Blocking Software Reports
Why CYBERsitter is the most heavily criticized blocking program in the industry
With the events that have taken place since July 1996 -- when CYBERsitter first threatened legal action against two reporters who decoded the program's list of blocked Web sites -- CYBERsitter has very fewer defenders on either side of the blocking software debate. Supporters of blocking software have distanced themselves from the company, while even opponents of blocking software concede that CYBERsitter's actions are not representative of the entire industry:
Sites blocked by CYBERsitter
Due to the explosion of news articles about CYBERsitter's legal threats and abusive behavior (even towards journalists writing about the company), much less attention has been paid to the issue of what sites are actually blocked by their software.
The latest versions of CYBERsitter rely almost entirely on keyword filtering, not on a "list of sites" built in to the program. There is a built in list of sites, but it only contains a few well-known URL's like Playboy.com. The filters in the latest versions of CYBERsitter mostly contain a list of words and phrases; CYBERsitter blocks any page which contains a word or phrase on this list.
Prior to CYBERsitter 99, CYBERsitter wouldn't actually block a page because the page contained a "bad phrase", it would just display the page with the word deleted. This led to some amusing anecdotes about sentences whose meanings changed when viewed through CYBERsitter, e.g. "The Catholic Church opposes homosexual marriage" would be rendered as, "The Catholic Church opposes marriage". But starting with CYBERsitter 99, CYBERsitter would block any page that contained one of the "bad phrases".
Our Amnesty Intercepted report included some examples of documents on the Amnesty International home page which were blocked by CYBERsitter's phrase filter. One page was filtered because it contained the sentence "Reports of shootings in Irian Jaya bring to at least 21 the number of people in Indonesia and East Timor killed or wounded..." and CYBERsitter filtered the phrase "least 21". The report linked to a page on CYBERsitter's Web site which stated:
"One of CYBERsitter's most unique features is its state of the art phrase filtering function. Rather than block single words or pre-defined phrases, CYBERsitter actually looks at how the word or phrase is used in context. Not only does this provide an excellent blocking method for objectionable text, but it eliminates the possibility that words with double meanings will be inadvertently blocked."but this page was deleted from CYBERsitter's Web site after the report was released.
Prior to the release of CYBERsitter 99, CYBERsitter still relied on its built-in list of blocked Web sites, and the contents of those lists were the subject of much controversy. Peacefire still maintains a list of some sites that we found to be blocked, including non-profit organizations and educational sites. Some of these (e.g. Mother Jones) were unblocked after the owners complained.
How to contact CYBERsitter
You can contact Solid Oak Software, the makers of CYBERsitter, at (800) 388-2761, or visit their contact information page at http://www.solidoak.com/coinfo.htm.