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OBSCENITY HACKER COMES OUT
"Computers are revolutionizing education, sometimes in surprising
ways. Now there's software that can teach kids how to cuss like a drunken
stevedore," writes Robert Cwiklik of the Wall Street Journal.
The software, a Panasonic Interactive Media (http://www.panakids.com/)
product called "Secret Writer's Society," is meant to help seven to nine-year-olds
learn to write by reciting their compositions back to them in a computer-generated
Instead, the program spews obscenities at very predictable times,
according to Andrew Maisel, the editor in chief of SuperKids, a website that evaluates educational software. He says that all that is
required to trigger the foul-mouth feature is for a typed passage to be
at least several sentences long and followed by a double-click, rather
than a single-click.
Panasonic Interactive claimed that a "bug" in a "filter" caused
the problem. But now a rogue contract programmer has stepped forward to
claim responsibility for the hack.
"Choosing to have a child constitutes a commitment to give that
child the very best that you can," said the programmer, who spoke on condition
of anonymity. "Letting a third-rate piece of software take over for you
is wrong because it violates that contract, which is more important than
any legal one."
Educators, security specialists and others condemned the hack. "He
definitely could have done something better", said educational software
specialist David Goldberg, who agreed, however, with some of the sentiments
expressed by the programmer. According to Goldberg, the programmer's anger
is not entirely misplaced. "The company has an idea, and they get that
idea out there. And that idea is to teach kids how to write better--knowing
full well that at the level of technology we have now, they can't do it."
Rhizome, a group of Internet analysts and educators who manage RTMARK's
Net Fund, which included this project, concurred. "Educational technologies
like these are meant to replace contact with adults.... It's only natural
that those on the inside should fight back."
The programmer has been awarded the $1000 collected by RTMARK from
an anonymous donor for the project. (Any project, regardless of quality,
is eligible for RTMARK funding so long as it is an attack against corporate
power and does not cause bodily injury.) Ray Thomas, an RTMARK spokesperson,
summed up RTMARK's position: "In essence, these allegedly educational programs
are already barraging children with obscenities; this just puts it on the
"What I did isn't a crime," the programmer said. "The crime is letting
profits get in the way of education. It's time to stop turning children
into products of products, and to start getting them in touch with values
that really count."
Television and radio broadcasters can order a broadcast-quality
Video News Release (http://rtmark.com/rtmarkSWS.ram)
about this action, along with an introductory video about RTMARK (http://rtmark.com/rtmark1a.ram),
by writing mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org and including their station identifier,
address, and courier number. (The introductory video is also available
for other forms of distribution.)
RTMARK was established in 1991 to further anti-corporate activism
by channelling funds from donors to workers for sabotage of corporate products.
Recent and upcoming acts of RTMARK-aided subversion are documented on RTMARK's
web site, http://rtmark.com/.