Jason Mashak

8 April 2011

Communicating with clear categories in avast! WebRep

avast! WebRep combines antivirus software with website ratings from millions of users in the global avast! community – providing users of avast! 6.0 with a community-sourced guide to the safety and/or content of websites. avast! users can thus know – before clicking a link – what to expect in terms of product or service quality, customer service levels, or website safety and reliability. Ratings results are “traffic-light” simple: green = GO… orange = CAUTION… red = STOP!

But we've talked about that before. This time, let's take a look at the website categories...


In addition to ranking a website’s quality or safety, avast! users can also select content categories describing the type(s) of content on the site. Currently, these categories include:

  • shopping
  • social/hobby
  • news/blog
  • IT/download
  • corporate
  • pornography
  • weapons/violence
  • gambling
  • alcohol/drugs
  • warez/illegal

As with classifying anything, these descriptors are not without problems. Consider the following email we received, despite our clear heading (“What type of content does the site provide?”) that indicates that these are categories you can place content into (not receive content from):

“Your latest avast antivirus has a plugin for browsers, where you can select CATEGORIES. I work for an organization that supports PCs in schools and your plugin says PORNOGRAPHY as a category. It installs by default. If you change this language to ADULT, please let us know. We cannot introduce PORNOGRAPHY to students. Thanks”

Clearly, users cannot use WebRep to search for pornography – so initially we were a little confused by the email. Finally, we realized that the person (or school district) has a problem with even the word ‘pornography’.

I’ve not confirmed it with our Tech Support department (they received the initial email), but I suspect the email came from an avast! user in the USA, where education professionals (for whatever genuine reasons) tend to be extremely sensitive to even the words their students are exposed to while at school.

(Notably, only the word ‘pornography’ is a problem for this particular person or school district, and the topics of weapons/violence, gambling, alcohol/drugs, and warez/illegal seem to be ‘ok’.)


Seeking clarity

Global communication is problematic. I recall a story a few years ago about web-content filters in US schools or libraries being set to filter the word ‘dick’, which resulted in students being unable to access information about then Vice President Dick Cheney for their school assignments.

The suggestion (in the above email) to change the category descriptor to ‘adult’ might work for the sensitivity of the US education sector, but does it provide a clear understanding of the category to the rest of the English-speaking world?

Tell us what you think.


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