Cybersitter Blocks The Ethical Spectacle

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Jonathan Wallace
jw@bway.net

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.

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 behavior."

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.)

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