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Censorship Your Rights Online

Mattel/Cyber Patrol Censors Critics Again 399

We just ran a story on Friday about Mattel, which makes the Web-censoring software product Cyber Patrol, and their attempted suppression of an essay and utility to decrypt CP's list of banned sites. Since then, things have gotten even uglier. Mattel's attorneys have been mass-mailing the mirrors of Eddy Jansson's site, demanding that ISPs remove them -- the original site and some of the mirrors have been taken down already. Just to make sure though, Mattel is updating the Cyber Patrol blacklists for all of their customers to include the homepages of the authors and all of the mirrors, blocked under every blocking category the product has. (more ...)

This means, for example, that if you have Cyber Patrol set to block "Full Nudity", you might think you're blocking pictures of nude human beings, but you're actually banning criticism of Mattel and the homepages of people Mattel is suing even if the decryption utility and essay aren't hosted there, such as Matthew Skala's homepage. Feel free to download the demo version of Cyber Patrol, update the filter list to the newest one, and check this out -- or just type it into their search engine, though that won't tell you it's banned under every category. Does Skala's page contain full nudity? No? Then you're seeing an example of a company purposefully and deliberately lying about the content of a page in order to serve their own agenda.

Same thing if you chose Violence/Profanity, or Partial Nudity, or Sexual Acts, Gross Depictions, Intolerance, or Satanic/Cult, or Drugs/Drug Culture, Militant/Extremist, or Sex Education, or Gambling, or Alcohol and Tobacco -- guess what? "All categories" also include "or criticism of our company or product."

Welcome to America in the new millennium, where a corporation just made the decision to ban several documents from the World Wide Web. They did it unilaterally, without court review, without any notice to the public whatsoever, yet their decisions are now being carried out (the Cyber Patrol product automatically updates its list of banned sites on a daily or weekly basis) in public schools and libraries and companies across the country, for children and adults. (Cyber Patrol uses the same list for the "corporate firewall" versions of its products.)

A list of mirrors is still available. Get it while you can. Declan McCullagh, a journalist for Wired, has started an archive of case-related documents; -- he too has received the legal threats, despite never hosting the banned essay. (The .uni files are actually TIFF images of the documents.)

And just as I was finishing up this story, I've received an e-mail in my capacity as webmaster. A woman wrote:

The link to the essay you mentioned on your page [our homepage] date 3/16/00 must not be correct. Could you e-mail me the essay? I am a high school librarian and am trying to find out more about what Cyber Patrol filters. Thank you.

I wrote back, among other things:

In fact the link was correct, but Mattel (the maker of Cyber Patrol) has filed suit against the authors of that essay and made legal threats to that ISP which caused them to delete the page. So, the page existed on Friday, but does not today.

I certainly understand your desire to find out what Cyber Patrol blocks, but they are going to great lengths to stop you from finding out.

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Mattel/Cyber Patrol Censors Critics Again

Comments Filter:
  • ...and how lack of enforcibility doesn't justify breaking "the law" (read this as "your laws" you 'merkin imperialists), know that DeCSS, RE'ing software, and decrypting blacklists of web sites is *100% legal* in a great many nations on this planet. Once the information reaches these places, NO ONE CAN FORCE IT PURGED, and trying harder to do so will only result in its wider propagation by users feeling belittled and persecuted by the big US corps and who want to demonstrate beyone all uncertainty that the US is *NOT* the world gov't. How many people would have DeCSS today if the DVD-CCA consortium hadn't made such a stink about it?

    Winston in South Africa.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Have fun... Send in ip numbers that belong to them for blocking.. 8^)
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I don't like the censorware, but this thread is full of dogmatic posts full of people just patting each other on the back for revealing how evil the evil censor company is. But think about this:

    There software is supposed to allow a system administrator to block objectionable content. There is a site that shows you how to disable the software that blocks the content. Therefore, this site DOES fit every category available, because it will allow you to view forbidden content from EVERY category by simply disabling the filter.

    I'm not trying to defend the company, but sometimes you just have to play devil's advocate.

  • The software linked to does not allow you to circumvent (as far as I can tell) the censorware itself. It simply lets you look at their encrypted list of blocked sites. It gives you a way to rapidly evaluate just how lame (or not lame) their site categorization system is.
  • Let's say I have a big database of URLs. Lets also say I own a registered, fully legal copy of CyberPatrol.

    I write a script that runs through my database, and attemps to connect (through CyberPatrol) to each URL. My script logs the failures.

    And then I publish the list. Is this in any way illegal?

    If it is, then I bet there's some reporters who'd like to hear about that...
  • Man, this has got to be the worst example of premeditated evil I have ever seen from a corporation - not just suing to intimidate people who critizise them (that's been done before) but actively using their position as a filter to prevent their customers from finding out about the critizism.

    That's just Wrong.

    This story needs to get written up by a wide-distribution Old Media outlet, and then dissiminated as widely as possible, to people like librarians, school principals, and Congressmen.

    Anubody know any reporters?
  • At this rate, how long will it be before Cyber Patrol blocks the poage for Net Nanny, and they retaliate by blocking Mattel for extremist/hate (or, perhaps accuratly, for providing inappropriate role models). If I had more free time (yeah, I know, if I have time to post this...) I might be tempted to write a filter that removes offensive corperate sites on the basis of not encouraging kids to become consumer-units and bad citizens (which many corperates certainly ARE).

  • "What Mattel is doing is desperately trying to protect the integrity of its software. Once the "crack" is widely available to all CyberPatrol users, CyberPatrol will cease to have any value to either Mattel or its customers."

    That depends on why their customers have purchased their product. It's a question of what the customer wants from the software. There are two obvious cases, and they are quite different from one another.

    Parents may want to use the software to help their children avoid certain sites. If the child agrees with the rational behind the filter, and isn't planning to try to bypass it (that is to say, if the parents and the child have the same motivations), this won't effect them. The filter will still be valuable.

    If a parent is expecting the filter to keep their cihld from seeing something and the child doesn't agree with this limitation, then making the list available will help the child find the sites with the details about how to bypass the filter and provide a list of sites to look at once they have bypassed the filter.

    It's worth noticing that the second case is another attempt to find a technological fix for a a social problem. This just doesn't work.

    What the parent in the second case needs to do is work with the child to reach the first case, or simply take away the computer or the internet access.

