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SuperKids' review team thought that Secret Writer's Society looked like an interesting new program. They never dreamed how interesting it would turn out to be...
This program is designed to teach second and third-graders the basics of writing composition. Good things, like: capitalization, punctuation, topic sentences, paragraph structure, and editing. It has cute songs and nice animation. It even offers an effective text-to-speech capability. Unfortunately, this feature has a flaw so severe, that SuperKids warns parents against purchasing or using this program.
Sample entry which produced profanity-filled response
What do we mean by 'obscenities?' As the first parent reviewer to discover this wrote, "this goes way beyond George Carlin's seven banned words." Or as another parent noted, "it was quite unnerving to be sitting in front of the computer and suddenly have this mechanical voice swearing at me -- almost like something out of a slasher movie or something. It could really affect a child." We agree.
SuperKids contacted the publisher, Panasonic Interactive Media, and received three different responses over the course of the last week. First, there was a hesitant acknowledgement that this "problem would only occur in rare circumstances." We then contacted their Technical Support staff. After initially responding that she "had never heard of this problem," the tech support rep agreed to try and replicate the foul-mouthed behavior we had uncovered. After doing so, Tech Support agreed this was "a serious problem," and that they "would get back to us with a fix as soon as possible."
We finally spoke with a product manager, who explained the source of the problem, and Panasonic's response. The problem, we were told, was the result of a bug in a 'filter' which was supposed to prevent the text-to-speech engine of the program from speaking any obscene words that a user might include in a passage. Unfortunately, this bug causes the program to mistakenly volunteer obscenities.
SuperKids believes that's not enough. We believe Secret Writer's Society should be pulled from distribution until a relabeled replacement can be produced. In addition, we believe that Panasonic should publicize the flaw in this program, in an effort to notify parents and schools who have purchased the product, before their children discover this on their own.
We'll let you know what happens.
PC: Win95, 486DX4/100 or faster cpu, 5 MB hard drive space, 8 MB RAM, SVGA 256 color display, 2X or faster CD-ROM, SoundBlaster compatiblereturn to top of page
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