Don't buy Cybersitter!

Reprinted below is an essay by Bennett Haselton, founder of Peacefire, a student group opposing censorship. Bennett has undertaken a campaign to inform all interested parties that Solid Oak Sofware's Cybersitter product, represented by the company as an aid to keep children away from indecent information, also blocks political and feminist sites. Somewhat predictably, Solid Oak overreacted and has not only blocked Bennett's site, but has also contacted his ISP, threatening to block all the Web pages it hosts if it refuses to unplug the Peacefire site.

Read on for the details of Solid Oak's philosophy--then see my conclusions as to why you shouldn't buy Cybersitter, and some other Cybersitter-related links, at the bottom of the page.

Jonathan Wallace

Solid Oak Software has vowed that Peacefire's reports about CYBERsitter "will be blocked wherever they may be". We are thrilled that so many visitors have offered to mirror this site following national coverage in Wired Magazine. If Solid Oak Software finds any mirrors of this site they are likely to ban those as well. Here's how to set up a mirror of this site so that Solid Oak Software cannot use a search engine to find it.

Original copy of this page at:


Where do we not want you to go today?

Among other places:

If CYBERsitter had been activated on your computer, you would not have been able to see this page, or any of the pages linked above.

Special thanks goes out to the authors of the following articles, for originally calling national attention to the blocking practices of programs such as CYBERsitter, Net Nanny and Cyber Patrol:

Every fact on this page can be verified by referring to the articles below, from HotWired and Internet World magazine, or by downloading a copy of CYBERsitter from the Solid Oak Software web site,

CYBERsitter, a blocking program from Solid Oak Software, is advertised as an Internet safety tool that filters "offensive" content. Demo copies are given away at the company web site, and the product is also marketed by Focus on the Family, a long-standing backer of the Communications Decency Act.

A close look at CYBERsitter reveals an agenda that infringes on the rights of children, parents and teachers wherever the program is used. Despite the hype over "parental control" as an alternative to government censorship, it is Solid Oak Software that takes control when CYBERsitter is running on your computer.

The Process

CYBERsitter scans web pages, newsgroup messages, and Internet Relay Chat (IRC) channels for words and phrases on its list of banned character strings. These characters are replaced with blank space, and the program makes an entry in a secret log every time a page is downloaded containing a forbiddenm word. The word "gay" is allowed, but not "gay rights", "gay community" or "lesbian". Likewise, "sex" by itself is OK, but not "sexual", "safe sex" or "have sex". Also banned are words like "naughty", "violence" and "fairy".

Although the word "women" is not banned for obvious reasons, CYBERsitter makes it impossible to enter it in an HTML form--so doing a web search on "Women's Rights" or "Women's Issues" at Yahoo is out of the question.

World Wide Web censorship

The National Organization for Women page and Peacefire's page are two of the many sites--as opposed to words and phrases--that are wiped out by CYBERsitter. Solid Oak Software typically does not ban individual web pages but rather entire domains. All GNN member home pages are blocked. Community ConneXion, makers of the Anonymizer, and online communities such as WELL and ECHO are banned. The mega-ISP, owned by Concentric, is off limits.

CYBERsitter's definition of "offensive" content cuts a wider swath of censorship than almost any other program.

Behind the Scenes

Where does the CYBERsitter banlist come from? The makers rely on in-house web surfers working for Solid Oak and on tipoffs sent in by CYBERsitter customers.

Solid Oak does not notify service providers when their sites are blocked. And unlike arch-rival Cyber Patrol, Solid Oak does not provide an appeals process for web authors whose pages are placed off limits.

What are we going to do besides talk about it?

Peacefire is contacting various domain owners who have been banned by CYBERsitter. Solid Oak Software states that their blacklist includes "any site that focuses on topics such as adult or sexual issues, illegal activities, bigotry, racism, drugs, or pornography", an insult to the law-abiding owners of domains which Solid Oak has banned without warning or explanation.

You can contact Solid Oak Software, the makers of CYBERsitter, by sending mail to or calling (805) 967-9853. Their President and CEO, Brian Milburn, can be contacted at Do not put the word Peacefire or Haselton in the subject line as their e-mail software has been configured to reject all messages on this topic.

Visit some of the following sites and encourage their makers to stand up to CYBERsitter and hold their ground:
This is a list of some of the largest and most popular sites that are banned by CYBERsitter, but by no means all of them.

Questions, comments, or tipoffs:

Sources and more information:

  • The CyberWire Dispatch article from July 1996 about CYBERsitter, Cyber Patrol, and other blocking programs.
  • The Internet World article about blocking software.
  • The Solid Oak Software home page.

See also commentary in PC World at

First created November 5, 1996
Last updated December 11, 1996

CYBERsitter and Solid Oak Software are trademarks of Solid Oak Software Incorporated. All other trademarks are property of their respective holders.

Contents of this page Copyright © 1996 Peacefire. Contact for permission to redistribute.

Don't buy Cybersitter!

In our book, Sex, Laws and Cyberspace, Mark Mangan and I viewed blocking software such as Cybersitter as a good thing. Using a "client-server" analogy for the Internet, we argued that laws like the Communications Decency Act attempt to eradicate certain kinds of information from the server (the entire Internet). Blocking software allows parents and others to make individual choices at the client level (the PC).

Solid Oak Software, distributors of Cybersitter, have gone far beyond this agenda:

Solid Oak has even threatened journalists Brock Meeks and Declan McCullagh with criminal prosecution and civil lawsuits for breaking the story of the political sites blocked by Cybersitter. Here is the original Cyberwire Dispatch article, and here is Brock Meeks' account of Solid Oak's threats.

I strongly urge parents looking to screen their children's Net use to avoid the purchase of Cybersitter, so as not to support Solid Oak's political agenda and bullying behavior.

Jonathan Wallace

Cybersitter has also blocked Web host, due to some pages maintained by privacy advocate Glen Roberts:

Cybersitter Censored Pages

Nurse Your Net Nanny.

A list of words and phrases blocked by Cybersitter.