  • is blocked ...Can anyone figure this out

    Their rationale might be that if you can't get to a site through their filter, you can get to a (translated version of) it by handing the URL to the translator.

    Of course, this means your kids (or whoever) can't use it to translate stuff that isn't blocked, either....

  • I just mailed Passagen, the Swedish web space provider of the original cp4break homepage, and asked them whether it is their policy to comply with foreign courts asking them to censor pages, and whether this also extends to foreign dictatorships wanting to censor pages.
    %japh = (
    'name' => 'Niklas Nordebo', 'mail' => 'niklas@' . '',
    'work' => '', 'phone' => '+46-708-405095'
  • Hello, This is a load of crap, so here you guys go. If you want a tar and gzipped version of the files and essay you can get it here. []
  • I got my restraining order in the second wave of 'em, which hit Sunday. So I took the content off of my site [], though I did not take the site down. I'm using it to distribute information about the case until I'm assured by an attorney that I can put the site back up, as I fully anticipate will occur.

    I guess the tough & manly thing to do would be to leave the program up. But I just don't have the resources to handle a lawsuit, or to be found in contempt of court for refusing to follow the orders of what must be the most poorly-applied subpoena that I've ever seen.
  • Better everyone goes out and buys a CD with Aqua's "Barbie Girl" on it...
  • How surprised can we be, really? They want to be big brother, so what do you expect them to do? The only big surprise here is the ISPs caving in to their demands. Does anyone know of an ISP with a backbone? Surely there must be one, though perhaps not in the US...
  • Since so much of the criticism is being posted here, is /. banned yet?
  • If we can get the code posted to every single host on the internet, then we can help Mattel reach its goal of blocking out the whole net!! Well, we probably couldn't get it posted to
  • by BJH ( 11355 )

    As I mentioned in one of my comments [] to the original story, this was a fairly easy move to forcast. It's pretty much what every other corporation has done when faced with criticism on the Web - do anything they can to block it (think AOL, or any number of free homepage sites).

  • The issue here is that the blockee would have to prove the blocker harmed them in some way with deliberate untruths. Thats pretty hard to do.

    Wouldn't misrepresenting the site to thousands (millions?) of customers as "pornographic", "violent", "extreme", "hate-mongering", and whatever other categories they have qualify?

    If you click on a site, and a cybercensor message pops up "this site has been blocked" there is a very obvious implication in that message that the site contains offensive material for which the software was installed to block. If Mattel has knowingly blocked sites which do not meet the criteria they have represented to their customers, surely this qualifies as defamation and provides a strong argument for libel.

    Harm is done in that potential readers have been prevented from reading their essay. This results in professional harm (wider readership -> wider recognition -> higher professional esteem) to the web page author directly, not to mention the more widely discussed (in this no-doubt soon-to-be censored forum at least) social and political harm to our society as a whole.

    Whether one could make it stick or not I don't know, but some speach-friendly lawyers should definitely take a look at it.

    Also, doesn't legal action against a person outside of the US infringe just a bit on the national sovereignty of the other country (e.g. Canada and Sweden)?
  • The issue is that the web pages that are being blocked erroneously have no say in any contract. If person A tells person B, "By listening to me, you do not hold me responsable for what I say, Person C is a child molester." Then Person C (who didn't agree to the terms) can file suit. You can't have Person C sign away their rights if they weren't even part of the `contract'. So the question is moot. If my web site is blocked due to PORN and RACIAL BIGOTRY and it is in fact blocked for no reason, I signed no contract, I never gave CyberPatrol the right to attack my site and label it as such.

    Bad Mojo
  • "I imagine that the best analogy is that of movie reviews -- how factually correct does a movie review have to be? Anyone? Anyone?"

    Well, a movie review is opinion. I doubt anyone thinks otherwise. People who purchase CyberPatrol are not buying an opinion of web sites. They are led to beleive (IMHO) that this software will block porn and other `bad' content and nothing else. Which isn't true.

    Essentially, I think this gives people who purchased the software a reason to file a class action suit for being lied to. But then again, if you bought this software, I doubt you care.

    Bad Mojo
  • Unlikely. Such a tactic would force Mattel to explain why the product doesn't block Yahoo, or AltaVista, or any one of a thousand directories or search engines which link to pornographic or "questionable" content. It's just too thin.
  • It was a sad testament to the shoddy state of shrink-wrap software quality that SoftRAM95, a product that absolutely did not work, continued to be sold for a while even after several industry publications reverse engineered the program to prove that it didn't do what it claimed.

    It seems that we have taken a giant step in the wrong direction if today such reverse engineering of a product to verify that it performs as advertised is routinely met by lawsuits and harassment. I suspect that the reasons for this are not only the DMCA but also the fact that the web makes it possible for anybody, not just relatively well-heeled print publications, to challenge companies' assertions.

  • Cyber Patrol calls their list of banned sites "CyberNOT" (they also have a list of "approved" sites called "CyberYES"). They license it to various firewall manufacturers to include as an optional accessory in those products.

    Michael Sims-michael at
  • What I see a need for in consumer law is the ability to sue a company for claims about their product and also claims about others products. If you want to claim 4 out of 5 dentists surveyed you better be able to give me the names of all 5 dentists you talked to. Mattel needs to feel the legal heat from this. A simple boycott takes much more time and effort. A countersuit based on showing their product harms consumers in some way would be much more effective.

  • > Expect to see a lot more of this kind of thing as the megacorps treat the little people as little more than feudal serfs.

    Good point!

    But, now that you've gotten me thinking about it, are we serfs, or are we simply a medium through which wealth is transfered between corporations? That's the way it seems to me. After all, where do most of us get our money? From corporations. And what do we do with that money? We trade it to other corporations, and usually in exchange for something extremely ephemeral (non-durable), such as food, clothing, fuel, or soon-to-be-outdated computer software and hardware.

    Or, put another way: we trade irreplaceable chunks of our time for wealth, then we trade most of that wealth away for stuff that gets used up. Seems pretty silly, doesn't it?

    One corporation pays us, while others compete for the money we've been paid. We are one of the primary media through which money is transfered between the truly wealthy individuals and corporations in the world. That's the game that's being played. Well, one of the games, anyway.

    If only we could continue to bring in wealth, but not transfer it back out, then we could eventually get into the game ourselves. Maybe we could change the rules or even come up with some different, more equitable game.

