Starwood/Sheraton

Starwood/Sheraton’s use of SiteCoach to block “harmful content” results in Robyn’s website being blocked. Robyn is NOT happy. Not at all. Robyn takes action.
Harmful Content?

MY FIRST EMAIL TO THE HOTEL (11/29/08)
I stayed in one of your hotels on October 7-8, 2008. When I went to my own website, http://www.robynochs.com, I was denied access, with the following message:

“The requested site could not be loaded. 451 The access to the address above is restricted. According to our harmful content database SiteCoach does not allow you to visit this page! An error has occurred while trying to open the page http://www.robynochs.com.”

From what I now understand, SiteCoach is a right wing company that considers words like “lesbian” inappropriate content. Please tell me that you will stop using this service so that I can continue staying at Sheraton Hotels.

Sincerely,
Robyn Ochs
Boston, MA

THE CENTRAL OFFICE REFERRED MY COMPLAINT TO THE LOCAL HOTEL AT WHICH I STAYED, AND HERE IS THEIR RESPONSE (12/3/08 3:01 pm)

Dear Ms. Ochs,

Thank you for feedback regarding the Sheraton Link. This program has been met with much success since its launch by Starwood Hotels and Resorts.

I have fully reviewed your concerns over having your site and the Sheraton Link in the lobby. The company that installs and maintains the systems have promoted these systems to a kid friendly, family friendly environment. I am sure you can understand that there are several sites on the internet that are viewed as offensive by the general public and for that reason, programs have been developed to ensure that the majority of viewers are met with non-offensive material. Your site in particular isn’t what I would call “offensive” but certain words must have been picked up within the filter that restricted public access to your site; I sincerely apologize for any inconvenience.

Regrettably the system will not allow us to change the filters to allow your site to be viewed at the Sheraton Link. I appreciate your efforts to educate the public on your views and wish you continued success in doing so. We appreciate your loyalty to Starwood and hope this unfortunate scenario has not altered your opinion of an award winning company and hope to see you in our hotels in the near future.

Sincerely,
Peter

NEXT, HERE IS MINE TO THEM (12/3/08 4:47 pm)
Dear Peter,

I appreciate your attempt to “put lipstick on this pig” as well as your personal support of my work, but unfortunately there is a false logic underlying the use of a block that considers words like “lesbian” and “bisexual” offensive to the “general public.” These words connote identities. There is nothing inherently offensive about them. And the “general public” that you seek not to offend includes many people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, including many youth. In fact, much of my own work involves work with youth aged 14-21. When you add our families and friends to our numbers, we ARE the “general public” to which you refer. If someone else finds the words with which I describe my own identity offensive, that is their business. No one is being forced to visit sites that contain these words. I’m afraid that your company’s use of SiteCoach IS sufficient reason for me to stop doing business with your hotel chain. I should also forewarn you that I will be publicizing this incident on Facebook and encouraging others to boycott Starwood/Sheraton hotels as well. I hope that your company will come to its senses and cease acting as censors.

Sincerely,
Robyn Ochs (a.k.a. Jane Q. Public)
http://www.robynochs.com

PETER REPLIES (12/3/08 5:11 PM):
Ms. Ochs,

Thank you for your response to my email. I will forward it to the Consumer Affairs Executive Division of Starwood Hotels and Resorts.

Peter
AND MOST RECENTLY (12/17/08 4:57 PM)
Dear All, I received this response today from Starwood Hotels. Good news, I think:
Dear Ms. Ochs,

Upon further review by our IT team and Legal Department, we have concluded that your website will not be blocked by the filter. In return for lifting the restriction; we ask that you include this follow up on your website.

Ms. Ochs, thank you for allowing us the opportunity to better respond to our clientele. It is our sincere hope this act renews any lost faith with Starwood Hotels & Resorts and wishes you safe travels in the future.

Andrew Walker
Consumer Affairs Executive Division
Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc.
andrew.walker@Starwoodhotels.com
FINALLY,

I have a favor to ask of all of you. When you visit public libraries, hotels, cafes, etc., try going to my website (http://www.robynochs.com). Please let me know if you find access blocked. Send me as much detail as you can (where, when, what message you received).

Warm regards to all,
Robyn

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