The cussing computer

Warning: this educational software may spew a barrage of obscenities at your children.

One can only imagine the rude words that must have gone through the minds of the executives at Panasonic Interactive Media in the US, upon discovering that their latest piece of educational software was swearing like a navvy at the children it was supposed to be teaching to write.

Panasonic's Secret Writer's Society aims to help seven- to nine-year- olds with their writing by using a voice simulation to read back the compositions they have written. The problem occurs when the child writes a short passage and then impatiently double-clicks while waiting for the message to be read back. They are then treated to a barrage of obscenities from the filter that has been put into the program to stop children typing in bad words just for the fun of having them read back to them.

Panasonic became aware of the problem after receiving a write-up on Superkids, a specialist website which reviews educational software. Superkids urged parents not to buy the program, warning them that it "may shout obscenities at your child". They liked the "cute songs and nice animation"; they did not like the fact that it called their reviewer an "asshole". The staff at Superkids contacted Panasonic, which duly posted a warning on their Secret Writer's Society website and offered free replacements to those parents who were subjected to the profanity.

Panasonic had put the problem down to a bug in the bad language filter and must have been tempted to reel off a string of cuss words themselves when it was announced last week that the swearing was the work of a rogue programmer. The programmer, who wishes to remain anonymous, claims that his action was a wake-up call to parents who are happy to let a machine take charge of their children's education.

"No program can replace the family," he explains. "But people have this awe of technology. They think it can do better than they can. I wanted to wake parents up to reality - here's what happens if you hand your responsibility to some machine."

The programmer was rewarded for this action with $1,000 from Rtmark, a group that funds sabotage and creative crimes against corporations. Rtmark has also previously funded a similar piece of subversive programming, in which homo-erotic scenes were inserted into the Maxis game SimCopter. The game was recalled and the programmer sacked after scenes with semi- clad, kissing men were discovered.

Ray Thomas, a spokesman for Rtmark, says that they agreed to fund the programmer as his actions helped to "raise consciousness about corporate abuse". On the question of exposing children to bad language Thomas says: "We at Rtmark have mixed feelings about this, but this meets our bottom- line criterion of being an anti-corporate critique or attack, and not causing physical injury."

Panasonic maintains that the swearing was caused by a bug, which it has now fixed. "Our producer himself put in a buffer, and we tested it, but evidently we didn't test it well enough," says Elizabeth Olson, Panasonic's communications manager. "To our knowledge there is no truth to this claim. [Rtmark] seem to be claiming responsibility for something they didn't have anything to do with."

Thomas is not surprised by Panasonic's reaction. He says the company is unlikely to acknowledge this sort of action "because it's much more disturbing to customers and, perhaps especially, shareholders, if it's not a random, relatively controllable thing like a bug, but rather the product of malice. It could be that they really do think it's a bug."

Software developers may well need to be extra vigilant as Rtmark steps up its campaigns of infiltration and subversion, with the lure of cash incentives for those with the wherewithal to carry out specific tasks. Rtmark is currently offering $400 to anyone who can substitute the pictures of the Spice Girls in Viewmaster slides with naked photographs of now- departed Ginger Spice, Geri Halliwell. In both cases the goods must actually make it to the shops for maximum embarrassment to the companies targeted.

The most worrying thing about this case for companies is that the "hacker" is no longer an anonymous geek at the end of a phone line. They are now in the workplace, where it is far easier for them to throw a spanner in the works.

Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

Arts and Entertainment
Dapper Laughs found success through the video app Vine

comedy Erm...he seems to be back

Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)

tvReview: No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Arts and Entertainment
Bruce Forsyth and Tess Daly flanking 'Strictly' winners Flavia Cacace and Louis Smith

tv Gymnast Louis Smith triumphed in the Christmas special

Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Shenaz Treasurywala
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all