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Censorship Your Rights Online

SmartFilter's Greatest Evils 100

Seth Finkelstein has taken a look at what gets blocked by censorware in the most categories. What would you think there is on the web that qualifies as sex, drugs, crime, gambling, sports, news, religion, art, travel, hate, gross and fun and games? Oh, and some of these sites are useful in research too. Give up?
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SmartFilter's Greatest Evils

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  • usenet was evil too. Apparently.
  • Art/Culture, ... Self Help, Travel

    Maybe it should be called "Brute Force Filter".
  • It is the only way they can have the least bit of assurance that people will stay where they put them. I imagine if any of us were tasked to do the same thing, a similar result would have occured.
  • by Bouncings ( 55215 ) <ken.kenkinder@com> on Friday November 17, 2000 @02:02PM (#616645) Homepage
    We've already seen most of this. If not in the direct effects of libraries having censorware, we have history to testify to the silencing of geniuses. The difference between that and censorware is that censorware is more effective. R and X ratings don't keep people from watching those movies, and the Acadamy doesn't even pay attention.

    The only real difference I see is that the effectiveness of censorware could keep those in power from silencing muckrakers who would expose them. The social effects of censorship have already been witnessed.

  • ...is that it makes it legal to reverse engineer the encryption on censorship packages in order to determine which sites are being blocked. Hmm.... wonder if all the links to the DMCA will suddenly be mysteriously blocked..... =D
  • My guess is it's nothing so ideological as "blocking access to information" -- what they're blocking is sites that redirect content.

    The filtering software isn't smart enough to detect whether a particular Babelfish translation is of www.acceptiblesite.com or www.sitetheywanttoblock.com, so it's simpler to just block all access to Babelfish.

    Likewise for all the anonymizing sites and whatnot -- if a site makes it impossible to tell whether what you're looking at is something they want to block, they block that site.

    Lame, yes, but so's the whole idea of censorware.

  • At our place, we can't even get AltaVista most days, since it doesn't pass the filtering system.
    Put it like this. You enter a public library. You could pick up various sex manuals, books that are considered homophobic, racist, or whatever. In fact, our school library contains such books. Why should the internet be any different? Responsable use is the key my friend. Didn't you notice how your early-teens lads drooled over various soft porn mags, only to get bored a few years later!

    The internet is the same, and school users must be trusted to browse information as is needed.

  • censorship is bad enough.. but this sorted, automated process of censorship is just dumb.. things like this are subjective.. and such an objective outlook/process is ridiulious to even try.

  • I think this is crazy, why do people feel we need outside sources to censor our children all the time???

    It should be up to the parents to watch what their children do not up the the rest of the world to watch what your children do. I remember a quote, something like "When I was younger, mothers used to spend their time worldproofing their children, now we spend our time childproofing the world.

    Thats just my 2 cents because you can never censor everything thats bad while not censoring everything thats good.
  • I don't get it, what's the point in this article? It's very short.

    Blocking anonymous proxies, if you're censoring why not? That can be a security risk. Or a workaround.

    Translation services may get around censorware if they translate whole pages. However, a good product would allow URL exceptions so that even if you're blocking, say, everything, you could allow one domain or URL.
  • by MenTaLguY ( 5483 ) on Friday November 17, 2000 @02:06PM (#616652) Homepage

    The blocked anonymization and translation services mentioned in the paper are blocked by the service because they can both be used to bypass the URL-based filtering scheme.

    If you're running a filtering service, you don't really have any choice if you want to have any sort of efficacy.

    And, of course, that's precisely why filters cost more than their benefits. It would have been nice had the author addressed that angle, rather than writing a propaganda piece that does little more than thinly alluding to some sort of censorship conspiracy.

  • It would be a novel change if some of the censorware were honest and added the categories "They're mean to us", "Just 'cause", and "Your 10-year old is too clever by half".
  • Actually, at my office, Babelfish was recently blocked when the powers that be decided to upgrade the censorware. I need to use babelfish quite often to translate incoming e-mails from overseas customers, so needless to say, I was quite peeved. According to our "systems support team" the reason it was blocked was because it contains the string BABElfish. What a joke.
  • I'd first like to question that this is a "paper"...calling it that might make it sound as if some serious academics have been pulled off, but it's no more than an observation. An attempt at "blowing the whistle" on someone, it seems.

    Secondly...this is obvious. Hell, it's *smart* to block translation sites. If you're selling software to perform a certain service, it should perform that service well, should it not? Is it not elementary that a translation site would offer an easy way around the restrictions?

    You can debate the merits of such software until you're blue in the face, but the fact of the matter is that some people want this service, and companies are going to provide it. And as long as it isn't infringing the rights of adults in their homes, using private property, theres really nothing that can be done about it.

    It's important not to become to rabid in our beliefs that we abandon common sense.

  • by Lawbeefaroni ( 246892 ) on Friday November 17, 2000 @02:19PM (#616656) Homepage
    What about cached sites? You could just do a Gogle search and open the cached page instead. Oops, did I just give them more to filter?

    Who decides this anyway?
    In a dank basement double-cubicle somewhere in Gotham:

    "Definately sounds like porn. Probably kiddie stuff..."
    "Ok. Let's check it out" [drool]
    "Heh, it's our job!"[click, click, click]
    "Ugh, how disappointing..."
    "Definately. Under self-help. Occult and militant, too."
    "I'll do porn for good measure."
    "Um...no. That file doubles as our "Adult Site Finder" for the guys upstairs."
    "Oh, yeah..."

  • by Idaho ( 12907 ) on Friday November 17, 2000 @02:19PM (#616657)
    Does it also filter first posts?
  • I for one, as I'm sure many people on this site, am against censorship in any fashion. Censorship discourages freedom. Hell, it's practically the exact opposite of freedom.

    That aside, I'd like to know the rationale behind some of the things that are on this censored list. Just what is so offensive about www.freedom.net [freedom.net]? According to SmartFilter, freedom.net is a sex-filled, illegally drugged, criminal teaching, worthless, sports-related occult site that gambles. How on earth did this site get into all of these ridiculous categories? I've looked at the site and it definitely does not call into any of those categories.

