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Winners of the Foil the Filters Contest
Thanks to all who submitted entries in the Foil the Filters Contest,
including the many anonymous ones. We hope this contest will help illustrate
how unreliable censorware is and provide further examples for those
interested in exposing it. And of these examples, these are our
Joe J. reports being prevented from accessing his own high school's Web site
from his own high school's library. Carroll High School adopted filtering
software which blocked all questionable material. This included the word
You wouldn't think someone named Hillary Anne would have censorware
problems, but all attempts to register firstname.lastname@example.org were rejected
because censorware spotted the hidden word "aryan." Hillary says "I had to
email and fight the system like crazy to actually be able to use my
registered nickname again."
The Poetic Justice Award For those bitten by their own snake
An anonymous submitter noticed that the Web site of Richard "Dick" Armey,
Majority Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives and a staunch defender
of censorware and strict Internet regulation, is himself a victim of
censorware. Netnanny, Surfwatch, Cybersitter, N2H2, and Wisechoice are among
the "software solutions" which Armey advocates. All of them filter his site
because it contains the word "dick."
The conservative group Focus on the Family intends its anti-porn site Pure
Intimacy to be a "resource for those struggling with sexual temptations" and
the "psychological bondage" of this, as the main reason why individuals go
online." Jim K. observed that Cybersitter blocked this site for violating
the following categories: porno, hardcoreporno, sexual, nudity, and, of
The Silicon Eye Award For finding objectionable content where only a
computer would look
Tim M. wanted to register an account with Sympatico, but it wouldn't accept
the name "Heather," which contains the phrase "eat her."
John W. couldn't get to a test preparation site. The Navy's censorware
blocked him from accessing the A+ Exam site was blocked because it's URL,
www.aplusexam.com contained the word "sex." John C. had the same problem
with a biotechnology education site, www.accessexcellence.org.
An employee of Surplus Exchange complained that customer's always report
being unable to access the site. The non-profit company recycles office
equipment, and, in this whistleblower's words, the employees have "nothing
to do with sex." Maybe censorware is not their biggest problem.
One of Kelly D's Australian high school students had difficulty completing a
report on the genetics of cucumbers. The education department had chosen to
use NetNanny, and when it detected the word "cum" in "cucumber". The student
had to complete the report offline.
CyberPatrol kept stopping Paul J. from submitting his monthly reports. The
subject of these reports was statistical software that "analyseS HITs," but
the center letters kept coming back as Xs.
Devon R. won't be seen on Microsoft Network's Messenger under the name of
his favorite "high-tech cow." Censorware blocked his choice: "Gizmoo."
We see a lot of problems like the Essex Company's insufferable problems
getting their email to go through. According to C., their address domain,
essex1.com, rarely vaults other company's censorware, hurting profits and
An anonymous submitter reported being unable to use a German word for "a
kind of virtual coffee" at Hotmail: "muckefuck."
Chris G., of Greece, has a client, Pissanos Productions. His attempts to
register pissanos.com were dismissed by Network Solutions and many other
services, resulting in "a large amount of money." Finally, he says, he found
a service that didn't use a word filter.
Overkill Award For blocking even good words
John exposed some strange filtering decisions at Quokka. The site blocks
"golden," he says, "no doubt from its connection with showers." It also
blocks "mate," "so Aussies and Kiwis can't use the term, which refers to a
John W. plays multiplayer games at CyberStrike II, but CyberStrike II
appears to be playing games with him. John noticed that the words "gay" and
"sex" are blocked at the site but if he types "I am a homosexual". "homo" is
blocked and replaced with "*#%." Saying "I am heterosexual" goes right
through, though, "of course."
Sergio is Canadian and, no surprise, a big hockey fan. All he wanted was the
time his hockey game would start, but he couldn't access Statspro because
the link, www.statspro.com/hockey/ighl/adult/sunday, contained the word
Mike Q. and son have discovered that the auction areas at Amazon.com won't
permit the word "bitchy" in the description area even though the item he was
trying to sell used the word on the back cover. It was a book about Bette
Davis, and many books are sold by Amazon which use this word, and others, in
The Sherril Babcock Award For enduring censorware's human implementors
Sascha of Germany is Webmaster for Teendate, an international penpal site
promoting communication and understanding among teenagers. When he tried to
submit the site to web.de, it was blocked as an adult-entry site. The
Webmaster explained that "the word 'teen' would be reserved for adult
The Twilight Zone Award For blocking which humans don't even understand
Scott, a high school student in Australia, couldn't get past his school's
censorware to complete a report on the Fibonacci sequence (the mathematical
sequence in which each number in the series is the sum of the previous two).
