I will try to make this brief. I am a student at a prominent university in the UK, and while I was showing my thesis work, a website, to my supervisor, the website crashed. Then I was asked to close the browser and open it again.

When I did, it seems a tab of adult content was open from the previous day with explicit content, when that happened, I immediately (without thinking) pressed Cmd-W to close it but it was evident he saw it.

The conversation continued normally and my supervisor completely ignored it. I feel very embarrassed and I am afraid I could be reported or anything.

Am I in trouble? Will I face issues because of this? Thank you in advance.

Edit: My laptop is a personal laptop and not provided by the university. I've also used the University network to access the site from my dorm. I also don't think there are university guidelines that prevent us from accessing adult content.

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    To address a slightly different question, you should also consider actions to prevent this from happening again. While your supervisor may not take issue this time, a university is a public environment. – origimbo Jul 11 at 17:12
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    I'd like to point out that, if it was unintentional, the vast majority of people will understand that and go back to politely pretending we don't all have sexual needs. You'd only really be in danger of being reported if you did it intentionally -- that would be sexual harassment, as far as I know -- which, in this case, it seems like you absolutely didn't. – Nic Hartley Jul 11 at 19:07
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    @ Nic Hartley this may be true in the academic world, but unless the OP is pursuing a career designing adult websites, accessing pornography from a corporate computer will get you fired. – Michael J. Jul 11 at 19:17
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    porn mode, sorry - incognito mode is just for that. And to test authentication mechanisms (in case someone wonders why I use it) – WoJ Jul 11 at 20:23
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    I've seen worse things pop up while someone was giving a presentation for a larger audience! Think of instant messages ;) I'd recommend to create separate user accounts. – jvb Jul 11 at 20:30

It's embarrassing, but it's also understandable. I think if your supervisor has decided to ignore it, then you should take this opportunity to not ruminate. So silently thank him, and forget it.

I know advice is always easier said than done though. Rumination is defined as "to keep thinking about a problem which had already been, or can never be solved". The real problem had already been solved at the moment he decided to ignore it, so the only problem here is your rumination. To stop it, every time you feel embarrassed about this topic again, my tip is to shake the idea in your head, like it's just a toy. This will make you distract from the negative feeling.


Related:
Why You Should Stop Caring What Other People Think (Taming the Mammoth) – Wait But Why
Straightforwardness, Fearlessness and Improvisation: How to find the fresh perspective? – Ooker

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    this is good advice except for the last paragrpah. don't say "thank you" and then smile knowingly when they look confused, that's a terrifying interaction. – dn3s Jul 12 at 4:36
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    oh, that really depends on the personality of both. But if both are opened, then I guess OP wouldn't feel much stressful, or the topic had become a joke between them – Ooker Jul 12 at 6:21
  • based on the received response, I've removed the last paragraph. But I think some people will find it's a good topic to talk instead of a terrifying interaction? But anyway, I'll take the point. I don't want to let advice goes in one ear and out another. – Ooker Jul 12 at 12:18
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    The first paragraph is a very good, mature answer – Aleksandr Khomenko Jul 12 at 13:51
  • To elaborate what I think on the removed paragraph, a funny, opened guy will think "ha, this guy watched porn yesterday. I like to tease him about this (because we're both opened about our feelings), but better safe than sorry." So if you like this advisor too, you can also take this opportunity to have some fun with him. – Ooker Aug 7 at 3:17

a. Some people are victims of malware which bring up ads and things like this. Plausible deniability

b. This COULD have been deliberate porn viewing, but there is no way to know WHICH internet connection was used, even if that PC does sometimes use a university connection. Plausible deniability

c. This COULD have been deliberate porn viewing, but by someone else who has used the same PC. Plausible deniability

I think the combination of an understanding supervisor and the difficulty they would have to prove wrong doing means that nothing will happen. As has been mentioned above, you should learn from this experience and take measures to make sure it doesn't happen again. If this happened in a public forum while giving a presentation... AWKWARD!

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    Yes, definitely always use private browsing when giving a presentation, unless you're absolutely certain you know 100 % of what your browser has stored. Better yet, use a guest account in your OS, with no personal data whatsoever (no embarrassing chat messages or notifications popping out, no private files possibly shown etc.). – Nemo Jul 12 at 13:19
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    Yes in fact my work computer was hacked many years ago (by a student) with some obscene pop-up that could not be made to disappear. I had to have the disk wiped clean and OS re-installed. Nevermind the embarrassment, actually loosing the data on the disk was very disruptive. If anything, this was a painful reminder on password security and network sharing settings. – ZeroTheHero Jul 12 at 20:49

I have been in your situation...but sort of from the perspective of your professor.

I was doing an internship with a tech company.

I was assigned to a supervisor, he wasn't a very nice person and treated me rudely. He once slept in front of me while I was giving him a one-on-one presentation of some work I did for him. We had a terrible work relationship.

One day, he wanted me to run an errand for him, and do some simulations after work hours. Begrudgingly, I agreed. I logged in to his desktop and accidentally opened his "alternative" internet broswer (I preferred using Opera for some reasons and saw that he had one installed).

Let's just say, my mind was blown. He was into the some of the hardest of hardcore porn you can imagine (for some reason, it didn't come as that much of a shock to me, as he is known to be a Japan enthusiast). Nothing illegal, mind you.

You know what happened afterwards?

Nothing.

I wanted to tell the other interns. But what is the point?

I secretly wanted to blackmail him. Not worth the trouble.

Did it significantly alter my view of this guy? Frankly, no. I was already upset with the way that he treated me. His "porn" habits only give some rationale or explanation that hints at certain frustration in his life.