    And what's the deal with the beloved babelfish being censored? Could somebody possibly explain that to me in a sensible, logical kind of way? I guess not only censoring web sites is enough, they actually have to censor languages or something.

    All universal moral principles are idle fantasies, indeed. But what the hell is so immoral or wrong about poor babelfish?

  • Er, I meant, "You could just do a Google [google.com] search...." But you knew that anyway.

  • With NH2H, I can't visit any website that has games. Or, deals with chat. Hell, I can't visit http://www.mirc.co.uk because of it. Anyone know of any anonyomiser software that could be run on my home webserver (Apache, PHP) to avoid that mess?
  • by drsoran ( 979 ) on Friday November 17, 2000 @02:24PM (#616661)
    This isn't really about censoring anyone, it's about controlling a network resource IMHO. We use Smartfilter at a site with about 4000 users and after a few grumbling at the start, we barely get 1 request for an exemption to a blocked site per week. Generally Secure Computing does a decent job of keeping their list updated. I would say if you stick to a short list of categories to block (I think our main ones are sex, drugs, criminal skills (have to exempt securityfocus.com and 2600.com though! ;-), gambling, and a couple of others) you shouldn't have much trouble. Again, this isn't about censorship is general, it's about controlling the network resource for business reasons. After adding the filters the amount of superfluous porn browsing dropped by over 95%. Like it or not, it WAS eating up a lot of our bandwidth. Call it poor management, call it dumb users, call it whatever you want, but there's no reason workers should be sitting browsing porn while on the job.

    Now, as for the anonymizer sites and the proxies, I don't think there is anything that can be done about them. Their main purpose it to be setup to bypass "censorware" so they must be blocked. It's a losing battle of course.. kind of like playing whack-a-mole. Once you kill one another pops up right away. I'm sure there are thousands out there that people have just setup that aren't on the list. You just have to take decent precautions against flagrant abuse and hope the rest of the people aren't abusing your resources. The only other way to fix it is to have strenuous reviewing of the logs, authenticating to the proxy for tracking purposes, etc. We don't have the time to do #1 and the users would scream bloody murder if we did #2.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    It's so patently obvious how to shut down pornography on the 'net and yet it seems there's no effort being made.

    Establish immunity from credit card charges for sites classified as obscene.

    All that is needed is a few weeks of people not paying the charges applied to their credit card for visiting porn sites. The porn customers would go hog wild at the opportunity. But the porn site operators would go bankrupt. Adult sights can't sustain themselves on banner advertising.

    It's not restraint of trade to prevent people selling illegal materials from collecting their revenue.
  • Great, but you forgot "Refused/Dropped Our Banner Ads".

  • Huh? Isn't it the other way around? DMCA makes it illegal to reverse engineer anything? :)
  • He did address that angle:

    This paper carefully doesn't discuss the ideological permissibility of control, i.e. whether the authority relationship is parent-child, employer-employee, or government-citizen. That's a social matter, a philosophical debate. The point here is that forbidding all privacy, anonymity, and even something as innocuous as language translation services, is a technical requirement of censorware. But people should be cautioned that there is no magic that says such control is technically effective in one context but not in another. Or, more concretely, maybe you can censor the net.

    (Emphasis mine)
  • I would guess that censorware would actually block it's own homepage.
    Ie the homepage claims the product blocks pages about sex, gambling, violence etc
    The censorware sees all the bad keywords in a row and blocks out the page.

    The alternative? Write a search engine that doesn't return any XXX results, use that on school computer homepage. If you're paranoid check the log files. Yet we all know this anyway so I'll stop writing now.
  • Here's a suggestion, if you find something on the Internet offensive (assuming you are over the legal age), don't look at it anymore. No one is tied down in front of a computer and force fed offensive content. If something offends you, exercise your freedom and turn off the PC or go visit more wholesome [bju.edu] websites. For those of us who enjoy our pr0n, leave us the hell alone.

    This should not be an issue for children either. It is up to parents to decide what their children should/should not view on the Internet. The government should have no say in the matter.

  • What about quoting yourself in your own paper? (from your .sig) - Seth manages it quite nicely ;)
  • I wonder if Ask Jesus [askjesus.org] is blocked...

    I support the EFF [eff.org] - do you?
  • They block the babel fish and yet I see no kharma whores rushing to defend the fish - what gives ?

    Seriously though what did that researcher expect...Censorware blocks sites that allow anynmous surfing. Its unfair but surely not much of a surprise.

    Hey we'll allow anonymous surfing and let the scropt kiddies get their daily dose of porn at uni.... Censorware obviously thought otherwise

    The bit that foxed me though...why block the fish ? Did they think people would use it to find porn on foreign webpages ?
  • 2600 had an article about getting around blocking software....take the ip of the site, convert it into hex, and enter that as the URL: ie: would be: C6D91C0C
  • I don't understand why this is supposed to shock us. They're just committing software overkill by adding one site to all the subjects, just call it an extra precautionary measure to make SURE the site gets blocked. I don't support censorware, but why is their so much discussion on its blacklist?
  • It's not just the porn part, you can use it to get to any website, it's essentially anonymous surfing with the ability to change text into another language.
  • This guy hits it right on the head. It's not about protecting the children; it's all about burning books. That;s what the people who make this are after, and it's even more true of their target market.

    Maybe you'll convince me otherwise when Cyber Patrol stops blocking Google and starts blocking goatse.cx (and yes, it's true; CP blocks Google intermittently, but lets goatse.cx through without even a warning).
  • One day i was doing research in our high school library and ...well i was searching on google, and they filtered cached pages...

    but i didn't really feel like trying to get past it because i don't care about seeing history information.
  • I have been thinking about this for a while because my old high school used to filter out special websites for no reason. My own website on my own server was blocked for some reason, and they blocked anonymizer, etc....If you just put up your own perl/whatever script somewhere to just get webpages, you're home free, untill the evil sysadmin blocks the entire domain :(. I'm not saying this is some revolutionary idea(Wow a perl script that can fetch webpages!) but it's food for thought.
  • Because it's a privacy program (and an anonymizer) , therefore the censorware must block it at all costs. Hmm would that mean tweakui with its paranoid settings be considered a privacy program? (kinda of hard to block something thats already on a system) Would the censorware work if someone installed an anonymizer as a dekstop application instead of a webbased application?
  • I'm not just talking about whether censorware is technologically effective (and numerous studies have proven it's not). I'm saying it's not socially effective in deterring people from looking at stuff they want to see.

