Join Now!

Blocked Site of the Day

Blocking Software Reports

Cyber Patrol
Net Nanny
X-Stop / 8e6

About Peacefire
Join Peacefire
Blocking Software FAQ
Press information

All contents
©1996-2010 Peacefire


HomeAbout PeacefireCensorwareContact

SafeSurf Examined

SafeSurf announced their ratings system in a press release on June 25, 1995 entitled "SafeSurf Unveils Plan to Save the Internet". Under their ratings system, Web authors can label their Web pages according to content in nine categories.

One category for "age range" ranges from 1 ("all ages") up to 9 ("explicitly only for adults"). SafeSurf recommends a rating of 3 or higher ("teens") for "pure information services like reference databases, dictionaries, CNN News or an AIDS awareness site" according to the rating system documentation.

SafeSurf also has two separate categories for "homosexual themes" and "heterosexual themes". To answer the question of why straight and gay pages are classified differently, the SafeSurf FAQ states: "By grouping everything together, we take the choice away from everyone. We are in no way stating that one group is right or wrong, good or bad, but that they contain different types of resources and information, and should be classified per those differences."

SafeSurf has proposed the Online Cooperative Publishing Act, introduced at the July 1997 Internet regulation summit in Washington, which would make it a criminal offense to rate a site incorrectly, and make it a civil offense, punishable by a fine of up to $5,000, to publish a site without a rating.

The SafeSurf rating categories are:
  • SS~ 000 Age Range
  • SS~ 001 Profanity
  • SS~ 002 Heterosexual Themes
  • SS~ 003 Homosexual Themes
  • SS~ 004 Nudity
  • SS~ 005 Violence
  • SS~ 006 Sex, Violence, and Profanity
  • SS~ 007 Intolerance
  • SS~ 008 Glorifying Drug Use
  • SS~ 009 Other Adult Themes
  • SS~ 00A Gambling

The MIT Student Association for Freedom of Expression Web site includes an archive of a USENET discussion (part 1 and part 2) on the merits of the SafeSurf rating system. Filtering opponents (led mostly by the MIT SAFE webmaster, Seth Finkelstein) discussed the problems inherent in applying ratings to works of literature such as the Bible. Colin Gabriel Hatcher, director of the Cyber Angels whose job is to monitor Web pages for compliance with the SafeSurf rating standard, gave the Bible the following SafeSurf rating:

SS~~000 1 SS~~001 5 SS~~002 5 SS~~003 5 SS~~004 5 SS~~005 5 SS~~006 5 SS~~007 5 SS~~008 1 SS~~009 5 SS~~00A 5 SS~~100 1
(this translates to "adult themes" in the categories of profanity, heterosexual themes, homosexual themes, nudity, violence, intolerance, and "subtle innuendo" regarding drug use)

In addition to their self-rating system, SafeSurf offered the Internet Filtering Solution from October 1996 until the discontinuation of the project at the end of 1997. Unlike the self-rating system, the Internet Filtering Solution is implemented via a proxy server, which blocks pages based on the ratings that SafeSurf itself has assigned to the pages.

The SafeSurf proxy server blocks pages if any of the following criteria are met:

  • the URL exists in SafeSurf's database of sites to be blocked
  • the URL or the body of the page contains words or combination of words that trigger the filter
  • the page contains a SafeSurf rating above a given threshold
When a page is blocked, the proxy server indicates which of the above was the reason for the blocking. Pages that are blocked due to keyword filtering are sometimes partially loaded before being cut off; click here to see the results of trying to load the Free Speech page of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, compared to the original. (The page is apparently cut off because of a reference to Cohen v. California, in which the Supreme Court overturned a man's conviction for wearing a jacket that said "Fuck the Draft").

The vast majority of blocked pages are blocked due to keyword filtering, as in the following examples (in each of these cases, the proxy server either does not load the page or stops loading the page part of the way through):

The number of sites in SafeSurf's database of blocked pages is relatively low, due to the extremely strict nature of the word filtering mechanism; however, we did find the following URL's to be on SafeSurf's list of sites to be blocked:

More articles about the SafeSurf rating system and the SafeSurf proxy server filter

If your site is blocked by SafeSurf, feel free to display one of these graphics on your page: