May 18, 2005"Safe Eyes", Consumer Reports, and reports undone

"Safe Eyes" / censorware is now touting the Consumer Reports "Filtering software: Better, but still fallible" article:

Safe Eyes 2005 Rated The #1 Internet Filter!

Independent and unbiased testing by the leading consumer reporting publication confirms what our customers already knew....Safe Eyes is the best.

(note the message is a flash animation)

I'm not sure if Consumer Reports really did their testing as extensively as possible. I can see a way in which they took a reasonable course, which would have been the most obvious way to proceed if one is starting out with little knowledge of the internals of censorware (i.e. randomly try some URLs to see which are blacklisted). But there's much more information available, such as censorware blacklisting the Google cache, translation sites, and more. And note since it's a repackaged version of N2H2, all of N2H2's flaws apply.

In an alternate world, I'd do a report on this, with the "newsworthiness" peg about Consumer Reports' pick of censorware. It would then be publicized (remember, I'm talking fantasy here) getting the information out and being an important contribution to the body of knowledge on technology and policy. Which would be a reputation-credit for me which would have helpful implications in, for example establishing DMCA exemptions and discouraging potential censorware lawsuits.

In reality, I'd be marginalized to the same tiny fan audience which has heard it all before. While this audience is of course most excellent and discerning, they're also the choir, the convinced, exactly the people least in need of hearing my spiel. It's well past the point of diminishing returns. I'd again be faced with the temptation to go too far up the legal risk curve. And even if I kept low enough down so as not to have to worry, just in terms of PR I'd likely lose much more than I could gain (in the language of probability, I have a large negative expected value).

Recursively, maybe I shouldn't have written this post in the first place. But I'm inured to the sort of criticism I'll get for it. And I do think there's some value to documenting reports which won't be done because of the lack of support. [sad face]

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in activism , censorware | on May 18, 2005 09:18 AM (Infothought permalink)
Seth Finkelstein's Infothought blog (Wikipedia, Google, censorware, and an inside view of net-politics) - Syndicate site (subscribe, RSS)

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a) CR *really* doesn't like companies using their ratings for advertising purposes. I believe they've sued others in the past for misusing CR's reviews. If they didn't use CR's name they might get away with it, but this won't endear them to CR.

b) What kind of reputation does Consumer Reports have for responsiveness? It might be worth just writing them a letter for publication... Even if they edit it to shreds, reaching the CR audience thru the letter column could bypass some of the usual online gatekeepers and reach a different (and possibly more receptive) audience. And even if they don't publish it, maybe it can influence their next article on filters.

Just a thought.

Posted by: Lis Riba at May 18, 2005 10:55 AM

Thank you, those are very constructive suggestions!

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at May 18, 2005 11:30 PM