    Take your MPAA example, which you misstate. R and X ratings are quite effective, and the MPAA very much does pay attention, but not for the purpose of deterring people (even minors) from seeing violence or sex in theaters. R and X ratings encourage viewership, since they assure hormonally empowered youths to see a movie which they might otherwise pass by. Whenever a movie is produced, much time is spent determining which audience it's intended at, and much time is spent in postproduction inserting or excising breasts to give the film the precise rating the coporate underwriters intend. Every ounce of human flesh, every "pussy shot", every rape scene, every domestic violence incident, every shame borne by the family of a starving soaps actress (or by herself in her later years, when she realizes what has become of her childhood pride) is meticulously planned and placed by the bearded man with the megaphone.

    It's the same with internet censorware. When censorware becomes an unfortunate universal reality among consumers (either by installing it themselves or through AOL proxy servers, etc.), you'll see web authors inserting or excising breasts to give their webpages the precise rating their own corporate underwriters intend. Censorware ratings can work both ways, blocking or informing the user which sites have the ratings he (and it's predominantly 'he's) wishes to view. Instead of having sites vying to stack search engines with their smut, you'll see them stack the censorware stats.

    But getting back to my original point, censorware isn't effective because it tells the user: "Aha, this site contains something naughty". The user, his interest piqued, will wonder what he's missing and will do whatever it takes to see what he's forbidden to see. Film censors are effective precisely because they prevent the viewer from ever knowing what he's missing (since consumers don't have access to insider knowledge about what is and what is not allowed to go to production). Censorware cannot ever be as effective, because even when it succeeds in blocking a site, the consumer is inevitably told what is happening.
  • What I think is annoying everyone (but isn't mentioned outright yet) is that these (and many other) sites are blocked without a clear explanation of why they were blocked beyond a category heading. These category markings are not always accurate. An anonymizer is not a sex site, etc., (although it could be used to proxy one).

    What censorware makers need to do is give a one or two sentance discription of what a site is/does *and* why they chose to block a site beyond the few bits needed to denote categories. In order to do this, they must have their teams revisit every site and have *real people* write these comments.

    If they this, their databases likely would more than double in size. But at least consumers would know exactly why a site was blocked besides someone being checkbox happy...

    If you want interesting censorware, try Antivirus! That's right - Antivirus comapanies sometimes decide to block sites using their Internet scanners. For instance, McAfee Antivirus' Internet scanner has two web sites blocked by IP address and name - one of which is Digicrime [digicrime.com] (Harmless, but will show you holes in your web browser!). Dr. Solomon's will say that the opening JAVA on this site is a virus, but it isn't (depending on your web browser, it might actually run *before* Dr. Solomon catches it). Norton AV ignores Digicrime entirely.

    This just raises the question -- how do *you* really know what's on a web site? Could "censorware" be changing it? A major company could make their Internet software refuse to access their competitor's site, claiming to be protecting you. Or it might just change the content to something you never would imagine was wrong...

  • I really see no need for this to be posted on the slashdot main page. Yes 'censorware' is something that most of us dislike, but it seems that every time a few hundred words are put together about the 'evils' or it, jamie posts it to the main page of slashdot. I honestly believe that it would be far more fitting to just put this into yro.

    To keep this post on topic, i think that the major backlash against content filtering will actually come from the teachers in the schools who actually do the overriding. They are the ones who constantly see the failing, and will eventually make it known.

    Anyways please don't moderate me down or 'censor' me just because you don't agree with me.
  • How about jus calling it "Filter" with the slogan: "We filter it all" or "The best filter in the world"
  • I beg to differ, there are many females reading and posting on /. We make comments only where we have something interesting to contribute to the discussion. Because our comments are fewer, it appears that we are non-existant, but assuredly, we exist and will rule. Or maybe we just all post AC to drive everyone crazy.
  • There once was a company called Nokia with an office in Cambridge (the original one, of course), whose sysadmins would run a script over the HTTP requests out of the site each day. The script was something along the lines of

    egrep '(tit|bum|fanny|minge|knob)' http.log

    Now those who were in the know would be sent a copy of todays best GETs, those were the days...

    I remember a mate trying

    http://pussy.bonk.org/willy/are/you/getting/this /brian/hairy/beaver.html

    At karma-cap, please moderate as "troll" so I can start noticing when I've earned the points again.
  • Why can't the filter check the url and/or post data to determine whether you're using the translation/caching/anonymity service to bypass the filter? It seems like it should be possible...

    If the programmers are too lame to check post data, they could block the post version and hand out copies of the "frmget" bookmarklet:

    javascript:x = document.forms; for (i = 0; i x.length; ++i) x[i].method="get"; void(0);

    (the variables need to be obfuscated to make it less likely that they'll interfere with javascript on the webpage. it might also be useful to make the bookmarklet work with frames, but that's tricky when sites like http://www.m-w.com/ have frames in other domains. i hereby put the bookmarklet and this paragraph in the public domain.)


  • NetNanny blocks:
    (He's a BBC garden program host)

    (a cable TV channel)

    and God knows what else.

    I was bored one day, grepped a dictionary for 'naughty' words embedded in real words, and 90% of them got blocked!

    wristwatch -> twat
    Matsushita -> shit
    skyscraper -> crap
    Marseilles -> arse

  • well, yes... netscape blows rather oversized chunks and does so in stupendous technicolor fashion... but /. is the Katz pajammers! (groan... please don't shoot me, i'm old and will die soon anyway)
  • these filtering softwares are abominable... sure, they are supposed to be surrogate parents and keep kiddies away from 'bad stuff'... but isn't this just another abrogation of parental duties, installing this crap on a kid's computer or a school's network or similar whathaveyou? of course, a parent can't supervise a child on the web constantly though a parent can do enough supervision and should have already instilled certain proprieties in their children and have trust in them that they have been taught right from wrong and good from bad. will they go astray from time to time? of course, that is part of growing up.
  • Ummmm yes... but p0rn isn't illegal trade, is it?

