Many people are skeptical about the information on Peacefire's
site concerning blocking software. Some of it sounds like it might
-- like CYBERsitter blocking Time magazine in retaliation for
a negative review, or Cyber Patrol blocking the Electronic Frontier
Foundation while they were plaintiffs in the same free-speech lawsuit.
And some people wouldn't trust information on any site that is run
Skepticism is good. So, don't take our word for it -- write to the companies themselves and ask them.
This page contains a list of some of the most controversial facts about different blocking software products, like Cyber Patrol blocking the Maple Soccer League or SurfWatch blocking servers that have nothing on them but page counters. This information is "secret" for all practical purposes, since you won't find it anywhere else.
Please take a moment to write to the companies listed here and ask them for their responses to this information. If you get a response please forward it to email@example.com.
The point of this page is not to mount a letter-writing campaign; this is for people who are interested in finding out whether the claims of blocking software companies are accurate.
Press materials from SurfWatch make the claim that:
"Before adding any site to our database, each site 'candidate' is reviewed by a SurfWatch Content Specialist. Deciphering the gray areas is not something that we trust to technology; it requires thought and sometimes discussion. We use technology to help find site candidates, but rely on thoughtful analysis for the final decision."Ask SurfWatch how these sites got blocked by their product:
Note: Some of these sites are blocked because they share an IP address with another blocked site. Thousands of "virtual servers" often share the same IP address, and if any one of them is blocked by SurfWatch, by default all the others will be blocked as well. (This is a policy made by SurfWatch and not an "unavoidable side effect"; in fact, some webmasters of these sites have discovered that they are blocked, complained, and gotten SurfWatch to remove their site from the blacklist, even though all other sites which share that IP address remain blocked.) Write to SurfWatch and ask why they claim that all sites on their list are "carefully reviewed", if their software blocks thousands of sites just for sharing an IP address with a blocked site.
In addition, some sites are blocked even though they are the only Web site on a particular machine, and thus could not have been blocked because of a shared IP address. For example:
Cyber Patrol has claimed that:
A site that is added to the CyberNOT list is viewed by a person before being added.Write to Cyber Patrol and ask how the following sites got blocked, if all sites are reviewed by a human first:
Peacefire received a letter from a library that had been mailed to them from N2H2 promoting Bess, stating: "We now have over 85,000 sites in our standard list. We have reviewed every one of them. We do not block sites because they are suspicious. We block them because parents and community members will generally feel that they are inappropriate for children." Write to N2H2 and ask, if every site on their list is reviewed by a human, how the following sites got blocked:
You can write to Peter Nickerson, CEO of N2H2, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here is a sample letter to copy and paste if you're lazy.
Most other blocking companies now distance themselves from CYBERsitter because of their past actions. It started when two reporters revealed in July 1996 that CYBERsitter targeted gay rights pages in their blocking policies, including the National Organization for Women, the International Gay/Lesbian Human Rights Commission, and GLAAD, as well as filtering out the phrases "gay rights", "homosexual" and "fairy". CYBERsitter had their defenders, though, because even though CYBERsitter was far from the only product to block gay rights pages, CYBERsitter was the most up front about it; the 1997 version officially included "Gay rights" as one of their blocking categories. However, even CYBERsitter supporters eventually withdrew their support after the events that followed:
Write to Solid Oak Software and ask what their position is on these events. You can write to Brian Milburn, the CEO of Solid Oak Software, makers of CYBERsitter, at email@example.com.
X-Stop was the product used in the Loudoun County Library system, which was successfully sued by the American Civil Liberties Union and People For the American Way, on the grounds that the enforced use of the software in the library. violated the First Amendment rights of library patrons and web site publishers whose sites were blocked by the software. X-Stop's CEO claimed in the trial that all sites blocked by their product were reviewed by a human first, a claim that was repeatedly challenged in court and eventually rejected by the judge, after witnesses produced a large number of sites blocked by X-Stop that did not fit their criteria. X-Stop was unique in claiming that the sites blocked by their product were not merely offensive but legally obscene, although the sites discussed in the trial were not. These sites included:
WebSENSE claims on their Web site that
We do not use key words or wild cards when adding sites. Instead, we rely on our team of Internet surfers who personally check each potential site to verify the contents..... This process ensures that only those sites that actually meet the category definitions are included in the database.
The Censorware Project, a site that examines problems with blocking software, published a report in April 1998 that three federal court circuits had installed WebSENSE blocking software to regulate what all employees (from federal judges on down) could access on the Internet. The Censorware Project followed up with another report in June 1998 revealing that WebSENSE blocked sites that no human could have reviewed in advance, including:
Ask WebSENSE why these sites were blocked, if every site on their list is reviewed by a human in advance. You can write to Sage Osterfeld, Director of Marketing Communications for WebSENSE, at firstname.lastname@example.org.