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GoGuardian: What does d.tech think?

Sean Duarte | sduarte20@dtechhs.org | June 12, 2018

Every d.tech student knows the name GoGuardian – each can recall that signature grey background with the blue lock which reads “Website Blocked.” There is also that tantalizing, bright blue button inscribed with a single word: “Bypass.” As a result, many students yearn for a world without it. But this begs the question: is that actually possible?

Students commonly associate GoGuardian with the words “website blocked”, and when questioned, referenced “the blocked page with the blue lock and grey background.” They thought of it overall negatively. “[GoGuardian is] bad. I don’t like it. It blocks stupid things,” said one student. “Hate, hatred,” said another. “Censorship, because it’s preventing us from seeing websites that might be bad, when a lot of them aren’t,” said a third. “It sounds good on paper, but it’s messy in practice. It kinda takes a little bit away from the freedom. It creates an environment to get past it,” said Junior Felix Gutierrez.

Students were mixed on whether or not GoGuardian is actually good at its job. Sophomore Jackson Drews said “It flip-flops. Sometimes it’s good, other times it’s useless. If you try to find stuff, you will find stuff. There is plenty of stuff that [should] be blocked that is, and there is stuff that should be blocked that isn’t.” Examples of sites that shouldn’t be blocked but are include gists.github.com, a site for sharing code snippets, and web.archive.org, a site that saves backups of every webpage. That said, Little Big Snake, A.K.A the snake game, has notoriously never been able to be blocked.

“One example of a site that should be blocked but isn’t, is Breitbart News,” said sophomore Leo Belman. “I’ve seen hate speech on there.”

And GoGuardian doesn’t help all students get back on track. Sophomore Jemma Schroder said,  “The things that cause me to lose my focus aren’t blocked, like reading Wikipedia for hours on end.” Sophomore Yamini Prasad agreed: “With me personally, there are many things that distract me. … There are plenty of distractions on Chromebooks that don’t have to do with GoGuardian. It’s a personal issue, I think.”

When asked if they had ever tried to get around GoGuardian, only two students replied no. Students were still mixed as to whether GoGuardian should be removed. Freshman Igor Morozov answered, “No, it would probably end up with a lot more students being off task.” Senior Victoria Khaw said, “I think they should take it out because they need to pay for it, so they can save money. The teachers can just see students misbehaving already.”

Some students believed that GoGuardian should not be removed entirely; it still serves a purpose but needs some improvements. Levi Sturgeon, a freshman, said, “Somehow, we need to have an automated system that would block a site after too many attempts to get on it. I know there are a few gaming sites that kids go on every day, but they haven’t been blocked yet.”

A more radical solution was presented by Russell Blackmon, a sophomore. He said, “I would implement a system to allow students to be ranked off their browsing history and performance. It allows or disallows certain sites based on your rank. A kid with worse grades who watches YouTube all day in class and doesn’t do his work shouldn’t be able to access it, while a kid with good grades should be able to.”

Technical Support Paul Cerra associated GoGuardian with “more work for me. I don’t have any positive feelings for it.” Cerra seems to share many of the same opinions as the student body: “GoGuardian is mostly effective at blocking stuff, like pornography, but there are plenty of false positives and stuff that should be blocked, but isn’t. … It’s a reasonable tool for what it’s designed for, but it’s not perfect. I’m just as upset about the false positives. One day, it was blocking wastewater treatment! It’s not risky or violent, so why was there a block?” Cerra continued. “When you get a false positive, I have to go into the system and unblock it, and it takes a lot of time. I don’t want to be the gatekeeper. It’s not a part of my job I enjoy.”

When asked for his stance on blocking, Cerra provided insight into his blocking process. “If I could, the only thing I would block would be violence and pornography. Nobody would be mad about that,” said Cerra. “Right now, we use premade lists made by GoGuardian and their partners. They’re not always complete and sometimes they have false positives. … In a perfect world, only violence and pornography — and maybe sites that are causing students to waste a lot of time — would be blocked.”

In the end, it seems everyone can agree on thing: GoGuardian can be quite the nuisance. Maybe one day d.tech can be that perfect world, and GoGuardian can go away. Let’s just hope it’s possible.

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