  • Goodness knows what the censorware software woul dmake of any websites for the UK town of sCUNThorpe, then...
  • Hmmm. As I recall, the filtering software at my old school ( WebSENSE [websense.com] , I think it was called) filtered domains (e.g. http://www.pcgamer.com [pcgamer.com] ) but not their IP addresses (e.g. [] ). All one would have to do to get around this would be to write a script to output the IP address of a domain given to it and write a utility to replace all outgoing TCP/IP requests for domains with IP addresses stored in a database on the user's computer. Is this typical of filtering software, or do most companies have blocked domains also block their IP addresses?
  • And if anyone asks me how I know that CP lets through goatse.cx, I'll say that Millennium told me!

    Seriously, though, they ought to ban search engines... after all, the search engines might have indexed more than them, and you could get around them that way. I mean, if you're going to shoot yourself in the foot, you might as well take your leg off at the same time.

  • What are you smoking, sir?

    People going to adult sites in which they have to pay are obviously not offended by the material they are paying for.

    Second, these adult sites are not selling illegal materials. (Maybe in some places the content is considered illegal, but thats between the end user and the backwards community they are living in.)

    Third, if people _really_ thought porn was so bad, it wouldn't be one of the most successful industries on the net.

    Who in the heck moderated this AC crackead to insightful anyway? The only insight here is into the closed mind of an clueless in-duh-vidual.

    Thank you, please drive through.
  • Establish immunity from credit card charges for sites classified as obscene.

    The most this could do is bring our court system to a crashing halt, as thousands of lawsuits are brought to determine which sites are "obscene" and which are not. Pornography is not necessarily obscene, and if not obscene it's not illegal.

    WWW.TETSUJIN.ORG [tetsujin.org]

  • Well said, though of course it'll never get moderated up on /. There's nothing wrong with filtering software per se. It's just a program. The problem is when an adult is forced to use a filtered public connection - i.e., a terminal at the local public library.

    We insist that programmers should not be blamed for the use to which their software is put. Napster is not responsible for the pirating of music over their service - they merely provide a conduit. What goes through that conduit is the responsibility of the user. Yet if I write a program to filter what sites my child can access from my home computer and a local government official wants to install it on the local library system, I and my program suddenly become evil. Anyone else smell a bit of hypocrasy here?

  • I understand that this post is a joke, and a funny one at that, but it's a real issue. I've attempted to do just that: get past my high school's proxy (BESS [n2h2.com], to be precise) by using Google [google.com]'s cache for articles at Salon [salon.com] that were blocked by the censorware service to protect against "a constantly changing website which contains information that could be offensive to some of our viewers." Because the proxy blocks sites merely based on URLs typed into the address bar, Google's cache doesn't work. [The reason for this is that it includes the original site's URL in the CGI script which locates the site being cached]. But the IP masker [xdata.org] that was mentioned in response to a previous jamie post about the subject [as well as an article in the recent 2600] works extremely well, due to the fact that N2H2 doesn't block 32-bit IPs. If this helps anyone block out the Farenheit 451esque blocking of informative sites that the establishment attempts to utilize, so be it. :)
  • Suppose I set up a CGI script at my personal homepage that I feed it an url, and then the script goes out and fetches the page, and makes it appear that it and all associated images came from my ISP?

    So that
    www.myISP.net/~myhome/redirect.cgi?www.bannedsit e.com
    would fetch bannedsite, and change all hyperlinks in bannedsite to point back to the script

    Any programming gurus care to comment?
  • by Captain Derivative ( 182945 ) on Friday November 17, 2000 @04:42PM (#616697)
    After adding the filters the amount of superfluous porn browsing dropped by over 95%.

    Yes, but the important question is, did it adversely affect the amount of relevant, necessary porn browsing? <g>


  • I wonder if Ask Jesus [askjesus.org] is blocked

    Wow! I just ran Slashdot through the Ask Jesus [askjesus.org] filter.

  • www.matthewmiller.net [matthewmiller.net]

    I can tell from your post that you don't spend much time in the US.

    You clearly came from someplace where parents are involved in their children's lives, values are important and personal liberty and freedom has meaning. That is NOT the United States of America.

    The USA is a nation of lazy couch potatoes who want everything fixed in a minute. Family conflict MUST be resolved in the sticom time frame of 22 minutes, or a daytime drama hour if it's really serious. Dinner should all but prepare itself (More than three steps and it doesn't sell) and children should be self raising.

    No one wants the responsibility for anything. Parents don't want to raise their kids. They want the baseball trophies and class photos, but they don't want any of the heavy emotional messiness of a daughter's first period or explaining sex, violence and drugs to Little Jo. They want the schools and TV to raise the kids, and if something is wrong with the child they want a pill to make it go away by evening or they'll sue the doctors for incompetence.

    Everyone is too busy with their empty, meaningless jobs to maintain relationships or family ties, children blame all their mistakes on poor parenting and spoiled baby boomers call their parents all sorts of terrible things just because they never smoked pot or dropped acid.

    America has reached the state of lazy, degenerate opulence that Rome had shortly before it fell. Too lazy to do anything constructive, weekend extreme sports are considered somehow fulfilling, focusing on someone other than yourself is pathetic and whoever has fewer toys than you is pathetic and not worth the air they breathe.

    Americans no longer understand real suffering or oppression, so the slow leaching of rights and liberties goes unnoticed. As long as the latest episode of Friends airs on time everything will be fine.

    Of course Americans are allowing, even demanding Censorware into schools and libraries. Thinking is hard, and actually dealing with what's out there and teaching children values and ethics is too much to bother with, besides, talking to little Jessica about all the evil things on the Internet would mean you'd miss tonight's episode of Law and Order.

    Only the young and the beautiful matter. Hollywood tells you so. Hollywood is the Church. More Americans believe in little Gray aliens kidnapping us and shoving probes up our arses than in any kind of a God. People are more worried about the new movie with the biggest special effects than in World Events.

