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Websense - free sex sites and "blacklist wars"

anticensorware material by Seth Finkelstein

[Update - This was picked-up for an MSNBC story ]

Websense, a censorware company, is now distributing daily lists of sex sites supposedly not blacklisted by other censorware companies. This is hilarious. I am not making this up.

Go to http://www.websense.com/ . Click on the big red-and-yellow "Test The Competition" button in the upper left. Then click on the big red-and-yellow "Test It For Yourself" button on the upper right. This brings you to a page where Websense states (emphasis added):

Select the company you are considering from below, and we will show you a daily list of 17 Web sites, 12 of which are Adult Content sites, that are in the Websense database but not in competitors' databases.

The options are "SurfControl" or "SmartFilter". After some more clicking through the screens, they'll present you with, they claim:

The following 12 sites are in the Websense database, but leak through the SmartFilter database. They therefore will be blocked by Websense but not by SmartFilter.

For those readers with sweaty palms already, the following URLs should take you there directly:



Perhaps other censorware makers could be persuaded to retaliate?

Now, censorware companies peddle snake-oil, and the above lists are no exception. It's partially a PR trick. Some of the supposed sex sites listed are just front pages, which redirect to other sites which are in fact on the competitor's blacklist. In other cases, they've given a site which is not on a competing censorware blacklisted by its name, but it is on the competing blacklist by its Internet Protocol address (for an explanation of this sentence, see "Blacklisting Bytes", by Seth Finkelstein and Lee Tien http://www.eff.org/Censorship/Censorware/20010306_eff_nrc_paper1.html )

So, a person will find "This is not as hot a party as I had anticipated". But still, you might get lucky. Websense is certainly giving sex-site seekers a head start, and plenty of ideas. Fresh leads every day.

Note, because of the dynamic method Websense uses to generate the pages on its website, other censorware companies will have a hard time blocking those pages. The URLs I've given above are just one means of reaching that information. On Websense's site, they use an involved method of passing around the site navigation information within their dynamically generated pages.

In addition, even variations of the URL data will work, such as:


[See below, update 1.1, for changes]

This is in fact an example of another problem of censorware, dilemmas in banning dynamic pages (I had a formal report planned on this, but I'm having such difficulty getting any coverage, combined with increased legal risk, that such extensive work is currently postponed indefinitely).

But these "blacklist wars" will be the source of much humor. If the sex sites are in fact blacklisted in practice by competitors, or are only mere redirects, then Websense is being dishonest (ok, what else is new?). If the sex sites are not blacklisted, then this is a "daily dose" provided straight by a censorware company.

Whatever happened to the concept that one reason for not permitting evaluation of censorware blacklists, was due to their extensive collection of where porn might be found? (skipping over the fact that there are plenty of such third-party collections ...)

I can hardly imagine how censorware critics would be pilloried if they pulled a stunt like this. Think of the children!

Version 1.0, Jun 10 2002

Update 1.1, Jun 19 2002
Websense has now changed their server so the direct URLs aren't allowed. You can still get to the site lists by clicking through the sequence given above. Technically, they've required that the HTTP "Referer:" field be from their page, so it's necessary to click through to the site list from within their site. An amusing side-effect of this change is that anyone using a system which does not set that HTTP "Referer:" field, such as some security or privacy/cookie-control/ad-removal programs, can't proceed past the "Test The Competition" button - that makes it appear as if Websense's own testing advertisement is broken! (it isn't really broken, the problem is just a side-effect of how they've chosen to restrict access to the server).

Anyway, for programmers who are interested, the following utility from standard perl distributions can be used with the arguments (updated 10/13/2002)

lwp-request -m GET -H 'Referer: http://www.websense.com/whyqualitymatters/testthecompetition.cfm' 'http://www.websense.com/whyqualitymatters/testthecompetition.cfm?database=SurfControl&step5=Yes&password=&iagree=Yes'


lwp-request -m GET -H 'Referer: http://www.websense.com/whyqualitymatters/testthecompetition.cfm' 'http://www.websense.com/whyqualitymatters/testthecompetition.cfm?database=SmartFilter&step5=Yes&password=&iagree=Yes'

These lines set the needed field using that utility.

Update 1.2, Jan 10 2003
Looks like the party is over. As of December 23 2002, they changed the free sex sites page to read:

We no longer provide a daily list of adult content sites on our Web site because our competitors were adding these sites to their database immediately. If you would like to request a list of 20 adult content sites that are in the Websense database, but not in SurfControl's or SmartFilter's, please complete the form below and we will have a salesperson send you the latest list.

Note their reason is allegedly that "competitors were adding these sites", NOT that Websense was undermining the protection of children!

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