He suspects the word was blocked because the mathematical sequence is
relevant to "the pattern of rabbit-breeding," but we don't buy it.
Trish M's company uses WorldSecure software which won't let her access the
popular Web crawler search engine. The entire site is blocked for being
Jeff G.'s company wouldn't let him access a link to WebMonkey, a techie
site, from hotwired.com's site. He's not holding his breath for an
John found that the sailing forum at Quokka bans use of the word 'scoop'.
This has everyone baffled. He asks "does it mean something that I haven't
heard of?" "Scooping" is a new one to us, too, John.
Chris found NetNanny was triggered by the word "rum." It "didn't block it
per-say," he says, "but instead sent spaces in place of the 'rum' in a
company FTP password. Disabling NetNanny solved the problem. A lesson for us
The Frolic Award For fun at censorware's expense
Peacefire's Bennett Haselton takes the prize for his fun with Cybersitter.
Bennett started with this phrase: "Gary Bauer is a staunch anti-homosexual
conservative who sees the gay movement as absolutely pure fascism and thinks
movies of men with men are the greatest terror."
After Cybersitter's keen filters attacked it, here's what came out: "Gary
Bauer is a staunch anti-conservative who sees the gay movement as absolutely
pure and thinks movies of men with men are the greatest."
The Dick Sexton Award
Named for one with a personal stake in censorware for obvious reasons. This
award honors those whose lives have been affected by filtering.
Terry D. works for a company that secured a contract in that Yorkshire,
England town, Scunthorpe. The IT manager had implemented a mail filter but
wasn't aware that no one had been able to receive customer emails from this
client for four days (the filter didn't generate logs). The manager was
An anonymous submission blames the Gauntlet firewall for "prohibiting 300
lawyers from searching the Web for detailed dissections and commentary. The
most frequently used word for such works is 'analysis,' and the first four
letters of that word are blocked."
Manish Engineer and Dean Santamaria-Capetanelis deserve quick mentions for
being blocked for non-censorware reasons. The former's name is often a
"reserved" word which isn't permitted as a registration option.. The
latter's last name is frequently blocked because, with 22 letters, its too
long for many registration algorithms to accept. Online, look for him as
The Puritan Award For outstanding achievement in hindering
people from learning about their own bodies
Altavista's "family filter". When activated on 9/26/00, Altavista's total
number of returns for "sex" a topic which includes areas of public health,
mental health, safety, reproductive facts, contraception, animal biology,
sexual dysfunction, law, history, prose, and poetry totaled only 161.
The "I saw the light" Award For committing censorware to the flames
Not everyone stays committed to censorware. Mike maintains a former science
teacher's Web site and built in a censorware mechanism with what he calls
"the usual swear words." When a posting showed up on his site which spelled
"class" as "cl***", he dumped the filtering software to the flames and
hasn't used it since.
You may know Matsushita better as the company that controls Panasonic. A
"major mover," according to David B., but only after voicing his "outrage at
the stupidity of the algorithm" did his company prevent the company from
appearing in his newsgroups as MatsuXXXXa.
The Inspiration Award For reminding us what it's all about
Attributed to EPIC's Marc Rotenberg, and though we aren't sure if it's a
real case or not, it says it all and we couldn't pass it up. Thanks, Marc.
"Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of sXXXch, or the right of
the people peaceably to XXXemble, and to peXXXion the government for a
redress of grievances."
Alan Brown, Dir., Internet Development, Digital Freedom Network
Digital Freedom Network announces censorware contest winners: The Digital
Freedom Network has announced the winners in its Foil the Filters Contest.
(September 28, 2000)
Digital Freedom Network announces "Foil the Filter" contest: DFN's "Foil The
Filters" contest is under way, and entrants are encouraged to search high
and low, sometimes very low, to trip up Internet censorware. (September 7,
A debate on filtering: BlackPlanet.com Executive Director Omar Wasow and DFN
Internet Development Director Alan Brown debate the merits of filtering
technology. (August 30, 2000)
Filtering follies: Filtering software is no substitute for parental
discretion, and it often does more harm than good. An essay by DFN Executive
Director Bobson Wong. (August 25, 2000)
Web site bans woman with "unacceptable" name: In a new twist on Internet
censorship, Los Angeles attorney Sherril Babcock was blocked from joining
the BlackPlanet.com online service at least until she changes her name.
(August 18, 2000)
Widening the network of friends: Dissident Xin Wenming condemns the Chinese
government for shutting down his site and clamping down on freedom of speech
on the Net. (August 11, 2000)