    How many Americans can name three world leaders? Two? One World Leader??? Many Americans don't even know who their own President is! From the reactions I've heard only 10% of the total population even knew the Electoral College even existed!

    Americans don't care if Censorware blocks the important things. Just as long as the responsibility for raising the children is taken off their shoulders.

    Yes, I am an American. There was a time I was proud of that. Of course that was when my age was still expressed with a single digit.

    Censorship, oppression, loss of freedom, these are the things America is about. Fahrenheit 451 was not science fiction. It was a clear and detailed picture of what lies ahead. Get used to it.

    www.matthewmiller.net [matthewmiller.net]
  • by bcrowell ( 177657 ) on Friday November 17, 2000 @05:17PM (#616700) Homepage
    Maybe their bosses could just see if porn-surfing is keeping them from getting their jobs done.

    At my school, they have a pretty enlightened attitude. If a student is looking at porn in the library on a computer, a librarian walks over and says, "Excuse me, but that's against the rules."

    What's wrong with using a little common sense, and not getting freaked out about it if some porn-surfing slips through the cracks? I don't think anyone imagines that everything done on the net at a school, library, or business is related to the purpose of the institution. There's also water cooler gossip, etc., which doesn't seem to bring most businesses to their knees. Americans just have a hysterical reaction to porn. It has very little to do with efficiency.


  • From looking at the product page, SmartFilter isn't really aimed at 'home' users -- it's marketed towards corporations.

    While I am a strongly against any form of censorship in libraries and such, I support businesses in their quest to limit surfing in the work place. SmartFilter's blacklist is absolutely geared at restricting access to 'non-business' related sites. If I were looking to block categories of pages, those would be what I would shoot for with exceptions made to the categories relevant to the type of business my company does.

    Presently, my workplace does not employ filtering software. However, only those users with specific business reasons are given access to the Internet.
  • The point here is that forbidding all privacy, anonymity, and even something as innocuous as language translation services, is a technical requirement of censorware

    That's his conclusion? Awfully sloppy reasoning and just plain wrong: it is not a requirement of censorware at all to block either anonymity or translation. A censoring proxy could (does?) actually provide anonymity itself, and they could provide translations too, if they wanted to.

  • I definitely support the feelings surrounding the paper, I just wish the author had thought about it a little bit more. I am entirely against such filtering - in my opinion, pornography should be blocked from high schools and elementary schools, and only a little bit more is up for debate. My high school had awful restrictions - including all mail services (free services and even mailstart.com, which lets you check pop3s), as well as many educational sites - researching mushrooms for a biology report couldn't be done from school computers.

    On the other hand, the paper is misleading. I am particularly concerned about the author bashing the blocking of translation sites, implying that they are blocked BECAUSE they are educational and useful. Let's be honest here - the filtering software is not DESIGNED to block good sites, even though many are surely blocked inadvertently. It's quite clear to me, and probably to most slashdot readers, that translation sites are not blocked because they provide useful translation services, but because they could be used to beat the system and "unblock" pages. Of course, this represents poor and inadaquate software, but nonetheless, a safety precaution to make sure that 7th grade boys aren't viewing pornography websites translated from English to German.

    So yes, these censoring programs are evil, overprotective, and poorly programmed, but in some cases, the intent has been lost. They're not intentionally trying to screw over their customers - their job is to make absolutely sure that no user of their software can access inappropriate material. They do a good job at that, even though there are unpleasant side effects.
  • Whatever package my school system uses, It blocks freshmeat.net -LW
  • Hi gang,

    This is probably a tad off-topic (sorry).

    My firm was contracted to set up a server and 30 computers for a christian private school. They wanted internet access, but also some censor ware (and damn if I cannot remember the name of the CW, probably not one of the more noted ones)

    anyway, things went fine until one day we got a call from them, the CW was blocking sports sites, and the teacher wanted her students to write about thier favorite sports team, and could I come down and fix this.

    Well sure, no problem, I just set the CW to not block sports-related sites.

    To test this (and with a group of kids, christian kids mind you, surrounding me) I went to the NFL home page.

    What's on the front site but a full page story about the drug charge/rape/murder investigation of one of the NFL's star athletes.


    The filter went back on instantly.

  • all the staff in filtering companies are PAID to look for PORN and other illegal stuff all day, I wonder if public opinion about them would be changed?

  • You see to be following the slashdot flock.

    Ninty percent of what you said is utter crap.
    I was born and raised in Canada, lived both in Germany and the UK for a year, and then lived for two years in the US. Dispite living in both dc and near San Diego, I saw that most Americans are far smarter and more aware of what is around them than most people are aware of. The British were worse in several ways. Making fun of Americans can make for a good joke, but it seems that many people around here missed the joke and took it a little to seriously. This reminds me of some people in highschool.

    Yes it is better to spend more time with your children, but you are ignorent if you think this is only an American problem

    Please don't moderate me down because you do not agree with what i say.
  • They're not intentionally trying to screw over their customers - their job is to make absolutely sure that no user of their software can access inappropriate material. They do a good job at that
    They don't, actually. As well as overblocking (blocking sites most users wouldn't want or expect to be blocked), these products all underblock as well, allowing a sizeable amount of "bad stuff" through.


  • Not like it matters to me, I just use lynx over SSH since I don't care for their fucking network.
  • A censoring proxy can prevent outside computers from ascertaining the identity of the end-user. But, a censoring proxy also allows a supervisor to log usage, and defeat attempts by that end-user to conceal his intentions... (The best anonimizers use encryption to defeat network snooping/logs.)

    Let us consider the implications of this. Employers who use censorware proxies may be fully within their rights to use such proxies as a method of monitoring web traffic from internal computers-- though such proxies are perhaps not efficient for this application. Whether it is ethical is quite another question. Anonymous whistleblowers may be hindered by a lack of anonymity, though I am sure that some managers believe that anonymity simply has no redeeming value-- especially when used for "whistleblowers"-- and perhaps these managers are among the first to install censorware.

    Of course, readers of YRO are aware that network traffic logs from libraies and schools are public records, and thus subject to release to the general public. So, use of an anonymizing service in a public library might well be a good idea... a good idea blocked by the unfortunate reality of a censoring proxy.