    But until then, we'll just be the pawns. We'll be suitably outraged when they tell us that the 'net is corrupting our children, and we'll open our wallets when they offer to sell us software that will keep our little angels from falling from grace. We're such *good* little pawns, aren't we?

  • I'm sure that someony in the slashdot community must have the power to make this a news item on other sources but the web (newspapers, TV...)

    The only way to precent censorship like this is to expose them to the general public. When their product receives bad publicity, they will stop.
  • The First Amendment, being a provision of the U.S. Constitution, is a limitation on the power of government. It has no bearing here.

    I am not a lawyer, still less a US constitutional lawyer, but surely this is not true. If the US government is spending money then it has to be used in a constitutionally valid way. I seem to recall that the recent case about school vouchers was decided on this issue: school vouchers were almost all being spent by parents to send their children to religiously based schools. Ergo the government was funding religion, and that is forbidden by the constitution.

    If a link that tenuous can be held to be unconstitutional, what would the purchase of censorware for libraries be?


  • How can you distinguish between "We at Mattel want to suppress criticism of Mattel" and "We at Mattel want to make sure that anyone who has this software installed won't find his child downloading the unblocking software and defeating the software he purchased no matter what level of blocking he has enabled"?

    The proper thing would be to have the next version contain a label for "This page links to software that defeats CyberPatrol", which most people would promptly enable. Actually the proper thing would be not to install censorware, but you can't expect people to behave rationally.
  • The reason that Mattel has classified these pages as nudity is because they are all pointing out how the Emperor isn't wearing any clothes...
  • I'm not sure that 'editorial control' applies in this case. Obviously, IANALBALFA (I am not a lawyer but a lowly firewall administrator), but generally I thought that applied to content providers versus carriers. In this case, the company has a responsibility to take reasonable efforts to maintain a tolerant work environment. Requiring 100% accuracy would be unreasonable. OTOH, if nothing is done, even at a policy or managerial level, then the company is certainly open to all sorts of nasty litigation.

    This access is ostensibly not for personal use (yeah, right, and nobody makes personal calls from their work phone, either), so the company isn't required to allow ANYTHING that's not business-related.

  • Finally, a censorship issue that I can have an effect on (however small...)

    I work for a large corporation that does use content blocking. This is mostly to prevent later claims of institutional sexual harassment. (No flames, please -- it's been made quite clear within the organization that I, personally, am opposed to this, for a number of reasons, only some of which are related to censorship/freedom of speech issues.) In the future, if/when we decide to revisit the content blocking service provider (I believe we currently use CyberNOT), at least egregious handling like this will help me keep CyberPatrol from being used. I'm not a fan of CyberNOT, either, but the contract's been signed, so I'm stuck for a while.

    Mattel is really shooting themselves in the foot by doing this. This is at the level of UCITA. As much as corporations demand performance benchmarks, does this company really believe that such benchmarks of their "performance" (ie how effective their blocking really is) won't be desired? Get with it, folks...

  • Please note: the below is an explanation, not a defense. I didn't make this decision; it happened before I came to this company.

    I work for a very large company that uses CyberNOT, which (as I learned in this discussion) is the name of the list for CyberPatrol. But it's important to realize that my company uses this, not for censorship, but for protection against sexual harassment lawsuits. The suits who made the decision are well aware that this product (like every other product in this category) doesn't block everything. But by using it, the organization is showing 'due diligence' in an effort to maintain a harassment-free workplace. (God, I sound like one of THEM now!) So if anyone were to ever sue, stating that the corporation tolerated porn-surfing at the workplace, we can point and say, "See! We tried!"

    Personally, I think a better way to handle it is to let managers manage, and have draconian punishments for individuals who violate the policy. It is true that in a work environment, such surfing has no place. This is not a library with constitutionally protected free speech, nor is it imposed on employees' personal web surfing at home. If you wanna look at, go right ahead. But it doesn't belong on your desk, not necessarily for religious reasons, but because that can in fact create one of those "hostile work environments".

    So you see: Reading /. can be work-related! :)

  • Why don't the geek fight back and block all Mattel related official sites from our DNS ? That way they TOO can enjoy the fun of being censored...
  • Seems like they have clear-cut statements about what each category filters, but they also have a disclaimer about non-responsibility for errors and omissions. For example, the Violence/Profanity category (listed below) sure doesn't seem like it should block a program unless you routinely use "unsigned int fuck" or something.

    From the CyberPatrol criteria site: []
    The Learning Company has used what we believe to be reasonable means to identify and categorize CyberNOTs, but we cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of our screens and we assume no responsibility for errors or omissions. Please report errors and omissions using the Site Investigation Report.

    Category Definitions - 1/20/99
    Any on-line content that contains more than 3 instances in 100 messages. Any easily accessible pages with graphics, text or audio which fall within the definition of the categories below will be considered sufficient to place the source in the category.

    Violence: pictures exposing, text or audio describing extreme cruelty, physical or emotional acts against any animal or person which are primarily intended to hurt or inflict pain. Profanity: is definded as obscene words or phrases either audio, text or pictures.

  • The file is on my computer []. It's a school computer, but I'm under my rights to host a server so long as it's not warez or mp3s.
    I think the real question is, how will your school's staff react when Mattel sends them a "take it down or else" letter?
  • I'm not sure that 'editorial control' applies in this case.
    To be honest, neither do I - but I was able to convince the legal bod that the risk of it was about equal to that of not filtering, and much cheaper. They ended up with a "porn on pcs is a sacking offence, you must be able to justify all web use and we WILL be logging what servers you visit" policy, and AFAIK are still fine.
  • I work for a large corporation that does use content blocking. This is mostly to prevent later claims of institutional sexual harassment. (No flames, please -- it's been made quite clear within the organization that I, personally, am opposed to this, for a number of reasons, only some of which are related to censorship/freedom of speech issues.) In the future, if/when we decide to revisit the content blocking service provider (I believe we currently use CyberNOT), at least egregious handling like this will help me keep CyberPatrol from being used. I'm not a fan of CyberNOT, either, but the contract's been signed, so I'm stuck for a while.
    Hmmm. I found the best way to strike THIS one down was that, if you censor or otherwise filter the feed, you are exercising editorial control - therefore, are directly responsible (and legally liable) for anything that gets through the filter. .....
  • What action can be taken? Are folks like the ACLU willing to help out?

