Home Computer: Prodigy user strikes out

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The Independent Online
A GIRL in Seattle, Washington, is facing a bill for dollars 750 (pounds 510) after tangling with the electronic censors who run the Prodigy computer network, writes Andrew Brown.

She was conducting a flirtation by electronic mail, as do most people who have access to it. As a joke, she sent her boyfriend in New Jersey a cross-country message threatening to kill his sporting idol, Cal Ripken, a leading player with the Baltimore Orioles baseball team, when the squad arrived in Seattle to play a league match.

The Prodigy system she was using automatically monitors every message posted for obscenity and, it now appears, words such as 'kill', too.

Officials in New York, where the mail is monitored, told the police there, who told their counterparts in Seattle. They in turn alerted security officials at the baseball stadium, who posted an armed guard on Ripken.

The 14-year-old girl knew nothing of all this until she returned that night to her home in a plush suburb, and was arrested.

No charges have been filed, but the stadium plans to send her a bill for the hire of security guards to protect the Orioles' star.

Prodigy's policy has caused trouble before. It is the only large email network which routinely monitors all messages, and machine intelligence is prone to terrible clumsiness.

People have complained in the past because they could not upload perfectly decent Japanese names like Takeshita.

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