    As for translators, perhaps the censorware vendors might include a special version of Systran/Babelfish. But seeing as censorware is likely to confuse normal English idiom for "naughty words", and thus block an "innocent" page, and babelfish is innacurate (and thus likely to trigger a naughty word algorithm erroneously) the technical hurdles associated with inclusing a "safe" version of babelfish are immense indeed.
  • This is a strawman argument.

    Your logic is flawed: just because the US may not be the worst does not mean to say that the original poster's comment wasn't entirely valid. If your view of the world is based on the idea that things that are not the worst cannot be bad, then there is more wrong with the US educational system than I thought :)

    Let's work through this (flawed) logic, but instead of the concepts invloved here, let's replace them with... ooh, say, a comparison of normal and low-tar cigarettes. Normal cigarettes are worse for your health than low-tar cigarettes. By your logic, because low-tar cigarettes are not the worst type of cigarette for you, then they aren't harmful. Cancer, emphysema and heart disease statistics would tend to disagree with this logic.

    I won't get into playing my-country-is-better-than-yours. Neither of us have an objective opinion on this, and as a UK citizen who's lived in the US I find your comments both arrogant and rude, especially as you give no explanation as to why you feel this.

    If you don't feel comfortable with other US citizens airing the country's dirty laundry then... well, perhaps you should fix the problem rather than trying to hide it.

    PS: I'd be happy to mod you down if I had moderator points, not because I disagree with what you say (I do), but because your argument is flawed and stupid.

    PPS: If you're a troll, you're a very good one :)
  • For three years, we had to contend with extremely stupid and non-sensical rules. At times, the school even censored of services like Hotmail to require users to use "in-house" email, regardless of how long people had external accounts. Eventually the system was abandoned because sites people needed to do research from were blocked, and it became increasingly difficult for admins to remove single sites with ~'s in them.
  • Thanks for pointing that out - I wasn't aware of it. I think it just goes to show that it's the programming that's weak, not the intentions - if perfect coding was available for blocking software, THEN it would be interesting to see which sites were blocked - we'd be able to judge the blocks based on intent and not on lack of competency. Until then, we can't try to guess at their motives and piss ourselves off assuming things we don't understand.
  • Every dollar, pound, franc, mark and shekel currently spent on censorware goes to support (a) individuals whose values most of us find despicable (b) the operating expenses of companies composed of such individuals, or (c) people who invest in such companies.

    None of us should be the tiniest bit surprised that censorware routinely blocks organizations that promote free inquiry, free speech, and free access to knowledge. Of course it blocks sites like that. The values inherent in those sites are anathema to the values of people who write censorware. You couldn't conceivably code, sell, or even lick stamps for a censorware company if you didn't support the values behind censorware and despise the values we happen to cherish.

    Are you shocked that censorware blocks sites of people who hate censors and censorware? Don't be. The people who run censorware companies hate them (you) right back.

    Nor should we be surprised at the seeming stupidity of censorware. Dullness, to a censor, is a virtue. What is a person who deliberately shuts out massive portions of life and thought (and strives to make others the same) but dull?

    Here on /., the consensus seems to be that parents should control what their minor children see and that adults (however you define it for your own situation) should be mildly shielded from going to sites they'll find annoying or disturbing. Opinions are divided on whether libraries and corporations should have similar control over their employees, but I believe nearly unanimous that censorware, if it has to be used, should be free from gross stupidities.

    Which is why I think a few of us ought to get together to cut the censorware companies off at the knees by developing Free Software censorware that embodies our values: intelligence and choice.

    Want to shield your kids or yourself from corporate music sites? No problem. It's an option. Want to block out banner ads? Ditto. WebWasher just hasn't gone far enough.

    What's more, Free Software censorware would almost certainly be higher quality than what's out there now.

    And it would surely go toward our real karma if we could take away from people like that the two things they prize the most: money and control over other people.

    Rev. Bob "Bob" Crispen

  • Last time I checked, this didn't work with many proxy servers including squid.
  • You can try cgiproxy... I'm sure there are many many more like them... I actually originally found this one on Freshmeat:

    http://www.jmarshall.com/tools/cgiproxy / [jmarshall.com]

    I set this up once for a friend of mine to get around his firewall at work so he could read the onion. I'm not completely sure how effective this would be for all filter's since I know some of them filter out URL's that contain the name of a banned website... for example if you went to see the onion, the url would appear somewhere in the arguments to the proxy script, and that might be enough to trip some filters. I'm sure if you combined this with IP addresses for the sites you want to visit would be sufficient.

  • Finally someone sees the genius in my trolling.

    I am actually a Canadian citizen, and i apologize for insulting your country. With that out of the way I will explain my post. The overall tone of the original post seemed to convey the overused, stereotypical idea that Americans are lazy, stupid, uninformed and empty. In Canada we enjoy making fun of Americans and their culture, however the majority of us understand that while there are many problems, they are no worse than other countries, only nore visible. What seems to be happening here on slashdot, and in the related sub-cultures, is people taking this far to seriously. Many of these people seem to see Americans other than themselves as sheep, however this is exactly what they are.

    There is no way to quantitivly measure these things, however my opinion after living in the US, UK and Germany is that there is a problem in all of them, and that each country has problems that are worse than others. Using your cigarette example, it would be like me using a players as an example that marlboro is no worse than the brands.

    And i would appeal to all slashdoters(?), to make their own judgements on what is right. This is not highschool. Just by the pure number of Nader supporters on this site it is obvious that most people did not look deeply at the platform of him or the party under which he ran.
  • Why does this really suprise anyone though? I don't know about your library, but mine never had any porn magazines around. I think the closest thing we found were National Geographic... and maybe a biology book that had the human reproductive system explained in it. The Internet is a fine resource, but should we really expect the library to provide us high speed unrestricted access so we can browse porn? What's next? 36" TVs in a secluded room so we can watch adult movies? Hustler back issues? What your library does and doesn't filter with regards to content comes down to community standards more than it comes down to the Illuminati in a smoke filled room deciding to keep information from being freely available. If you got enough people from the city to sign a petition asking for unrestricted Internet access I don't see why they wouldn't comply with your wishes. At the very least they'd setup a private room where the browsing could be done in a less open environment where the public and kids wouldn't be exposed to it, etc.
  • by sammy baby ( 14909 ) on Friday November 17, 2000 @09:36PM (#616719) Journal
    Take your MPAA example, which you misstate. R and X ratings are quite effective, and the MPAA very much does pay attention, but not for the purpose of deterring people (even minors) from seeing violence or sex in theaters. R and X ratings encourage viewership, since they assure hormonally empowered youths to see a movie which they might otherwise pass by.

