[UPDATE (Dec. 2011): I wrote the post below a few years ago. SafeMedia's website and product offerings have changed since then. Please don't interpret this post as a commentary on SafeMedia's current products.]
Peter Eckersley at EFF wrote recently about a new network-filtering company called SafeMedia that claims it can block all copyrighted material in a network. We’ve seen companies like this before and they tend to have the warning signs of security snake oil.
But SafeMedia was new so I decided to look at their website. My reaction was: what a brilliant parody!
The biggest clue is that the company’s detection product is called Clouseau – named for a detective who is not only spectacularly incompetent but also fictional.
The next clue is the outlandish technical claims. Here’s an example:
Pirates are smart and innovative, and so is Clouseau. Our technology is dynamic, sees through all multi-layered encryptions, adaptively analyzes network patterns and constantly updates itself. Packet examinations are noninvasive and infallible. There are no false positives.
Sees through all encryption? Even our best intelligence agencies don’t make that claim. Perhaps that’s because the intelligence agencies know about provably unbreakable encryption.
Wait a minute, you may be saying. Perhaps SafeMedia was just making the usual exaggeration, implying that they can stop all bad traffic when what they really mean is that they can stop the most common, obvious kinds of bad traffic. Good guess – that’s the usual fallback position for companies like this – but SafeMedia doesn’t shrink from the most outlandish claims of infallibility:
What if illegal P2P no longer worked? What if, no matter how intelligent, devious, or well-funded an Internet pirate was, they absolutely could not transmit copyrighted material via P2P? SafeMedia’s goal was to create the technology that would achieve exactly this. And we succeeded.
Employing our new technology, Clouseau and Windows + Transport Control, makes illegal P2P transmission of copyrighted material impossible. IMPOSSIBLE. Not difficult and not improbable. IMPOSSIBLE!
The next clue that SafeMedia is a parody is the site’s blatant rent-seeking. There’s even a special page for lawmakers that starts with over-the-top rhetoric about P2P (“America is at war here at home within our own borders. And we are taking casualties. Women, men, and children.”) and ends by asking the U.S. government to act as SafeMedia’s marketing department:
We need the Congress to pass legislation appropriating funds for installing the technology on every Federally-supported computer network in the country, most importantly in educational institutions (schools, colleges, universities, libraries)…. We need the Department of Commerce to promote using the technology in all American businesses big and small, and to push for its international adoption. We need the Department of Education to insure that every educational institution in the USA, private and public, primary and secondary, college and university, is obeying the law.
You now have the right weapons. Let’s end the war!
Add up all this, plus the overdesigned home page that makes maddening fingers-on-a-blackboard noises when you mouse over its main menu area, and the verdict is clear: this is a parody.
Yet SafeMedia appears to be real. The CEO appears to be a real guy who has done a few e-commerce startups. The site has more detailed help-wanted ads than any parodist would bother with. According to the Internet Archive, the site has been around for a while. And most convincingly of all, an expensive DC law firm has registered as a lobbyist for SafeMedia.
So SafeMedia really exists and company management thought it a good idea to set up a parody-simulating website and name their product Clouseau. What an entertaining world we live in.
(Thanks to Peter Eckersley for sharing the results of his un-Clouseau-ish investigation of SafeMedia’s existence.)