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29 April 2006 @ 18:21
A cock-up in the censorship department  

Searching, fairly aimlessly, for familiar songs on the iTunes Music Store, I turned up the following result:

I hope the asterisks were supplied automatically by some kind of computer program, because I would hate to think that human intelligence was directly involved in the decision to bl**p out the oc in "The Cock's Crowing Soon." Judging by what little I understand about the purposes of censorship, this particular instance is worse than useless: it defaces a pefectly innocent word, and, at the same time, alerts anyone who wasn't already aware of it to the existence of a taboo homonym.

Further searching reveals that there does indeed seem to be a (foolish) consistency to iTunes's bleeping policy. The word cock is bleeped to c**k in song titles and album titles (but not in artists' names) if it is an entire word, but not if it is part of a compound. Thus we find asterisks aplenty in traditional children's songs such as:

  • "Ride a C**k Horse"
  • "C**k a Doodle Doo"
  • "C**k Robin"
  • "A Little C**k Sparrow"

...but no asterisks in any of the following:

  • "Cockballs," by F.Y.P.
  • "CockJunkie," by Blood Duster
  • "Cockring," by Polecat
  • "Cockblockaz," by Duke
  • "Cockblockin'," by Franco Callous Kush Unite 2 (FCK U 2)
  • "Cockaholic," by Nasty Latins

Other potentially naughty words are, interestingly enough, not bleeped, again regardless of the sense in which they are actually intended. So, in the same set of results, we find:

  • "C**k Up Your Beaver" (which is, for the record, an admonition to adjust one's hat)
  • "C**k in the Pussy," by Cock Lorge
  • "My Pussy's Gonna Make You Hot, My C**k is Gonna Drive You Crazy," by Kill the Hippies

On the other hand, "C**k Rock B******t," by Bonehouse, is so thoroughly beasterisked that it took me a while to work out what the original title really was. I'm not sure why they couldn't have gone with "C**k Rock Bulls**t" instead; maybe there's something about names of male animals that they find inherently offensive?

I'm not at all sure what the people at iTunes think they are accomplishing by this. To their credit, though, at least all the "c**k" songs do show up when you search for "cock"; you don't have to bowdlerize your search strings to find them. (Perhaps I should also be grateful that they didn't bleep out the kaka in kakas; I don't think their censorship algorithm knows any Hungarian.) But it all seems rather silly.

Nuværende musik: Szól a kakas már
Vizcachachillyrodent on 29. April, 2006 15:49 (UTC)
This makes me think of the "mood detector" on Eudora (email). If you don't know it, it provides one, two or three warning chili peppers, depending on the potential offense your email could cause. It causes middle-aged people to experiment with word combinations like 12-year-olds, to see what they (we) can get away with.

I thought it was too bad they didn't come up with an "intent detector."
Q. Pheevrq_pheevr on 29. April, 2006 15:59 (UTC)

Wow. I had never heard of that before. Does it just recognize potentially offensive individual words, or does it make some kind of effort to gauge whether they're actually being used in an offensive way, or whether they're being directed at the addressee, or anything like that?

Vizcachachillyrodent on 29. April, 2006 16:37 (UTC)
It tries to decide if the actual word string is offensive, among other things. Also, words that slip past once trigger some peppers if used more than once.

"Suck" is fine, but "you suck" triggers multiple peppers, as does "bite me."

If one is too cozy with one's mother, it trips the alarm, but a similar arrangement with one's sister raises no Eudora eyebrows.
Ingeborg Svea Nordénisnorden on 8. August, 2006 16:35 (UTC)
Too hot to handle...
My gods, I'm glad my ISP provided different e-mail software; can you imagine the embarrassment at getting innocent sentences like these flagged?

"I made sure to take repellent spray on the camping trip, so mosquitos wouldn't bite me."

"If you suck an ice-cold drink through your straw too quickly, you might get a headache."

If a sentence like these landed MY e-mail in someone else's spam filter, I'd be extremely worried.
Vizcachachillyrodent on 8. August, 2006 16:39 (UTC)
Re: Too hot to handle...
Ha! I guess that type of harmless email would get pretty peppery.

When I had to use Eudora, I turned off the silly peppers. They're cute in a Mexican restaurant, but annoying at work.
love, play & inquiry: smilingtrochee on 29. April, 2006 18:03 (UTC)
this is dying for a thunderbird/firefox extension, I think.

It's like the MIT media lab project I saw (for high-functioning autistics/Asperger's types) where your cell phone changes color based on the apparent interest/agitation of the person you're talking to.

