[ISN] Rigging Software to Swear

From: mea culpa (jerichot_private)
Date: Sat Oct 10 1998 - 03:41:47 PDT

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    Forwarded From: phreak moi <hackerelitet_private>
    Rigging Software to Swear
    by Niall McKay
    1:10 p.m.  9.Oct.98.PDT
    To protest what he called the threat to family life posed by technology, a
    disgruntled programmer claims he sabotaged an educational software package
    to teach kids to swear. 
    "No program can replace the family, but people have this awe of
    technology, they think it can do better than they can," the programmer,
    who spoke on condition of anonymity. 
    The Secret Writer's Society, a Macintosh game published by Panasonic
    Interactive Media, is designed to help 7- to 9-year-olds learn to write by
    reciting their compositions back to them. 
    But the simple game goes awry when a child types three or four sentences
    in a row and double clicks the mouse. At that point, the program will
    recite words such as "masturbation," "fellatio," "asshole,"  and other
    words that make many parents squeamish. 
    The anonymous programmer, who added the features to the game while under
    contract to Panasonic, developed the crack with the help of RTMark, a
    venture capital-style funding organization for activists. 
    "I wanted to wake parents up to reality -- here's what happens if you hand
    your responsibility to some machine," the programmer said in the RTMark
    statement, which will be released on Monday. 
    RTMark paid the coder US$1,000 for his trouble. 
    When the problem first emerged in June, Panasonic blamed a software glitch
    and offered replacement copies to any concerned parents. On Friday, the
    company again denied that the swearing software was the product of
    "We wrote that software in-house, so I believe that the programmer's
    claims are untrue," said Panasonic's Elizabeth Olson. 
    Olson said that the problem resulted from a feature written by Makoto
    Morise, head of the company's education and DVD division. 
    "We were aware that kids could use the software to read back bad language
    so Makoto wrote some code prohibiting the software from reciting about 40
    swear words," said Olson. 
    But the editor of a Web magazine that evaluates educational software
    maintains that Olson's explanation doesn't wash.  Andrew Maisel, the
    editor in chief of SuperKids, said he found it strange that the problem
    only hits Macintosh computers. 
    "I don't believe that Panasonic developed the text-to-speech software
    in-house, and so I would suspect that [the] so-called bug could indeed
    [be] the action of a rogue programmer." 
    Panasonic claims that kids will have a hard time getting Secret Writer's
    Society to utter obscenities. But Maisel disputed that claim, saying that
    colorful language was only a few clicks away for a curious child. 
    Last year, RTMark offered similar assistance to a programmer at Maxis, the
    software publisher behind SimCopter. In that incident, a staff programmer
    added unscripted characters to the game that only appeared in certain
    The unauthorized male SimCopter characters wore bathing suits and kissed
    each other with loud smooching sounds.  In that incident, the programmer
    was fired and the game was recalled. 
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