    You're correct in stating that production houses pay very strict attention to the rating they're hoping to find for their audience, but then you vastly oversimplify the matter by saying that X ratings encourage viewership. X ratings encourage viewership for an extremely limited audience, and in extremely limited venues, but no big-budget film will shoot for this rating because there's not enough of a return on the investment.

    For example, when the MPAA saw the original cut of Eddie Murphy Raw [imdb.com], they stamped an X rating on it, which caused Murphy and Townshend to scramble back to the editing room trying to cut out some of the more "offensive" bits. Townshend claimed to be shocked at the original rating, considering that there's no violence or nudity in the piece (just a lot of cursing).

    And, because I sense a value judgement in your tone that sets my teeth on edge: the majority of the people I know who use pornography (and tell me about it) are married and above the age of thirty, and some people go into the sex industry because they actually enjoy it.

    Finally, I suspect that your general point about the censored web site becoming more attractive to the surfer is just wrong, for two reasons. First reason: it's so damn easy to find porn on the Internet. Very rarely will someone care whether one site or another is censored, just so long as he can get to any of them, since the average web surfer has the attention span of a junebug and similar site loyalty. It might make the surfer more likely to seek out pornography in general - if he's, say, twelve - but otherwise, it's just yet another site that NetNanny (or whatever) blocks. The second reason: censorware tends to block so many sites incorrectly (false positives) that few people will pay attention to yet another blocked page.

  • It's slanderous. If I was being censored I would want it to be labeled 'CENSORED' rather than allowing someone to suggest publically, unchallenged, that I was engaged in hate speech or criminal skills teaching. Some of these charges are dangerous- add 'pedophile' to the censorware lists and see how people like being filed under that name as 'just overkill'.

    That said, some of the categories are flatly astonishing. Art/culture? Job search? General News? I understand that the censors want to be able to meet any conceivable need but this is kind of ridiculous- and I question the legitimacy of censoring stuff like Alternative Lifestyles and Politics/Opinion/Religion. My argument is, what business does anyone have blocking that sort of constitutionally protected information and calling the result 'the Internet' in any sense? I don't understand why people like that don't set up some kind of private network or just a big LAN with only such information as they want to allow. Why even allow people like that to pretend, behave, claim that they are implementing Internet access? There is no 'The Internet' to sue such people for deceptiveness- if you had some joker offering a Microsoft Support site in which the only files allowed to be shown were the ones that were known to be buggier than usual, you know MS would sue them and win because the claim is deceptive. Why is 'Internet' minus all the 'categories' listed not also considered so deceptive that it should fall into the category of fraud?

  • It's pretty obvious that SmartFilter is aimed at businesses NOT home users, libraries or schools. Just take a look at the list. It blocks way too many useful, honest to goodness web sites. HOWEVER, if I wanted to seriously curb non-work related surfing, SmartFilter looks pretty good to me. It blocks the types of sites that most surfers hit at work... travel related, ecommerce, entertainment, etc.

    I look at our usage logs every single day and sites like those are where most of the traffic is going.

    I'm not defending censorship... I hate the thought as much as most of us do. But I think that this particular product is being taken out of context. It's being marketed towards businesses. That's clear from the product page. Can it be used for other reasons, sure. But, sorry, businesses have every right to restrict what is done on their hardware and over their lines.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    "Your honor, I submit that my clients web site hornybitches.com is hardly obscene. They are merely providing a community service by providing tastefully rendered cum shots and artistic backdoor action."
  • Haven't American Excess already done something like this? If I remember correctly they said they wouldn't be accepting buisness from any "adult" sites because of all the problems over credit card fraud and disputed billing.
  • An earlier poster made a comment about "worldproofing the child, not childproofing the world."
    I grew up on a farm in the North-West of Scotland. For those among you who have never spent any time in such an environment it's *full* of dangerous stuff. There are very big heavy animals (sheep may look cute and cuddly but they weigh about 150 pounds, and can knock over an adult of similar weight - I know from experience), huge machines, workshops full of horrendously dangerous equipment ("Dad, can I use the Stihl saw?") and big pits full of water.

    The practical upshot is I, and my friends, grew up knowing that there was dangerous stuff out there, and were smart enough to know what we could handle and what we couldn't.
    Children don't need protected from the world, they need protected from "quick-fix" parents.
  • Glad to see that not everyone around here is completely brain-damaged. Blocking anonymizers, translators, etc. is necessary if you're going to filter URLs. Same would go for any web->web gateway. I personally think filtering software is dumb, but it is ridiculous to attack it on these grounds.

    So I have to wonder, just why did this "Seth Finkelstein" write this piece? Was he really stupid enough to think that filters are a conspiracy against privacy.. anonymity.. translation?!? Or does he hate this company for other reasons, and hoped that slashdot readers just wouldn't notice the gaping flaw in his attack?

    If it is the second case, then he has accomplished his goal. It is clear from the posts that the majority of slashdot readers are in a state of.. bliss.. as it were.
  • You're a moron, as others have already pointed out.

    Establish immunity from credit card charges for sites classified as obscene.

    This would have to be something passed by Congress. What exactly does Congress stand to gain?

    The porn customers would go hog wild at the opportunity.

    Is that why you're suggesting it?

    It's not restraint of trade to prevent people selling illegal materials from collecting their revenue.

    If pornography were illegal material, there would be no need for this nonsense about immunity from charges. The operators of those sites could simply be arrested and their sites shut down. It's not illegal. Immoral perhaps, depending on your personal view, and really damned annoying to many of us (especially the JavaScript code that pops up another handful of windows whenever you close one, which should be illegal, and I seem to remember that they were thinking of making it illegal in this state).


