Karin Spaink on Tue, 28 Jan 1997 10:36:05 +0200

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nettime-nl: Cybersitter Blocks The Ethical Spectacle (fwd)

Date: Mon, 27 Jan 1997 23:32:17 -0500 (EST)
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To: sex-laws-cyberspace@nico.bway.net, list@nico.bway.net
From: owner-sex-laws-cyberspace@bway.net
Subject: Cybersitter Blocks The Ethical Spectacle
Sender: owner-sex-laws-cyberspace@bway.net
Reply-To: sex-laws-cyberspace@bway.net

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Sex, Laws and Cyberspace        Post I

In this, the first post of the sex-laws-cyberspace
mailing list, we look at the recent antics of 
Solid Oak--a company that makes one of the several popular 
software products that block Web sites not suitable
for children.  

As Jonathan Wallace and others pressed, however, they 
found that some of these products block not only pornography,
but an entire range of sites according to undisclosed 
political and religious agendas.

What once looked like a solution to the problem of 
government censorship, begins to loom over the free
speech horizon, shrinkwrapped in the innocent garb of
a kind, old nanny...

Cybersitter Blocks The Ethical Spectacle


Contact: Jonathan Wallace 

NEW YORK CITY, January 19, 1997--In an apparent act of retaliation
against a critic of the company, Solid Oak Sofware has added The Ethical
Spectacle <http://www.spectacle.org> to the list of Web sites blocked by
its Cybersitter software.

The Ethical Spectacle is a monthly Webzine examining the intersection of
ethics, law and politics in our society, which recently urged its
readers not to buy Cybersitter because of Solid Oak's unethical
behavior. The Ethical Spectacle is edited by Jonathan Wallace, a New
York- based software executive and attorney who is the co-author, with
Mark Mangan, of Sex, Laws and Cyberspace (Henry Holt, 1996), a book on
Internet censorship. 

"In the book," Wallace said, "we took the position-- naively, I now
think--that use of blocking software by parents was a less restrictive
alternative to government censorship. We never expected that publishers
of blocking software would block sites for their political content
alone, as Solid Oak has done."

Solid Oak describes its product as blocking sites which contain obscene
and indecent material, hate speech, and advocacy of violence and illegal
behavior. In late 1996, computer journalists Declan McCullagh
(declan@well.com) and Brock Meeks (brock@well.com) broke the story that
Cybersitter blocked the National Organization for Women site along with
other political and feminist organizations. In addition, the product
blocked entire domains such as well.com, maintained by the venerable
Well online service.

McCullagh and Meeks implied that they had received an inner look at the
Cybersitter database of blocked sites from someone who had reverse
engineered the software. Shortly afterwards, Solid Oak asked the FBI to
begin a criminal investigation of the two journalists and accused
college student Bennett Haselton (bennett@peacefire.org) of being their
source. Though McCullagh, Meeks and Haselton all denied he was the
source (or that anything illegal had occurred), Solid Oak president
Brian Milburn called Haselton an "aspiring felon" and threatened to add
his Internet service provider to the blocked list if it did not muzzle

Haselton came to Milburn's attention by founding Peacefire, a student
organization opposing censorship. On his Web pages, Haselton posted an
essay called "Where Do We Not Want You to Go Today?" criticizing Solid
Oak. The company promptly added Peacefire to its blocked list, claiming
that Haselton had reverse engineered its software, an allegation for 
which the company has never produced any evidence.

"At that point," Wallace said, "I felt Milburn was acting like the
proverbial 800-pound gorilla. I added a link to the Spectacle top page
called 'Don't Buy Cybersitter'. Anyone clicking on the link would see a
copy of Bennett's 'Where Do We Not Want You to Go' page with some added
material, including my thoughts on the inappropriateness of Solid Oak's
behavior. I wrote the company, informing them of my actions and telling
them that they misrepresent their product when they claim it blocks only
indecent material, hate speech and the like."

Solid Oak has now responded by blocking The Ethical Spectacle. "I wrote
to Milburn and to Solid Oak technical support demanding an explanation,"
Wallace said. "I pointed out that The Spectacle does not fit any of
their published criteria for blocking a site. I received mail in return
demanding that I cease writing to them and calling my mail
'harassment'--with a copy to the postmaster at my ISP." 

Wallace continued: "With other critics such as Declan, Brock and
Bennett, Solid Oak has claimed reverse engineering of its software, in
supposed violation of its shrink-wrapped license. I have never
downloaded, purchased or used Cybersitter, nor had any access to its
database. I believe that Solid Oak's sole reason for blocking my site is
the 'Don't Buy Cybersitter' page, criticizing the company's bullying

The Ethical Spectacle includes the internationally respected An
Auschwitz Alphabet, a compilation of resources pertaining to the
Holocaust. "Sixty percent of the Spectacle's traffic consists of
visitors to the Holocaust materials," Wallace said. "Schoolteachers 
have used it in their curricula, it was the subject of a lecture at a 
museum in Poland some weeks ago, and every month, I get letters from
schoolchildren thanking me for placing it online. Now, due to Solid 
Oak's actions, Cybersitter's claimed 900,000 users will no
longer have access to it."

Solid Oak can be contacted at <blocking.problems@solidoak.com>, or care
of its president, Brian Milburn (<bmilburn@solidoak.com>.)


For more on the entire Cybersitter debate, go to

For more on the debate concerning blocking software
and the future of free speech on the Net, stay tuned to
the list.

     Karin Spaink.

-  I write, therefore I am:            http://www.xs4all.nl/~kspaink
Scientology is sueing me. Support fund Spaink et. al. v Scientology:
   Vrienden van K., giro 450 9627, Amsterdam

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