The Censorware Project

Blacklisted by Cyber Patrol

From Ada to Yoyo

A report from The Censorware Project


The pattern is the same: they are shocked, even outraged. They defend themselves, saying they can't imagine why anyone would think such a thing. One person misunderstands, thinks I'm accusing him of secretly selling pornography: he sends me an angry rebuttal and complains about me on a mailing list for webmasters.

None of them has done anything wrong. All of them have been blacklisted as pornographers. I'm just the first one to tell them so.

To be precise, Cyber Patrol says all of their websites are both FullNude and SexActs. These are the ultimate don't-go-there categories -- if a library or school or parent or business blocks nothing else, they will block these two. One is for pictures, the other for pictures and text:

Pictures exposing any or all portions of the human genitalia.

Pictures or text exposing anyone or anything involved in explicit sexual acts and or lewd and lascivious behavior, including masturbation, copulation, pedophilia, intimacy involving nude or partially nude people in heterosexual, bisexual, lesbian or homosexual encounters. Also includes phone sex ads, dating services, adult personal ads, CD-ROM's and videos.

Regarding the sites below: collectively, we spent hours looking for any sexually explicit material they might have, asking search engines to scan the sites, and checking the sites themselves by hand. None of these listed contained much if any material that would qualify in either the FullNude or the SexActs categories.

Each block found seems stranger than the last:

Many of the people I contacted were beyond upset: they were furious. Some of the comments I received could not be reproduced on this webpage without earning a fair block in the Violence/Profanity category.

More than one surprised me by talking about suing Microsystems Software. For the record, Microsystems' list criteria page clearly states:

we cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of our screens and we assume no responsibility for errors or omissions.

We normally think of censorware products being used to protect children, so at first I dismissed the extreme reactions from people who ran online businesses that were blocked. After all, children don't buy things online very often, says conventional wisdom. How much business could they possibly have lost?

Then I remembered that this product is not installed only in schools and libraries --

If an employee is searching for shareware to buy for his or her company, and Lezlisoft is blocked by an employer or by a service provider, a sale may be lost. Over eleven million people connecting to the net through service providers using co-branded Cyber Patrol software, if they select that option, will be blocked. Eleven million. Perhaps the idea that stores doing business online have lost revenue from an improper block is not so silly after all.

Update: two days later, as we predicted, most of these sites were unblocked. Some, surprisingly, were not. Our aftermath analysis goes into detail. 12/25/97

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