Blackholes, Unblackholes Macromedia

Censorship Posted by jamie on Monday May 21, 2001 @04:40PM
from the I-didn't-know-they-could-do-that dept.
Last week, neonzebra wrote us: "In addition to, and thousands of other blacklisted sites (some unjustifiably), the SPAM nazis at have now added internet software giant Macromedia to the list. Anyone trying to access Macromedia's website through's backbone will get a 'site not responding' error." And around the same time, aangelis wrote: "It seems that for the last 4 days Macromedia's web servers give back to my browser not even a bit! Are they down? Maybe it is a DNS problem, but nearly twenty people located at Greece, EU told me the same thing!" It wasn't a DNS problem. Last week, in a high-profile example of stealth blocking, Macromedia's website vanished from a significant minority of the internet. The site reappeared Friday, but I think it's worth taking notice of what happened last week anyway. Details below...

This is a sequel to last December's article, MAPS RBL is now Censorware. For the (very) long version of how the RBL works, and how it sometimes fills the same role as "filtering" software, go take a peek.

The short version is that a small group of anti-spam crusaders called MAPS publishes the RBL, which many ISPs subscribe to. Those ISPs block mail to and from addresses on the RBL list.

Some subscribers, notably the backbone provider, whose CTO is a MAPS co-founder, use the RBL to block not only mail but all internet traffic from IPs listed by RBL. Thus, to cleints of these providers, sites deemed to deliver spam -- or merely deemed spam-friendly -- just drop off the net.

That CTO/co-founder is Paul Vixie, author of Vixie cron and BIND and all kinds of good stuff. He makes some interesting observations about censorship in a 1997 SunWorld interview.

I checked the RBL's servers Thursday night and found that two of Macromedia's IPs were actually blocked. was blocked, which makes sense for stopping spam; presumably that's where the spam emenates from.

But the other IP blocked was, which is of course their Web address. Blocking this address, I would assume, stops no spam from reaching anyone's inbox.

What it does do is get Macromedia's attention. Because blocks all traffic and is a major backbone provider, being put on the RBL effectively takes a site off the net for many users. Taking down a big corporation's website is a good way to show you mean business.

('s abuse department said I would have to talk to public relations, but their PR contact did not return repeated phone calls.)

I spoke with a Macromedia spokesperson both last week and today. She confirmed that "there were two addresses blocked, one of which resulted in users worldwide not being able to access the website." She also repeated several times that they were on the RBL for their email newsletter "the Edge," saying it "does have an opt-in model, that does not spam."

She also pointed out that "worldwide access to has been restored." That access happened sometime Thursday night or Friday morning. Our Slashdot submissions about the downed site came in on Thursday, and I confirmed the IP numbers' presence on the RBL Thursday during the day.

I've contacted several people at MAPS, but they had no comment and (per their policy) refused to tell me how long those IPs had been on the RBL.

The rationale for the RBL is that it tries to "prevent ... our paying, in money and resources and our own time, to receive and process, or relay, traffic which is nonconsensual in nature." (Their emphasis.) What is "nonconsensual" about reading Macromedia's website? Why was on the list?

I'm only running this story because it's Macromedia. After all, one it's of the larger sites on the net, home of Flash animation among other things. If it can be quietly removed from a chunk of the net, who can't? (If you noticed Macromedia missing last week, post a comment!)

Take a moment to go read that stealth blocking statement, issued last week. I signed as a member of the Censorware Project; other signatories were the ACLU, CPSR, EFF, and EPIC. We're concerned that, as the statement says:

ISPs that practice "stealth blocking" are violating consumer protection principles and restricting user choice and freedom in cyberspace.

What do you think?



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