwide, since as of now, you can no longer access MetaFilter.com from any public library in the state of Georgia. Terrific.