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              culture/story/15533.html
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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 voice.

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 table."

"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:press@rtmark.com 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/.

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