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ICQ pirating rival's blocked-site list

Peacefire recently found out that ICQ Inc., which recently introduced a "word filter" into the beta version of their ICQ99 chat software, obtained their word list from a company that illegally took the bad-word list from CYBERsitter blocking software without their permission.

As a result, ICQ's word filter is now blocking discussion of the National Organization for Women, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, the Village Voice, Carnegie Mellon University, any mention of "gay rights" or "safe sex", and thousands of other sites and phrases that CYBERsitter blocks.

It started out when a Peacefire member e-mailed us saying that the word "peacefire" was blocked by the new ICQ word filter. We downloaded ICQ99 beta, turned on the word filter, and looked at the list of "offensive" words and phrases. Among them, we found that ICQ was blocking the words:

Background: In December 1996, CYBERsitter began blocking the words "peacefire" and "bennett haselton" as offensive phrases, after Peacefire published a Web page criticizing their company. They also blocked spectacle.org after that site published a similarly critical report. (CYBERsitter even blocked Time Magazine once because Time criticized their company -- see http://cgi.pathfinder.com/time/digital/daily/0,2822,12392,00.html. Most other blocking software companies have distanced themselves from CYBERsitter's actions, and a Cyber Patrol company official said CYBERsitter sounded like "having Jerry Falwell sitting on your shoulder".) CYBERsitter also blocks the phrase "don't buy cybersitter" as "offensive text".

Since there was no logical reason for ICQ to be blocking the phrase "don't buy cybersitter", we concluded that the ICQ word list had probably been taken from CYBERsitter without their permission.

Most blocking software companies encrypt the list of sites that are blocked by their programs, partly so that critics can't easily examine their lists and point out embarrassing mistakes. (Peacefire has published some of the most egregious blocking errors made by blocking software companies, but these have to be discovered by trial and error, by installing and testing the software.) It turns out, though, that the list of sites blocked by CYBERsitter has been available since April 1997, when we published a codebreaking tool on Peacefire.org that could read, decrypt, and print out the CYBERsitter blocked site list. See "Teen exposes software filter", April 1997 http://www.news.com/News/Item/0,4,9964,00.html?st.ne.ni.rel

Since the ICQ "bad word" list is identical to the list of words and sites blocked by CYBERsitter, we think that they probably obtained CYBERsitter's list either by downloading CYBERsitter and running our codebreaking tool, or by downloading the CYBERsitter blocked-site list from the Internet. (Since the publication of our codebreaking tool, several researchers have decrypted the CYBERsitter list and posted it on their web pages, e.g. http://huizen.dds.nl/~klaver/cybersitter.html.)


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