July 14, 1997 6:45 PM PDT

When a typo leads to porn

Typos, an ordinary occurrence in the fast-typing world of cyberspace, can sometimes turn into a problem when users unwittingly hit adult Web sites.

In the latest example, the URL www.webcralwer.com, instead of www.webcrawler.com for the popular search engine, puts users just a click away from a porn site.

Cases such as these are becoming more common, experts say, and they will come under more scrutiny now that the Supreme Court has struck down the Communications Decency Act and put more responsibility in the hands of parents and users in protecting children from online smut.

In the case of Webcralwer.com, users get a message: "We are currently renovating our search engine." Then if they click on the search button on that page, they are directed to a site called Pee-Wee Sherman's Perverted Playhouse. The content on this site is definitely for adults only.

"I thought this was interesting as typos are pretty common on the Net, and this could certainly send kids where they don't want to go," said Ed Sparks, Webmaster for data systems firm and consultancy Matrikon in an email to CNET's NEWS.COM.

Excite, which operates the WebCrawler search engine, said it had "no comment" on the incident. The owner of the "webcralwer.com" domain could not be reached for comment.

Yet Excite is far from alone. A Netizen who types the URL www.infosek.com instead of www.infoseek.com, the search engine, gets an X-rated site as well, which says, "Welcome to Hussler Online. The following Web site contains sexually explicit material."

Going to www.yahhoo.com instead of www.yahoo.com gets you to another porn site, dubbed Rawsex.xxx-com.

In all three, the sites post warnings that users must be 18 years old to enter the site. The Pee-Wee Sherman site directs users to blocking software, such as Net Nanny, which can be used to block access. But Netizens still see some raunchy photographs before entering.

Some other spoofs may only be satirical and not necessarily obscene. Users who type in www.whitehouse.com instead of www.whitehouse.gov (the official government site) get this: "Welcome to Whitehouse.com. We are in no way affiliated with or endorsed by United States government. This site is owned and operated by White House Hobbies as a parody and commentary site of the White House and U.S. politics." It shows unflattering photos of "Bubba," the president, and "Big Al," the vice president.

Trading off the names of well-known brands, such as WebCrawler, Infoseek, or Hustler, for that matter, is increasing as users battle for identity and attention on the Net. It also can result in lawsuits.

In February, for example, Planned Parenthood won the right to block a Web site that falsely claimed to be the pro-choice organization's home page. The court barred the site's producer from using the Web address www.plannedparenthood.com. Planned Parenthood filed the case on the basis that its trademark had been violated.

The site contained articles and statements that completely rejected Planned Parenthood's philosophies and practices.


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