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Web Protection: Child Internet Monitoring and Filtering Software  - Article Details

The Truth About Filtering Software By Sandra Prior

Date Added: July 08, 2008 07:14:26 PM
Category: Technology: Software: Blocking Software

For concerned parents the only real solution is to install some kind of filtering program on your computer. Most of them work in the same way, by blocking access to sites that contain banned words. The majority also refer to a central list of questionable sites located on the software developer’s website. With a highly customizable interface, you can choose to block sites that contain sexual content, hate sites and those advocating illegal activities.

Strangely, you can also block sites about sports and leisure. If the default pages aren’t enough there’s a custom section that enables you to ban pages of your choosing.

There are distinct problems with filtering programs though, especially with the way that objectionable content is defined. You could find yourself the unwitting recipient of suspect morals. The thought of your kids encountering adult or indecent material is not pleasant. If they are left on their own on your computer, chances are good that they will encounter sex related material. Over the last couple of years filtering software has been proliferating, claiming to provide a safe surfing atmosphere.

These software filters load on to your computer at startup and work silently in the background. Only the password holder can alter the program settings or switch it off. The filters work by denying access to objectionable sites, either by blocking sites named on a blacklist or by refusing to download any sites with bad language or sexual content.

The most common method of filtering online content is to block access to sites and pages, based on their address. A list of forbidden destinations is installed by the software and regularly updated from the software developer’s homepage. Many blacklists are compiled by computer, but some are generated by human editors. This begs the question. Who decides what constitutes objectionable sites? In 1996 some tech-head who had deciphered the encrypted lists of forbidden sites in the filter software, found that it blocked access to sites promoting women’s rights, gay rights, animal rights, AIDS awareness, and many other innocuous sites. Determining what is ‘objectionable content’ is totally subjective. The unwelcome consequence of this is that filtering software becomes a surrogate for your own morality, your own decision making. Having a digital moral compass as your guide is a sad state of affairs.

There are other problems with filtering software. Some of the programs aren’t sophisticated enough to block single pages and therefore block entire sites based on the domain name, even if the rest of the domain name is as pure as the driven snow.

The big twist in the tale is that you cannot view the list of banned sites of many filter software packages, so it’s difficult to find out what’s really going on. Filter software companies keep their lists of blocked sites top secret. Because the web is constantly changing, because filtering software does not work perfectly and because there is always room for human error, the list of banned sites changes regularly. One day you may be allowed access to a site and the next day denied. It’s a confusing and unsatisfactory way to shape a user’s experience of the web. Supporters of filtering software argue that it comes down to choice. No one is forcing anyone at the moment to use software filters. People install the software because they want to. This is true, but the most regrettable aspect of blocking software is that many users are unaware of the limitations of the program they are trusting. Parents are relying on strangers to make decisions about what is suitable for their children.

The majority of US children over 12 are allowed to surf the internet unsupervised.

About the Author:

Sandra Prior is an advertising marketing consultant. She runs her own advertising website at Florida Computer Hardware Classifieds.