And in the end, it didn't matter. We parted ways, and that was the end.

Did he ever knew that I knew? No. Did he ever suspect? I don't know.

Summary:

  1. Somethings are just better left unsaid.
  2. There is nothing you can truly do to change whatever the other's opinion of you.

Even if you win a Nobel prize, if the person on the other end is petty, then he will be reminded of your accidentally slip up and use it to dismiss your achievement. If the person is kind and compassionate, then he will still be reminded it, but will not let him interfere with his opinion of you. There is nothing you can do, so don't ruminate on it and move on.

If it's forbidden to surf non-university related sites, then this is an issue. If not, and you are above 18, then this is embarrassing and nothing else.

From context I'm assuming you were using a university internet connection to view this material? (edit: now confirmed by OP)

Most if not all major universities have some sort of "acceptable use" policy governing student & staff use of IT facilities. For example, here are Oxford's regulations. Some key points:

  1. Users are not permitted to use university IT or network facilities for any of the following: ...

(2) the creation, transmission, storage, downloading, or display of any offensive, obscene, indecent, or menacing images, data, or other material, ... except in the case of the use of the facilities for properly supervised research purposes when that use is lawful and when the user has obtained prior written authority for the particular activity...;

...

(4) the creation, transmission, or display of material which is designed or likely to harass another individual in breach of the University’s Policy and Procedure on Harassment;

(9) the creation or transmission of or access to material in such a way as to infringe a copyright, moral right, trade mark, or other intellectual property right;

...

(12) the deliberate or reckless undertaking of activities such as may result in any of the following ... (f) the introduction or transmission of a virus or other malicious software into the network;

You should check your university's policies, but they will almost certainly have similar rules to the Oxford ones that I quoted. Many institutions require staff and students to sign an acknowledgement of their rules in order to receive IT access.

If you're viewing porn through your university internet connection, that's an obvious breach of #2. You might also run into some of the other provisions if you're viewing pirated material, if you're viewing it on an untrustworthy site infested with malware, or if anybody thinks you deliberately showed them porn in order to harass them. (The latter probably isn't an issue with the interaction you describe, but it's a risk you face if you don't keep your porn viewing separate from your academic work.)

So, if your supervisor decides to report this, you could very easily be in trouble. Depending on your university's policy, your supervisor may even have a duty to report it.

Whether they will report it - or what will happen if they do - is another question, and this board probably can't answer that. Some people and institutions are relatively slack about enforcing their policies, others are very strict.

I also don't think there are university guidelines that prevent us from accessing adult content.

I would strongly advise you to check that. It would be extremely unusual for a university (or any other large organisation supplying internet access) not to have some rule along these lines, even if enforcement is light.

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    From context I'm assuming you were using a university internet connection and possibly a university-supplied computer to view this material? - Where are you getting this? As far as I can't tell, the OP hasn't addressed this (which they should). – Kimball Jul 12 at 4:09
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    It sounds to me like the student was viewing porn at home on their own connection and left the tab open when bringing the computer to campus. The OP did specify that the tab was "from the previous day" – arp Jul 12 at 6:39
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    @arp: He was viewing porn at home for sure, but I would not assume he was using his own connection for that - many (?most?) students in the UK live in university provided accommodation, which will have a university provided internet connection. Furthermore, some universities (Cambridge is one) has a WiFi network which covers the whole of the town centre. – Martin Bonner Jul 12 at 7:47
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    @MartinBonner many yes, most no (outside Oxbridge). And the university network extends to halls with typically only malware filtering. We can only speculate about the private browsing habits of students in their bedrooms but I think it's safe to say we'd know about it if students' browsing habits were being scrutinised to enforce a no-porn policy. – Chris H Jul 12 at 9:24
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    @ChrisH In my experience (married to a former IT staffer, heard plenty of stories from the trenches) there's a significant difference between "not looking for AUP violations" and "won't act on an AUP violation when reported". – Geoffrey Brent Jul 12 at 9:50

If nothing was said consider the incident solved.

How to prevent it from happening again?

  1. Different computer accounts;
  2. Different browsers;
  3. Same browser but different profiles.

I use number 3 to separate work from personal browsing in Firefox. Other browsers might have similar capabilities. This allows you to have different extensions, bookmarks, history, etc. During a crash you only get back the tabs from that profile.

In your case you could have work and other-business profiles. You can name a profile porn but it might get awkward to open the profile chooser in front of others.

If there are university guidelines, then you may experience issues. However, if there aren't, you shouldn't because, in your defense, you didn't do anything wrong.

It isn't your fault that the web crashed.

I advise you to ignore this incident.

If it's a thesis about security in computing science you will probably acquire serious troubles with a bad mark! In the other cases that will just eventually decrease slightly your mark but if you know very well your subject most of the examiners will certainly forget this trouble to stay concentrate only on the subject. As teacher, I try to remember only the good things because I haven't time to waste for others things. As professional, I will certainly suggest you to change your computer and the day I like to stop to work with you I will eventually remember to you that event. Anyway, if you are young we can understand more easily that situation but we can't accept it that why your examiner reject it immediately. Next time, I hope you will be more watchful with the security of your computer and be careful with Internet, backups... It's not necessary to wear all the time a suit and to have in your hand a Bible but if you have piercing, tattoes and strange haircut that is more difficult to think about an hitch. in other way try to keep all the time the maximum chance of success in your career with loyalty and honesty to vanish pitfalls and traps

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    Think you could fix this to not be one massive paragraph? – pipe Jul 12 at 14:24
  • I don't understand how my major/thesis will affect the consequences of this event? It is not related. – George Chalhoub Jul 12 at 20:14

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