    This from the TBTF [] 'Blog is reporting [] the American Civil Liberties Union will back Waldo Jaquith, Lindsay Haisley, and Bennett Haselton in their case against Cyber Patrol.
  • by Spire on 12:38 PM March 20th, 2000 EST
    No, the sites may not contain any nudity, but they do contain information that will enable one to access all the CyberPatrol-blocked sites -- including those with lots and lots of nudity. So the mirrors are being treated as a "special case".

    by Mock ( on 06:37 PM March 20th, 2000 EST
    That wouldn't hold up. What use is a list of blocked sites to a cyber-patrolled machine? You can't reach them anyway, since they are blocked.

    Spire's right. Apparently, whoever wrote this program had motives not as pure as the freshly driven snow. Not only does this program show the list of banned sites, but it also provides a list of passwords that allow CyberPatrol to be *disabled*!!!

    I can fully understand why they would block any and all instances of this program to paying subscribers. If I purchased this product, I wouldn't want it to be easily disabled.

    However, if the software author (hint, hint) were to release a program that *ONLY* shows the list of blocked sites, without providing the passwords that can be used to disable the protection, then I'd be against any effort to block access to it. Sadly, that didn't happen. (hint, hint)

  • Except that the program, when run shows, by default, the names and passwords for the accounts installed (like the administrator) *on the first tab*

    Can you tell me that this is not software that allows circumvention of the protection? By any stretch of the imagination?

    If they left this tab off, I would have NO beef with this program, but as is, it's indefensible.

  • but this doesn't fall into that category. This is a company that is blocking access to a program and sites that host the program that identifies on the first tab what the account names (like the administrator's) and the passwords are that may then be used to bypass any 'protection' in place.

    If all this program did was point out the blocked URLs and newsgroups that would be a horse of a different color.

  • No, what needs to be posted is a site with the complete essay, with a program that cracks the not list, complete with source. However, this program would *NOT* expose the accounts and passwords.

    As it is now, the program *can* be used to bypass the 'security' that is in place.

  • Essentially, what your objecting to is that another company has been shown to be totally inept.

    No, I have no objection to showing companies that they are inept. I also have no objection when a censorware company censors locations that allow end users to defeat the censorware.

  • But I believe I recall reading that it *does not* do anything other than reveal the list of URLs which are blocked - end of story.

    Sorry, you are wrong. Go download the program yourself and see. The first tab in the win32 version is a list of accounts and passwords. Since it's on the first tab, one might be led to believe that is the most important feature of the program, no?

  • * A preliminary injunction is just that. It's
    not a ruling on guilt or innocence, and need not
    (IIRC) consider the evidence of the case. The
    intent would be to limit eventual damage in
    the case that wrongdoing is, indeed, found.

    * Technically, it's not a 1st Amendment violation
    unless a Gov't is imposing it, albeit
    indirectly might count (state-funded).

    * In the case of private use, it's voluntary. It
    acts at the VIEWER's end. Having its usage
    required at many sites, or actually downing or
    modifying the SOURCEs would be censorship.
    So the software itself isn't censorship, by
    itself, in the traditional sense.

    The legal action itself does, but *threatening*
    a lawsuit (no matter how flimsy) is pretty much
    always permitted unless the person is an
    ex-lawyer who's been disbarred for numerous
    frivolous lawsuits, and even then I'm not sure.

    * Now, if they promise that their categories are
    accurate, and for some demented reason their
    EULA doesn't say something to the effect that

    "We reserve the right to do anything including
    revoke your usage of this product and you waive
    all your rights including suing us unless your
    state prevents that, in which case why did we
    sell it to you, but even if this makes your
    computer eat your dog and then explode we are
    not liable and in fact you'll have to pay us
    for making us look bad."

    Then perhaps they're vulnerable for deliberately
    mislabelling site, and arguably NOT doing their job correctly. They'd have to have some incredibly careless lawyers for this to happen, however. Odds are, their software makes no legally binding guarantees...
  • Maybe a libel suit wouldn't hold up, but the preliminary injunction could easily be reversed. "Your honor, we reverse-engineered this product to see just how it works, and we were surprised to find that Mattel is deceiving their customers by classifying anti-Mattel sites as containing nudity when they do not." If ever there was a case just asking to be a public champion for the pro-reverse-engineering movement, this is it. Mattel shot themselves in the foot by playing the reverse-engineering card and then proceeding to hide undocumented "features" in their encrypted database, and we need to call them on it. This is the perfect example of using reverse-engineering to keep a company in check, to be sure that their product does what they say it does, and a victory here would go a long way towards getting support behind reverse-engineering.
  • I didn't think that it would take long before there would be a story about a filter company using filters for their own agenda.
    You haven't been paying attention; stories about filter companies blocking sites which criticize their filters have been going around for a long time.

  • I'd love to see a libel judgement as well. Especially since this they are deliberately and willfully claiming that these web sites contain something that they do not.

    As I understand it the Cyber Patrol software asks Mattel, who owns the list of sites, "Does this site contain nudity/violence/profanity/etc?" and Mattel is intentionally answering in an untruthful and harmful way. There has to be a libel case there (not that I know anything about law.)

    Take this a step further and consider cases where Mattel (and others) are slandering sites due to negligence as well. For instance if I said something like "Mattel sells kiddie porn on their web site" and never even checked to make sure, wouldn't that be considered libelous even if I was just mistaken about the facts?

  • If a number of people sue Mattel for denying them information about their company's products, or blocking access to sites without their permission? Isn't there a way to convince the courts that this kind of tactic harms customers?
  • Somehow, limiting people's access to information is supposed to be justifiable retaliation against someone limiting people's access to information?

    (Censorship begat censorship. =anagram>
    So, proscribing the cheapness.
    So, inspects abhorring speech.
    Echo angriness! Bitch! Oppress!)
  • Check out the pages of this eternity service, it is similar to what you're talking about.
  • Do you know what that would do to the environment? Bleh!
  • I tried teaching my daughter how to work out the password on paper this weekend. This hack gave me a most excellent excuse to practice modular arithmetic with her.

    Anyhow she has grown out of Barbies and is into some serious Lego [] hacking.

    Where should we post them?

  • Mattel's defense could be that while the site does not contain any of the things listed, the site could be used to access information that is in this category.

    This is not to say that they would win a suit, but one should have a good counter arguement to it before you go to court.

