CyberWire Dispatch // Copyright (c) 1996 // December 20

Jacking in from the "Your Agenda is Showing" Port:


Washington -- It's a long held maxim that technology is "agenda neutral." Until now.

As an earlier Dispatch investigation proved, the so-called "blocking software" industry, praised for enabling parents, teachers and corporations to block porn from being sucked into the computers of those trolling the Web, often comes with a shrink-wrapped, encrypted agenda in the form of the database of web sites and newsgroups these programs actually block.

Porn sites aren't the only ones blocked. Sites with decided political or activist agendas, such as the National Organization for Women (NOW) or animal rights groups, also are blocked. Trouble is, these blocking software programs don't make this known to the user. For some companies, shedding a spotlight on their underlying agenda, makes them sweat bullets or foam at the ascii mouth. Such is the case with Brian Milburn, president of Solid Oak Software, developer of an insipidly named blocking program called "Cybersitter."

When confronted with his agenda ridden software, Milburn isn't shy about it, indeed, he was outright indignant when he originally told Dispatch: "If NOW doesn't like it, tough... We have not and will not bow to any pressure from any organization that disagrees with or philosophy."

So when Bennett Haselton decided to put a sharp edge on this subject by focusing on Cybersitter with laser like precision, Milburn went off the charts.

Milburn wrote to Media3, the ISP that houses Haselton's website www.peacefire.org, saying he was adding the entire domain of Media3 to the Cybersitter blocking database, in order to keep anyone using his company's product from gaining access to Haselton's article.

Milburn ranted to Media3 that Haselton had made it "his mission in life to defame our product" exhibiting "extreme immaturity," by "routinely" publishing names of sites blocked by Cybersitter. Milburn claimed that Haselton may have "illegally reversed engineered" the Cybersitter database. Milburn has threatened legal action. Haselton, however, found a white knight. After hearing about Milburn's actions, Mike Godwin, legal counsel for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, decided to represent him.

In an Email to Wired News correspondent Rebecca Vesely, who wrote about Milburn's beef with Haselton, Milburn said he was swamped with "geek-mail" from Wired News' "loyal following of pinhead idiots." Milburn characterized Haselton, "an aspiring felon" and said that he had confirmation that Haselton was the "ghost writer" for the original Dispatch article that broke the story of the hidden agendas in blocking software.

All this bluster over Haselton, an 18-year-old with too much time on his hands. If right about now you're thinking that Milburn should pick on someone his own size, well, he's already "been there, done that" and got his ass kicked in the process.

You see, after the first Dispatch article, Milburn sent us a saber-rattling Email. His Aug. 15th Email claimed that "your willful reverse engineering and subsequent publishing of software code is a clear violation" of copyright law. And although he claimed he was sure he could win a case in civil court, he was instead seeking "felony criminal prosecution" by going to the FBI with his beef.

I referred Milburn to my lawyers at Baker & Hostetler, who promptly pointed out that Dispatch hadn't been the one to hack the cybersitter database. Further, our article was "protected by the full force of the First Amendment," our lawyers said.

And because Dispatch only published "fragments" of the Cybersitter database (a word used first by Milburn in his own threatening letter), such publication "fits squarely within the fair use provisions" of the copyright act, our lawyers reminded Milburn.

Finally, Milburn was left to chew on this: "If you persist in accusing [Dispatch] falsely of copyright infringement and if you proceed with your ill-conceived threat to encourage the FBI to commence activities... you should understand that, unless the information you provide is accurate and complete, you and your firm may be incurring liability of your own."

Not a peep has been heard from Milburn since he received that letter, until he decided to pick on the kid.

Milburn is apparently operating in some alternative reality. His so-called "confirmed sources" about Haselton "ghost writing" our original story are utterly false.

Haselton had nothing to do with our article. Dispatch obtained the cracked code of Cybersitter and the other programs we mentioned from an entirely different source. Haselton did nothing but build on the work of our original story, but never wrote a single word of the article nor did he provide us with the hacked databases.

All of Milburn's heartburn has me confused. Rather than try and slay Haselton, he should pay him for the right to reprint his article and findings. Milburn makes no apologies for his agenda; indeed, he is proud that one of his major distributors is "Focus on the Family" a conservative Christian organization.

And for people that brook with the conservative, straight-arrow family values ideals that Focus on the Family advocates, Cybersitter is the perfect fit. Indeed, this is the free market working at its best. Products spring up in direct response to demand. Cybersitter fits that model for a particular segment of the society. You may not like it; I certainly wouldn't use a product with this built in agenda, but nobody is making us buy it.

You would think that Milburn would eat up such "negative" press and wear it like a badge of honor. But he is too petty; too small minded. And when he discovers that Haselton did nothing more than run Cybersitter through its paces, much the same way that a reviewer for computer magazine might, and then report the findings, he'll have nobody left to harass. I hope he doesn't have a dog he can kick...

Have a Merry Christmas, Mr. Milburn. Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men.

Meeks out...


Copyright © 1996 CyberWire Dispatch / Brock N. Meeks <brock@well.com>