Solid Oak Software/CyberSitter
Issues around the
filtering philosophysof CyberSitter were aired in the media primarily
in the years 1996 and 1997. This was the era of the demise of the Computer
Decency Act and the frantic search for a non-governmental imposed alternative
-- which led to the rise of the filtering software programs -- followed
rather quickly by the rise of efforts in unveiling the actions of the
filtering companies. Most of the history of this unveiling activity
and the responses of the CEO of CyberSitter is recorded on the Peacefire
site at http://www.peacefire.org/cybersitter.
As is apparent
in the news reports set forth below, CyberSitter was, in the late 1990's, quite
open about it's "moral conservativism" and it's close relationship
with Focus on the Family, a conservative religious organization which was apparently
selling the CyberSitter product. CyberSitter does not appear to have much of
a foothold in the public school market, possibly because of the reports about
its filtering philosophy. CyberSitter also does not appear to have targeted
the ISP market. No evidence of the use of its product by conservative religious
ISPs was found.
The company does
present itself as a filtering solution for schools to assist them in achieving
compliance with CIPA. http://www.cybersitter.com/cybedu.htm
Examples of Blocking Categories/Criteria that Present Concerns
Blocks all adult oriented web sites"
A question to ask
would be whether this category blocks access to sex education material.
gay and lesbian activities
Covers sites promoting the gay and lesbian life style."
not blocked sexual orientation sites with swinging and adultery. However, another
issue becomes apparent. How does one distinguish between sexual orientation
sites that are appropriate for young people from others that are related to
homosexuality but are clearly not appropriate for young people? If all such
sites are blocked in one cdategory this would prevent student access to appropriate
homosexual sites addressins safe sex of discrimination issues.
Covers topics such as bomb making, guns, drugs, etc. Basically anything that
would be considered illegal for someone under the age of 13."
The red flag word
in this description is "radical." Would this include political protest
sites which, while radical, receive strong constitutional protection? One might
also question what activities are illegal for someone under the age of 13 but
not illegal for those over the age of 13.
cults and/or occult activities
Covers topics such as cult activities, witchcraft, Satanism, etc."
This category combines
information about legitimate religious subjects with material that presents
CyberWire Dispatch // Copyright (c) 1996 //
Jacking in from the "Keys to the Kingdom" Port:
Declan McCullach and Brock Meeks
-- This is a tale of broken codes, betrayal of a social contract, morality
run amuck, and a kind of twisted John Le Carre meets the Crying Game encounter.
For a range of
companies producing so-called "blocking software" designed to keep
kids from accessing undesirable material in cyberspace, the road to such a
moral high ground turns out to be a slippery slope. These programs, spawned
in the wake of the hysteria over how much porn Junior might find on the Net,
have chosen the role of online guardians. The resulting array of applications,
including names like SurfWatch, CyberPatrol, NetNanny and CyberSitter, acts
as a kind of digital moral compass for parents, educators, paranoid Congressmen,
and puritanical PTAs.
material related blocking of the National Organization for Women web site
Kim Gandy, NOW's executive vice president, at home as she was preparing dinner
for her 3-year old daughter. Gandy charged the companies with 'suppressing
information' about feminism. She said: 'As a mother myself, I'd like to limit
my kids from looking at pornography but I wouldn't want my teenage daughter
[prevented] from reading and participating in online discussions of important
current issues relating to womens rights.'
NOW? Let 'em rant, says CyberSitter's Brian Milburn. 'If NOW doesn't like
it, tough... We have not and will not bow to any pressure from any organization
that disagrees with our philosophy.'
Unlike the others,
CyberSitter doesn't hide the fact that they're trying to enforce a moral code.
'We don't simply block pornography. That's not the intention of the product,'
said Milburn. 'The majority of our customers are strong family-oriented people
with traditional family values. Our product is sold by Focus on the Family
because we allow the parents to select fairly strict guidelines.' (Focus on
the Family, of course, is a conservative group that strongly supports the
CyberSitter's Milburn added: 'I wouldn't even care to debate the issues if
gay and lesbian issues are suitable for teenagers. If they [parents] want
it they can buy SurfWatch... We filter anything that has to do with sex. Sexual
orientation [is about sex] by virtue of the fact that it has sex in the name.'