    Maybe if everyone who is blocked filed a small claims court action against Mattel they could bog them down?

  • > If we really wanted to be of some help to the
    > CyberPatrol customers (e.g. parents), we could
    > take down all of our mirrors, and replace them
    > with mirrors of the article that do not contain
    > executables

    Interesting idea but...then customers wouldn't
    be able to see the blocked list anymore. They
    also wouldn't be able to check the veracity of
    the information with thier own copies.

    What if "we" want to help customers of cyberpatrol
    by enabling them to see what the product they
    have is actually doing (which IMNSHO is their
    right no matter what any lawyer says)
  • According to x.asp?section=contact...

    "Please direct general inquiries to Mattel's main phone number, which is (310) 252-2000. Written correspondence may be sent to the company's headquarters address listed below:

    Mattel, Inc. 333 Continental Boulevard, El Segundo, CA 90245-5012"

    Agh, I hope I've not broken their copyright and damagingly stolen their intellectual property by copying their website contents like that.

  • First of all, write, fax, or phone the traditional news media. Explain what Mattel is doing, why it's wrong, and how this is only the latest in an increasing string of abuses by major companies over the last few years. Explain that fair criticism of companies is rapily becoming impossible. Make it clear that the general public has GOT to know about this!

    Second of all, get other people to contact the same organisation with similar information. If every local TV station gets one letter, they won't think it's a concern. If the national news shows get a thousand letters, it should at least be enough to get them to look into it.

    I just wrote a letter to The National (CBC-TV) covering the above. If anyone else out there in Canada is going to write to CBC, send it to the National as well. Let's get this NOTICED!

  • So, who's going to be first to sue them for restraint of trade, slander, libel (or whatever the US equivalent is - IANAL or an American for that matter) for falsely claiming their mirror contains offensive material when it doesn't?

    Class action suit time?

    - Andy R.
  • "4" means that "the defamatory communication" was published, that is, communicated to a third party. (Basically if A and B are in a room, without any third person, statements there can't be defamatory. There has to be someone else there.)

    The users of the software qualify as third parties, so your analysis is not incorrect.

  • I didn't think that it would take long before there would be a story about a filter company using filters for their own agenda. I think you're absolutely right. If this isn't taken before the general public, these companies will just block out any sites they don't agree with and call it nudity.

    Imho, the only way to introduce accountability here is by educating the consumers that the only thing they're buying with filters is a false sense of security and some thought police.

  • That's no excuse. They could just use copyright traps. Maps have had them for years. They just put a few made up names or geographical features or some deliberate misspellings. Anyone who copies their map rather than doing the research and developing their own gets caught with their pants down.

    The same thing could be done by cyberpatrol. They just sprinkle the database with a few false url's. They could even provide websites at those locations so a simple search for 404's will fail. Anyone who tries to copy their database will get nailed for copyright infringement.
  • I'm amazed that Mattel would be this dumb. This will hit the mass media in a few days, I expect, and it will be embarassing for Mattel.

    If you're involved directly in this, contact John Markoff at the New York Times (he's in their SF office), the Wall Street Journal, and the San Jose Mercury News (Silicon Valley's local paper.) If you don't sound like a nut, you'll be able to get through to the appropriate reporter on the phone without any trouble.

  • I'd get legal advice, but I don't think that's a valid subpoena. It's not signed by a judge, it doesn't name you, and it wasn't served on you properly. You might even have a case against the attorneys for forging a judicial document.
  • they also have a disclaimer about non-responsibility for errors and omissions

    The real question is whether their disclaimer actually clears them of responsibility. I think not. It's like when you go to play paintball, you sign a document that says "No matter what happens to me, it's not the fault of the people who run this place". But I doubt that a document like that would be upheld in a court if the goggles you were using were theirs, and you lost your eyesight because they were in bad condition.

    Is it libel for me to say: "I'm not responsible it this is wrong, but such-and-such is a child molester"?

  • You'd think that people would actually care when they heard stuff like that, wouldn't you? Check out Rei's Anime and Manga Page. It's blocked by Bess because it contains nudity.


    The long and short of it is, people don't seem to care about this. It's generally shrugged off as "acceptable inconvenience," which has a lot to do with "I didn't want to see that page anyways."

    Not to dismiss your example, but I think this case is different in ways that may make people more likely to care.

    In the case of blocking an anime site, one: the people who would block nudity probably really don't want to see it anyway. I know all anime isn't porn, but it is usually a little more riske than people who would buy filterware go for. Two: most filterware users would likely give the company the benifit of the doubt in terms of it being a mistake, not censorship. "oh, maybe there was a picture on there that confused whatever image search they use, or they had a banner ad for something that had nudity in the ad, I don't know, but they wouldn't block the site wrong on purpose..."

    In this case, however, neither of those rationalizations apply. People who use the software are exactly those who would be interested in knowing about the sites that are blocked, and there is no way to claim that this is anything but a deliberate false blocking. If someone with name recognition (there was a gentleman from EFF at the Boston fundraiser who would be optimal but I've forgotten his name) wrote a collumn on this specific situation, it probably would get press, and talking about this instance may help get more interest in the more general mistakes and misconducts.

    -Kahuna Burger

  • If it doesn't it should. Our firewall products filter on matched. Such as Child and touch, or Child and Pron, etc. An engine looks at the text of a page, grinds key words against a set list. If two match up, not page is passed inside. Not really censorship IMO, this is just a corporate firewall restriction to protect the company from the surfing of it's employees.
  • They're not stupid. They know what they're doing is wrong. The problem is that Mattel has an obligation to its shareholders to be evil, money grubbing bastards. If they fail to meet this obligation, then the people who run the company can get sued. What's important is that people who expose the problems with their products are threats to the bottom line, and must therefore be crushed. It's like a law of nature. So maybe we should cut Mattel a little slack and show some understanding. Then again, maybe not.

  • Since we don't have high-priced lawyers to defend our free speech, the best weapon we rabble have in a case like this is a consumer boycott. Mattel understands one thing: money. So let's hurt them where it counts.

    I will be pursuing a resolution within my professional association that will condemn Mattel's involvement with censorship.


    makhnorulez []

  • It's like how the MPAA (which is regulated) labeling a movie 'NC-17' automatically means it won't be shown in most theaters (theaters' city zoning requirements limit them to 'R' or less unless they're licensed as an 'adult business' or in an area zoned for adult-oriented businesses.) This is why movies get cuts, so they can get down to an 'R' level. And this issue is not confined to the porno industry, etc. e.g., Robocop was NC-17 until cuts were made.

    Huh? The MPAA is *not* regulated. It is a voluntary industry group that issues advisory movie ratings. No film maker is required to even submit their film for rating. Theatres enforce the MPAA ratings not because of zoning, but because of corporate policy. Many theatres will not show NC-17 films, but some will.

    Anomalous: inconsistent with or deviating from what is usual, normal, or expected
  • I read the order. Realistically, the court can't enforce an order against a foreign entity that has no assets in the US. But, if the defendants choose not to cooperate and/or fail to appear and defend themselves, an judgement would be entered in default and *that* order could be enforced against any websites operated out of the US or operated by persons with assets in the US.

    Anomalous: inconsistent with or deviating from what is usual, normal, or expected
  • ISPs in the US are under the jurisdiction of the US courts. When presented with a court order, they either comply or face sanctions. That could mean large fines or confiscation of the equipment used to serve the disputed pages. Ignoring a court order of this kind is a very quick way to get spanked hard by a Federal judge.

    Anomalous: inconsistent with or deviating from what is usual, normal, or expected
  • Remember Mattel has a trademark for Barbie, so if we use the name Barbie, they will sue.

    If you think I am kidding, ask Barbie Benson []

  • It's interesting that Mattel is stating that these site have nudity, profanity, etc.

    To see what is needed for a finding of libel, it is well detailed in my summary judgment motion [].

    Mattel has encrypted the list, so it is not being "published" and do not say why a site is blocked. It could be deduced by a user by playing with the settings. BUT now that Mattel knows that the list is easily decrypted and publishes the list with these statements, does it make the publication libelous. Now that everyone has the secret decoder ring

    Anyone who have recevied the email from Mattel, please contact me through my site [], so I may get some of the copies. It may have something I can use against Mattel to defend against them, and to take a new lawsuit against Mattel.

  • To see what is needed for libel read my summary judgment motion [].

  • It can be argued that they are just blocking it. Not subjecting a site to hatred or ridicule. Also, they do not say, because "XXX", but that it's blocked.

    I would love to see them sued for libel so as to use their own defense against them! Turnabout is fair play. :)

  • Mattel is not taking appropriate action.

    There is another way for them to prevent the kids from using CPHack. Cyberpatrol can prevent programs from being executed.

    CPHack is not a program that disables Cyberpatrol!

    There are sites with very easy instructions to disable CyberPatrol.

  • You also have to include sites of companies that Mattel owns!,,,, etc.

    Here is an url where you can ask why is censored. Few thousand of these just might do something, I hope at least.
  • Gov't is preparing to and has already tried to mandate the use of censorware in schools and libraries. Still think we're getting a "choice" here?

    And each time they try, they're knocked down ('ole First Amendment). &nbsp Hell... look at Larry Flynt.

    This Mattel thing is not an issue of big gov't messing with Joe Q. Public but big corporations messing with Joe Q. Public, for their own personal agendas. &nbsp The "choice" here is to try to influence those who purchase such software, not to buy theirs. &nbsp Corporations can become as tyranical as gov't! (but I digress and don't wish to start a million thread flame war on which one is worse - big corporations or big gov't "treading on me" - EVERYONE OFF MY BACK!). &nbsp ;-)

  • At this rate, how long will it be before Cyber Patrol blocks the poage for Net Nanny, and they retaliate by blocking Mattel for extremist/hate (or, perhaps accuratly, for providing inappropriate role models).

    Peacefire [], which is an anti-censorship group run by teens, has been blocked for being extremist. And this was only after they had run-ins with the companies that made the blocking software.

  • So a couple of days ago, I saw the original /. story about Mattel coming down on these guys for the cphack program.

    I thought, hmm, this routine sounds pretty familiar. Better grab it while I can. Sure enough, a few days later, one injunction later, the original site was gone. So setup a mirror for the program and the code. I email the owner of and let him know that I've setup a mirror.

    All is well until I read /. this morning. Am I in any kind of legal hot water with this? What if I more or less say "fuck you" when I get the email demanding I remove the program and code?

    The way I understand the injunction it only applies to Matthew Skala and Eddy Jansson, as well as those working with them.

    I am not working with them. I have had *no* contact with them in the past, nor have I ever contact any third party I knew to be working with them.

    The file is on my computer

    It's a school computer, but I'm under my rights to host a server so long as it's not warez or mp3s.

    What does the peanut gallery think?
  • In case you're trying to email the executives at Mattel, here's some info you can use:

    The list of directors and officers is at company/investors/ []

    Here's an nslookup on their mail servers and a conversation with it to try a few mail ID's. Unfortunately, it looks like their mail is a black hole with no bounces for bad accounts:

    [scott@virtual2 ~]$ nslookup
    Default Server:

    > set type=mx

    Non-authoritative answer:
    mattel.compreference = 10, mail exchanger =
    mattel.compreference = 20, mail exchanger =
    mattel.compreference = 30, mail exchanger =

    Authoritative answers can be found from:
    mattel.comnameserver =
    mattel.comnameserver =
    mattel.comnameserver = internet address = internet address = internet address = internet address = internet address = internet address = internet address = internet address = internet address = internet address = internet address =
    > exit
    [scott@virtual2 ~]$ telnet 25
    Connected to
    Escape character is '^]'.
    220 ESMTP Sendmail; Mon, 20 Mar 2000 08:56:14 -0800 (PST) y
    250 Hello [], pleaseu
    mail from:
    250 Sender ok
    rcpt to:
    250 Recipient ok
    rcpt to:
    250 Recipient ok
    rcpt to:
    250 Recipient ok
  • This is kinda spooky, not just for what they're doing, but for the aditude behind it... It's sort of saying "yes, our product is supposed to be to keep the internet safe, but we don't mind using it as a tool to enforce our edicts, either." Just imagine what would happen if this program were even MORE widely used... People willingly letting others censor what they can and can't see, without even knowing it.

    This is obviously one that is going to be hard to fight online. Since the people who most need to be informed are the ones Matel is making sure to keep least informed. And sadly most slashdot readers don't have the time or money to launch nation wide public service anouncements on TV...