Only it's for email. what percentage of apparent trolls are actually trolling? and what percentage would benefit from a little warning light that says "this appears to be trolling"?
Vizcachachillyrodent on 30. April, 2006 07:32 (UTC)
What does the program use to decide? Does it take a baseline reading of the caller's voice pattern, and go from there? I guess that wouldn't work, if the person was mad when the conversation started.

We're all hampered by Asberger's-like limitations in print, aren't we? No face to read, no tone of voice to help us interpret.
love, play & inquirytrochee on 30. April, 2006 09:11 (UTC)
well, couldn't find the thing at the MIT media lab. Turns out it's at Duke: the Mood Phone.

Asperger's-like -- yes. Though I think that there may be more than one kind of inability to recognize others' emotional state: one (classic Asperger's) impaired by a visual inability only, the other (jerks?) unable to model others' emotional states in general. The latter might benefit from the Eudora-style nannying.
Merle: lambdamerle_ on 30. April, 2006 11:53 (UTC)
Censorship technology sure hasn't improved much in the last ten years, then. Keyword-based blocking is a pretty poor way to filter content.

They probably require "cock" to be a separate word just in case it is a substring in a valid word (like "shuttlecock"). That was a fairly standard second-level improvement in keyword blocking from the days of yore.
Q. Pheevrq_pheevr on 30. April, 2006 17:00 (UTC)

And indeed they do successfully refrain from bleeping words like cockpit and cockroach. They seem to use the same strategy for other taboo words, too, although they've also made sure that some common superstrings of them will be bleeped (as in b******t, supra). On the other hand, this leaves them wholly undefended against novel compounds, as in the case of a track titled "The Calling (Fuckshit M**********r Mix)," by Velvet Acid Christ.

Merle: lambdamerle_ on 3. Maj, 2006 21:01 (UTC)
Yes, well, that's a novel compound that I would likely miss as well when building word-based filters.

But that album was released this year. For anything released in the last N years since they started forcing those "warning! mature lyrics! may cause death!" labels onto CDs, I assumed they were also keeping track of which CDs had such lyrics, and would categorically filter them out. Someone could trivially write a song called "Red Balloons Are Nice" and have very obscene lyrics in it.
lascribe on 30. April, 2006 12:26 (UTC)
The one thing that immediately springs to mind (mine, anyway), is that a cock-up is not the same thing as a c**k-up.
Q. Pheevrq_pheevr on 30. April, 2006 17:29 (UTC)

Hard to tell. The OED groups several different senses of cock together (at least three of which are, interestingly, shared by the German Hahn), and it's not at all clear which sense of the noun is most closely related to the phrasal verb cock up. But the OED's entry is certainly entertaining. So far I've learned:

  • ...that "whipping or thrashing the cock" is not, as one might expect, a term for masturbation, but rather a quite literal description of something much more sinister.
  • ...that, according to a quotation cited to illustrate the metaphorical use of cock to describe one who rouses sleepers, "In the ages of ignorance the clergy frequently called themselves the Cocks of the Almighty," which would be a seriously good name for a band.
  • ...that cock in the sense of 'penis' is "The current name among the people, but, pudoris causa, not admissible in polite speech or literature [or, of course, iTunes]; in scientific language the Latin is used. In origin perhaps intimately connected with sense 12 [a spout or short pipe]." I think I shall have to add the phrase pudoris causa to my working vocabulary.
w1ldc47w1ldc47 on 30. April, 2006 17:35 (UTC)
Things like this always strike me as very childish. I mean really, getting worked up over swear words? Who over the age of 10 really does?
Q. Pheevrq_pheevr on 2. Maj, 2006 12:12 (UTC)

Well, if they were really worked up about it, one'd think they'd have a better algorithm. But this half-hearted, or half-a**ed, effort is just silly.

(Deleted comment)
Q. Pheevrq_pheevr on 2. Maj, 2006 10:05 (UTC)

I use the Canadian version of the iTunes store, and it seems (from cursory (so to speak)) searching that they bleep out taboo words in English and French, but not other languages. (E.g., one finds s**t and m***e, but Scheisse.)

(Anonym) on 5. Maj, 2006 09:16 (UTC)
Why B******t?
On the other hand, "C**k Rock B******t," by Bonehouse, is so thoroughly beasterisked that it took me a while to work out what the original title really was. I'm not sure why they couldn't have gone with "C**k Rock Bulls**t" instead; maybe there's something about names of male animals that they find inherently offensive?On the other hand, "C**k Rock B******t," by Bonehouse, is so thoroughly beasterisked that it took me a while to work out what the original title really was. I'm not sure why they couldn't have gone with "C**k Rock Bulls**t" instead; maybe there's something about names of male animals that they find inherently offensive?

It looks like they're simply replacing all the letters but the first and last.