  • Often, several web sites are hosted off one IP in "name-based virtual hosting." IP-based virtual hosting is not an option, as the powers that be are not giving out IPs for that anymore [slashdot.org].
  • Suppose I set up a CGI script at my personal homepage that I feed it an url, and then the script goes out and fetches the page, and makes it appear that it and all associated images came from my ISP?

    You'd be providing an anonymizer service (especially if you used https), and you'd be the first to be banned.

  • The user, his interest piqued, will wonder what he's missing Or perhaps another way to look at it..."will wonder what is being kept from him." I realize this might be nothing more than a semantic tussle, but I honestly believe that both have very different connotations. Missing something isn't anywhere near as serious as not being allowed to see it because someone else has removed your ability do draw your own conclusions.

    I'm not prepared to completely discount the usefulness of censorware, because for one, the younger you are, the less likely you are to have the perspective necessary to make informed decisions. Just the same, I don't think censorware is the panacea that a growing number of people think it is - especially when its use is being dictated by public policy (government).

  • Actually, some libraries used to carry Playboy and Penthouse. They were behind the counter and you had to be an adult and request them. This may still be true in some places for all I know.

    Not carrying something is one thing, however. If your library doesn't carry Playboy, fine. If, however, they do carry Playboy but go through with a pair of scisors and cut out all the pictures, I for one would be highly upset. Additionally, filtering isn't perfect. Far, far from it. Not only do they block inappropriate sites but a lot of legitimate sites as well. It's not problematic if I block my child from accessing a site on breast cancer. It's seriously problematic if the government blocks me from accessing that same site.

  • Just one URL: www.beaver.edu [beaver.edu]

  • After a lot of thought, I've already decided exactly how I would protect my children (when I have them).
    1. Have the Internet computer in a central location, where everyone can see what they're doing.
    2. Have my router record each URL that they visit. [And review the records!]

    In my humble opinion, just having the first, making the screens large enough and prominent enough that everyone can see what you're doing, should be enough to stop 95% of people seeking porn in a library.

  • Why dont you ask him?
  • my dear, as a homo myself, i'd hope i know *all* about homosexuality!

  • One of the most important things to look at in a situation like this is how others will react. People will realize that they can do better in other countries, and will leave. The skilled people, doctors, lawyers, business people and science/engineering people will leave, causing a huge econimic collapse. Businesses would leave the country, unemployment would rise, and the standard of living would plummit. The $100,000 was picked because it is the most that a unionized person can make, and does not refect the current state of the country. If income was capped at $100,000, nobody would be making $75,000 because the taxes would be high even below $100,000.

    Cars are the fastest and most efficent way to get around in may cities. Even if public transport was quadrupled people would end up walking long distances and waiting for excessive times at bus stops. If you want to take a bus, then do. Your arguments against vehicals seem to be the exact ones against the drug war, protecting people from themselves, and Nader seems to have no problem with drugs. I have known more people killed from drug use than I have from car accidents.

    Idealism is nice to dream about, but when it comes to reality, you probably just got Bush elected. I don't have a problem with this, do you?
  • Me friends, you realise these censorware thingies are the reincarnation of the Church's infamous Index, an earlier, tenatious, ultimately ousted attempt by authority to squelch enlightenment? Perhaps if they were painted in that comparative light, we'd get ... well ... snappier spin, ya know?

    I think that if I ran one of those translation services, I'd be suing the filter foundry for slander/libel for every miscategorisation of my service. Especially if "Worthless" was one of them!

  • What we always found to be the biggest problem are employees constantly checking there stocks. What we needed was something that gave us more control. Productivity from our employees during there working hours was increased by using a proxy server that is maintained daily to filter all stock related sites from all but a few bosses during working hours. Employees are allowed to view them during there lunch or breaks, or they may stay after hours or come in early. We have seen an increase of more than 60% of our network bandwidth, blowing away any benefit from the filtering of all, so called, 'BAD' browsing sites. We must have allot of wannabe day traders. We also see allot of employees that used to come in late or leave early, are now here for a full day and then some. We have found that putting too tight a noose around your employees necks is just bad for moral and causes more employee turn around than what we consider healthy.

    We also found that productivity lost due to Windows customizations is also a problem. We conducted a test, and constructed 2 systems that allowed access to our applications and other services, e-mail, web, chat, etc... One system was implemented using Windows another was implemented using Linux. Employees using the Windows system would always try and change the way things looked and install unapproved software, I guess being too familiar with the same system they have at home is the problem. Employees using the Linux system were forced to do there work, either they didn't know how to do anything else or were prevented from doing it. The time waisted on personal e-mail, and web browsing went up on the Linux system, probably because employees looking for a break from there work found less to play with. We never made a complete conversion to Linux on the desktops, but the prospect is looking bright.
  • Many Americans don't even know who their own President is!

    Actually, a lot of people would like to know who the President of the USA is.. so just keep counting them votes, y'all! ;-)

  • Actually, a lot of people would like to know who the President of the USA is...

    William Jefferson Clinton

  • Unfortunately "perfect coding" here requires strong-AI - human level intelligence. It's not going to happen any time soon, and when it does happen, are we going to want to let sentient AIs decide what our children can read?


  • Ahem, screw you buddy. I wrote some versions of said proxy and I don't appreciate you calling me "lame". It would not have served the best interests of SCUR's customers to constantly release new versions of that software to cope with new types of web based proxies, which may store their link parameters in many different ways (including encrypted or MD4 digested). Also, examining additional data in the request body and/or response before making a block/don't-block decision would impact high-load performance.

    The companies using SmartFilter mostly don't care that their employees could not browse using anonymizers (except for the company's own proxy server which does a fine job) -- and anyone who needed to could easily exempt a couple of anonymizers, or even just allow certain people to access those sites.

    By the way I am not currently employed by SCUR and any viewpoints expressed in this message have nothing to do with Secure Computing's position on anything. Jerk.

Help! I'm trapped in a PDP 11/70!