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Current as of 01/10/14 01:20PM NZST

'Gay' filtered in Telecom emails

By Jonathan Marshall

Telecom has apologised to a woman after the company's email filter deemed her first name Gay to be "inappropriate for business-like communication".

The cyberspace saga began when web designer Gay Hamilton emailed Telecom's helpdesk, enquiring if Xtra broadband services were available in her Nelson suburb. The automated reply was not what she was expecting. "[Your email] was identified by our content filtering processes as containing language that may be considered inappropriate for business-like communication," the email said. The offensive word was the woman's name: "The content which caused this to happen was ... 'gay' eight times, at two points each, for an expression score of 16 points."

Herald on Sunday inquiries have revealed that the response was triggered by Telecom's internal email monitoring system, which exists to "prevent misuse of email technologies in the workplace and act as a deterrent to harassment," according to Lenska Papich, public relations manager for Telecom's broadband and online division. "Our systems internally detect a number of words, including both the words gay and heterosexual, that could be deemed as inappropriate for use at work."

Telecom claimed the telling-off was never intended for Hamilton, as the warning system that threatens "disciplinary action" is intended to reprimand employees, not clients.

But for Hamilton, who happens to be gay, the shock was not isolated to the reply she received but also to the fact that Telecom had spent time and resources deciding that the word "gay" should be audited from staff communications. "If they do have to put content filters on ... then maybe they should ensure that it only gets genuinely abusive words."

Papich apologised to Hamilton last week and said Hamilton had been "really good" about it. Telecom refused to supply a list of words its machine searched for.

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