Los Angeles Times, 1/6/97
Site-Filtering Controversy Likely to Heat Up
By DAVID PESCOVITZ, Special to The Times
president of a Santa Barbara company called Solid
Oak Software, is not a man to shrink from a fight.
'We're not politically conservative, we're morally conservative,'
Gay and Lesbian Alliance blasts filtering software
By Lisa M. Bowman
December 3, 1997 6:13 PM PST ZDNN
which came under fire earlier this year for blocking sites including NOW,
said its conservative reputation actually helps its bottom line.
driven our sales to some extent -- the fact that we have admittedly blocked
gay and lesbian sites, that we have blocked NOW," Solid Oak spokesman
Mark Kanter said. "Our tests show that most parents don't want their
children seeing that material."
groups like many of the same products as GLAAD. This month's issue of Citizen,
a magazine published by the conservative group Focus on the Family, gives
Cyber Patrol and Surfwatch the highest ratings among filtering software. But
the group is also a reseller of Cybersitter."
CyberSitter: locks out more than just porn
By Joe Salkowski
(undated, but likely 1997)
I can't help
looking over my shoulder as I type the URL: www.playboy.com
I'm at work,
hunched in front of my computer and fighting off an urge to explain to anyone
in the area that I'm not doing anything wrong. Really.
You see, I'm
testing a copy of CYBERsitter, one of those software programs that's supposed
to keep kids from stumbling across sex, drugs or violence while surfing the
Net. So I'm pleased - mostly - that my attempt to visit Playboy's web site
is blocked. I try Penthouse: Again, I'm blocked. So far, so goody-goody.
Still, I'm feeling
not-so-politically correct for even trying to visit those sites. I decide
to surf over to a group dedicated to protecting the rights of women, the National
Organization for Women.
Blocked by CYBERsitter.
Hmm, that's odd
- while you might expect a virtual bra burning, there's nary a nipple exposed
at NOW's web site. Perhaps I should debate the merits of Net censorship with
the free thinkers at The WELL, a San Francisco-based Internet provider that
hosts discussion forums accessible through its web site.
Blocked by CYBERsitter.
As it turns out,
CYBERsitter blocks plenty of web sites that have nothing to do with sex, drugs
or violence. Some of the sites, including NOW's, belong to groups that offer
resources for gays and lesbians. Others belong to people who merely share
a server with sites that include pornography.
Does that mean
his site screens out anything a conservative might find undesirable? 'People
ask if (CYBERsitter) has a politically conservative bias, and I say no - it's
morally conservative,' Milburn said. 'That's what kind of product it is.'
that CYBERsitter, which is marketed by the conservative group Focus on the
Family, blocks any site that includes information on 'gay and lesbian issues.'
is about sexual issues, and we block everything relating to issues,' Milburn
said. 'We've taken a lot of heat from homosexual groups, but our customers
are by and large supportive of that (stance).'
says CYBERsitter is the software filter of choice for conservative family
groups, private religious-based schools and users in 'Middle Eastern countries
where a lot of the things we block are strictly forbidden.' ..."
CyberSitter's Current Position
denied any political agendas and any affiliations.
"Q. I heard
that CYBERsitter has a hidden political agenda. If it does, what is it?
A. There have
been a few articles that criticize CYBERsitter for some of the sites it filters.
Naturally, when someone disagrees with your policies, they immediately assume
that you have some political agenda. CYBERsitter blocks sites that meet a
pre-defined criteria. Every site we block meets this criteria without exception.
CYBERsitter has no agenda of any kind, unless you consider protection of children
a hidden agenda. (Note above, CyberSitter denied that they had a political
agenda, but did state they had a "moral" agenda.)
Q. Is Solid Oak
Software or CYBERsitter affiliated with any group or organization?
A. Solid Oak
Software is a privately held California corporation. All major stockholders
are also full time employees. CYBERsitter is a wholly owned product of Solid
Oak Software. Aside from professional memberships in organizations such as
the Software Publishers Association, Solid Oak Software maintains no affiliation
with any group or organization of any kind, and no member of any group or
organization sits on any board or advisory group of Solid Oak Software. Decisions
on blocking policies are made by employees of Solid Oak Software, Inc. (Note
above, this statement is directly contrary to statements made by the CEO and
reported in more than one news report. The relationship between Solid Oak
and Focus on the Family appears to have been terminated.)