    Oh well, back to word of mouth, I suppose.
  • by acb ( 2797 ) on Monday March 20, 2000 @07:12AM (#1190563) Homepage
    This sort of behaviour is perfectly legal under the DMCA and UCITA. Expect to see a lot more of this kind of thing as the megacorps treat the little people as little more than feudal serfs.
  • by Noryungi ( 70322 ) on Monday March 20, 2000 @07:15AM (#1190564) Homepage Journal
    I was wondering about putting together a simple set of scripts file for the protection of corporation-censored programs, such as Decss and Cphack.

    The script, on a given date, would format a Usenet post that would contain the uuencoded and zipped source code to the "censored" programs and post it on Usenet through an anonymous remailer.

    Every 2 weeks (for instance), all Usenet users would therefore receive the censored programs. And the nice thing is, they cannot censor this, unless they can manage to shut down EVERY Usenet server, EVERY anonymous remailer and EVERY newsgroup in existence! Automatic routing around censorship.

    This program would only post to relevant newsgroups and therefore avoid Spam. Another twist that could be added would be to select ONE newsgroup in a list and post only to this one. Hmmmm..., anyone? =)

    Has this ever been done before?
  • by Anomalous Canard ( 137695 ) on Monday March 20, 2000 @06:51AM (#1190565)
    I haven't seen the Preliminary Injunction that came out late on Friday mentioned on /. yet. This [] New York Times story (bla bla bla free registration required) from Saturday indicates that Mattel thinks that the ruling extends to mirrors. That's not clear to me just from the story.

    Anomalous: inconsistent with or deviating from what is usual, normal, or expected
  • by Frank T. Lofaro Jr. ( 142215 ) on Monday March 20, 2000 @08:25AM (#1190566) Homepage
    1. ISP's not in the US do not have to obey an order from a US court which lacks jurisdiction over them. No US court has jurisdiction in Sweden as far as I know.

    2. If I ran an ISP, and got a court order to remove access to some documents which were in a user's account, guess what I would do?

    I would remove access to those documents. NOT REMOVE OR DISABLE THE WHOLE ACCOUNT. I would still be obeying the order. I would not punish the user by removing his access which would restrict even legally non-disputed speech and deny him his right to access the Internet (which has has paid me for).

    Why the Swedish ISP obeyed an order which appears to be outside the court's jurisdiction, and furthermore removed the whole account, thus banning the user from the Internet is beyond me. Well actually it isn't, ISPs are pro-censorship these days.

    Fascism is now a major export of the United States.

  • by ( 142825 ) on Monday March 20, 2000 @01:31PM (#1190567) Homepage
    You did too. You (taxpayers) paid for it with your tax money for the libaries and the schools.

  • What Mattel is doing by suing me [] and suing to block the CPHack information is censorship.

    They are using lawsuits to silence comments about their wrongdoings!

  • by JDax ( 148242 ) on Monday March 20, 2000 @06:55AM (#1190569)
    By getting the word out as to the hidden agenda, those who can influence IT purchases can recommend against purchasing this product and get something else... &nbsp We (at least alot of us) do have a choice.

    I hate to say that although many consider that ignorance is bliss, info like this is worthwhile. &nbsp I know that a large corporation like Mattel (who has seen better days) is trying to protect it's reputation but more speech is the only way to do this, not less.

  • This makes me wonder if Mattel's website would be banned for child pornography. It says right on their main page:

    "We Touch the Child in Everyone"
  • by kramer ( 19951 ) on Monday March 20, 2000 @08:17AM (#1190571) Homepage
    Seems like they have clear-cut statements about what each category filters, but they also have a disclaimer about non-responsibility for errors and omissions. For example, the Violence/Profanity category (listed below) sure doesn't seem like it should block a program unless you routinely use "unsigned int fuck" or something.

    This might remove the possibility of a class action case from the users of the software, however it does save them from the websites they are incorrectly censoring. IANAL, but my recolection tells me that there are three critera for libel

    1) You must know the information is false Mattel obviously knows that these sites criticizing them are not pornographic activities or anything else like this.

    2) It must cause damage A portion of the web surfing population cannot get to this site, further this population is being told that they can't get to this site because it's run by racially intolerant pornographic satanic cults. If that doesn't harm their reputation I don't know what does.

    3) It must be malicious This is clearly a case of retribution against a rival / competitor in order to damage them.

    Not only does it look like they would have a case, they'd have a damn good case with a real good chance of winning.
  • by Rocketboy ( 32971 ) on Monday March 20, 2000 @06:56AM (#1190572)
    Perhaps Mattel would get a clue if a few thousand Barbie dolls were to go up in smoke. Given Barbie's popularity at the least it ought to get some media attention. Anyone interested?
  • by ronfar ( 52216 ) on Monday March 20, 2000 @07:04AM (#1190573) Journal
    We are lucky because Mattel has been really sloppy here, I mean it should be pretty easy to point out to people:

    A. None of these sites contain any nudity.


    B. Mattel is blocking the sites as 'Full Nudity' anyway.

    I would think that this is the kind of thing which would turn the average consumer against censorware if it got into the press. I would also think it is something that would turn the press against Mattel. I mean a lot of press companies have online versions, do they really want to be censored by Mattel if they print an article saying, "Mattels new toy X is proved to be toxic to children" or the like? We all know it could happen, we just need to get the newspapers with Web sites to see it.

  • by WhyteRabbyt ( 85754 ) on Monday March 20, 2000 @07:38AM (#1190574) Homepage

    There is a form at ev.asp [] that lets you ask why a given site had been placed on CyberNOTs list of banned sites. Use it...

  • by jamesl ( 106902 ) on Monday March 20, 2000 @08:59AM (#1190575)
    Lets put some real world perspective on things here. Individuals have acquired a product, taken it apart, evaluated it and published their findings. Sounds like something car magazines, camera magazines, Consumer Reports, the Consumer Products Safety Commission, Department of Transportation, computer magazines, newspapers, the Food and Drug Administration, National Transportation Safety Commission, Sixty Minutes, 20/20, CNN .... have been doing for years. Up to now, nobody but the tobacco industry have been successful in suppressing such activity.

    Can you imagine this type of response if Car and Driver Magazine wrote a bad review of a shock absorber? The magazine has an obligation to exercise care and be responsible in their invstigation and reporting. The component manufacturer would have a tough time stopping publication.
  • by Rand Race ( 110288 ) on Monday March 20, 2000 @08:06AM (#1190576) Homepage
    From a brief [] posted at [].

