Censorware (Filtering Software) Blacklists Guns

Matthew Gaylor (freematt@coil.com)
Tue, 14 Dec 1999 11:26:30 -0500

Date: Tue, 14 Dec 1999 09:56:54 -0500 (EST) From: Seth Finkelstein <sethf@MIT.EDU>
To: freematt@COIL.COM
Subject: Censorware blacklists *G*U*N*S*

You'll enjoy this. Too bad I'm not able to help out, one less. I've always thought the gunners had a big stake in censorware opposition. <snip personal note>

Seth Finkelstein Consulting Web Programmer sethf@mit.edu


                      Monday December 13 08:41 PM EST

                      Web Filter Blocks More Gun Sites

      LOS GATOS, Calif. (APBnews.com) -- Concerned by violence in the
      nation's schools, a California company has beefed up its online
    filtering software to block thousands of new Web pages hawking guns
                              and ammunition.

SurfWatch Software officials said the new version shipped in November filters Web sites that "primarily sell guns, weapons, ammunition or

poisonous substances and sites that allow online purchasing or ordering information, including lists of prices and dealer locations."

The renewed effort follows a series of school shootings in recent years, especially April's deadly rampage at Columbine High School in


      For years, companies that make Internet filtering software have
    blocked guns and ammunition sites, which usually were included in an
                    umbrella category, such as violence.

Since most of the filtering software is purchased by parents who want to control what sites their children see, there has been less debate about First Amendment rights than there was over libraries and school

                         districts filtering sites.

     "SurfWatch's decision to block these sites was made in response to
requests from parents and educators who are concerned about violence in schools and the affect that the Web might play in enabling kids to
        obtain weapons," said Alexandra Salomon, director of content
       management for SurfWatch Software, a division of JSB Software

                       More weapons available on Web

      Statistics compiled by SurfWatch show more than 5,000 Web sites
     related to weapons and ammunition. The company says the number of
sites blocked for violent content has increased by 22 percent over the last nine months, primarily because of the increase in gun and weapon sites online. By comparison, the number of sexually explicit Web sites

blocked increased 16 percent in the same nine-month period.

Salomon said in mid-1998 there were 870 Web sites related to gun sales

                              or information.

    "The dramatic increase in sites that meet our violence criteria over
             the last year greatly concerned us," Salomon said.

     She admitted that guns and ammo filtering is not new, but that the
    company wants to update the number of sites, since so many new ones
                  have gone online in the past 18 months.

     Salomon said the SurfWatch software includes four categories that
    parents can turn on or off to block certain sites; they also can add
                               Web addresses.

                  Filters use keywords or target Web sites

There are several Web filtering software tools that users can install on their personal computers to block all kinds of online material -- mainly sites dealing with pornography and hate. Most of this software allows users to deny access to certain categories, such as adult Web sites, and software makers provide updates that add new sites to the

       list. There are also network-filtering tools available for the

       Other blocking software either allows users to enter keywords,
    filtering out sites that include those words, or the software itself
             hunts for keywords in the contents of a Web page.

One filtering-software official at Cyber Patrol said the industry is not trying to block access to sites that people want to see, but to

                             protect children.

"We are trying to give parents, educators and now even businesses the
ability to restrict what they want their kids to see or their employees. That is really up to them to decide -- and parents also want different filtering for different kids," one company official said. Filters for children, not adults She said the software never was geared toward the adult user.
"This was geared to youngsters and teenagers. You don't want people at
that age trying to buy weapons -- and I don't even know if they could," the Cyber Patrol official said. Bob Hunnicutt of Shotgun News, which bills itself as "The World's Largest Gun Sales Publication," reacted angrily to the push against Web sites that deal with guns. "We in the gun industry are quite annoyed, as you can imagine, at
being lumped with pornography, gambling, Nazis, etc," Hunnicutt said in an e-mail. "The fact that the gun industry is a relatively small and old one makes it easy for self-appointed censors to shut us out, despite the fact that kids are bombarded with violent content churned out by huge conglomerates like Time-Warner and Universal that is in no
                     danger whatever of being blocked."

                              Hard to keep up

Marc Kanter, vice president of marketing for Cybersitter, said that with more than a billion Web pages, it's impossible to keep up with

     the number of Web sites being added daily. Cybersitter is made by
                          Solid Oak Software Inc.

    "We don't list URLs. It actually reads the content of a Web page and
      makes a determination based on that content whether that page is
                         acceptable," Kanter said.

     He said that blocking guns and ammo sites, as well as others, is a
       parental responsibility and has nothing to do with censorship.

                         Free speech not the issue

        Ari Schwartz, policy analyst at the Center for Democracy and
   Technology in Washington, said he does not consider filtering out guns
                sites to children to be a free-speech issue.

        "This is not a First Amendment issue, since Surf Watch is a
proprietary tool that families and educators can decide to use or not use," Schwartz said. "The government does not mandate it. If it were,

or if it were the only tool available, then it would stifle free expression. However ... there are over 100 different tools that filter

                              and rate sites."

       In February, eBay, the big online auction site, nixed Internet
       listings for firearms and ammunition, since it didn't have the
capability to ensure the sales complied with federal and state laws.

A number of companies that sell or provide gun sale information online

                   did not return requests for comments.

By David Noack, an APBnews.com staff writer (david.noack@apbnews.com)

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