    A claim for libel requires proof of the following elements:
    1. A defamatory communication about the complainant,
    2. Which was untrue,
    3. With respect to which the party complained of was either:
    (a) in the case of a complainant that is not a public figure: negligent in ascertaining its truth or
    (b)in the case of a public figure: acting with actual malice, in the sense of knowledge that the communication was false or having reckless disregard of its truth or falsity,
    4. Which was published;
    5. Causing actual damage to the complainant.

    Lets see; 1- Yes, "this site is blocked..." is a defamatory communication. 2- Yes, untrue in many cases. 3- 'a' is true in most incorrectly blocked sites and 'b' is especialy true in the blocking of sites critical to blocking software. 4- Yes, the blocking software is published. 5- A case can be made that any lost hits are damaging to a website.

    While IANSL, it seems pretty clear cut to me. Of course it's clarity to me does not mean it is legaly clear at all, but I really want someone to find out.


  • by Kagato ( 116051 ) on Monday March 20, 2000 @07:27AM (#1190577)
    Toys are a very cut throat market. The large american companies are constantly fending off their Japanesse counter parts in the everlasting quest to create the next Cabbage Patch doll. Because of this they are very customer centric. That's where the bottom line is.

    At any rate putting presure on Mattel Interactive isn't going to help. They know you're not going to buy censorware any time soon. But, Mattel toys is another story. This is where the real money is.

    I suggest you go to Mattels customer feed back site and fill out the e-mail form:

    In it you probally want to state the following:
    You are boycotting all Mattel products because cyberpatrol, a division of Mattel Interactive, is engaging unethical censorship of web sites that are critical of the Cyber Patrol product for blocking sites that are legitimate, and being slow to correct the errors when they are brought to Mattel Interactives attention.

    The moral and ethical implications of this raise questions about the company in general. If this is the type of practice they engage in how can we trust them to make safe toys?

    Finally and MOST IMPORTANT: If Mattel is so willing to censor sites critical to cyber patrol how do we know they won't also censor sites that discuss toy safety?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 20, 2000 @07:15AM (#1190578)
    "There was an unknown error in the submission" and my comment didn't show up on the page after a reload, so let's see if it works this time...

    The following is a rant [] I wrote on Saturday, when I first found out about Mattel being awarded the injunction. Anybody may feel free to copy or reproduce parts of it.

    My mirror [] does not include any of the program files, but only the published analysis, Mattel's complaint, and an English translation of the Swedish copyright law 1960:729. I have no relation to the defendants in this case, and am only an interested third party.

    - David Michael Turover(Perpetual Newbie)

    (begin rant)

    I am not in a good mood right now.

    I've just had to troubleshoot NT's braindead permissions scheme, I've taken a test where several of the "correct answers" are wrong, my right wrist is aching(not good for a CS student), and it's barely noon. On my lunch break I crack open Netscape to read the news, and find that a United States federal judge has ordered two cryptology researchers to remove an essay that they had published on a Swedish website [].

    The two researchers in question are Matthew Skala, a Canadian, and Eddy L. O. Jansson, a Swede. They have reverse-engineered [] a program called Cyber Patrol, and described in detail [] the cryptography and computer file formats used by the program.

    Cyber Patrol [] is a product made by Microsystems Software, which is a subsidiary of Mattel []. The purpose of the product is to prevent any user of a computer where it is installed from accessing any of a list of several Internet web sites, ostensibly to prevent children from viewing pornography. As part of their report, Skala and Jansson offered a Win32 binary named cphack.exe, a utility which decodes Cyber Patrol's list of blocked URLs(website addresses).

    Mattel promptly sued [] the authors of the report, charging them with copyright violations and ordering them to remove their program, report, and all supporting and related documents and materiel, claiming that the report and software will cost them over $75,000 in lost sales. On Friday March 17th, two days after Mattel's complaint was registered, Judge Edward F. Harrington awarded Mattel a preliminary injunction against the two. Jansson's internet service provider [], though in Sweden and not subject to U.S. law, has removed his account and deleted the documents.

    Reverse-engineering is the process of examining a product to see how it works. In almost every industry it is not only expected to occur but considered an integral part of the free market. In the software industry, however, products are often sold with "shrinkwrap licenses" that restrict reverse-engineering. A shrinkwrap license is a contract describing terms of use for a product, in which these terms cannot be read until after the product has been purchased, can not be disputed, and must be agreed to for the consumer to use the product which they have already paid for and in most cases cannot return. In most Western countries these shrinkwrap contracts are unenforcable, and in the U.S. their legality is disputed, although the upcoming UCITA [] bill will make them law.

    In most Western countries, including Sweden, reverse-engineering of software is a right explicitly allowed by law that cannot be taken away by a contract(1960:729 26 g []). Legal protections against reverse engineering can be obtained; they are called "Patents". Furthermore, an action undertaken in Canada and Sweden should be out of the United States' jurisdiction; However, the U.S. court did not refuse to hear the case as it should have done, and instead granted the injunction by weighing the action under U.S. law.

    To make the situation more repugnant, Cyber Patrol doesn't work []. And not just Cyber Patrol. It is well known that all content-blocking programs such as Cyber Patrol have a high rate of failure, and a high rate of erroneously blocking acceptable content [] despite any claims by their marketing departments of being 100% accurate.

    This is not the first time Microsystems/Mattel's lawyers have been aggressive. A Microsystems software engineer who was fired from his job for seeking medical attention [] for his sore wrists has since been sued by Mattel [] for documenting his experiences. Outrageous lawsuits such as this have been happening often [] lately, and what is frightening is that in the United States' court culture, they have a good chance of succcess.

  • by Frank Sullivan ( 2391 ) on Monday March 20, 2000 @07:00AM (#1190579) Homepage
    Does listing sites criticizing the company as "nudity", "violence", or "profanity" constitute libel? It seems to me that Mattel has opened itself up to a monstrous class action suit here. They are deliberately misrepresenting the content of these sites to their customers.

    I would *love* to see one of these filter critic cases end with a libel judgement against the filter software maker. That would maybe give the rest a reason to think before they act.

    And i hope whatever employee had to add those things to the database got their orders in writing. And has polished up their resume.

Computers are unreliable, but humans are even more unreliable. Any system which depends on human reliability is unreliable. -- Gilb