03-11-2002, 02:26 PM
Does anyone have any experience with packages for filtering/blocking unwanted junk/porn for home pc's?
I would like to block the websites that offer free email, such as hotmail. We have email through our ISP that I want to use because they do some filtering and I want to know what kind of email my kids are getting. It needs to have enough security that my kids can't get around it.
03-11-2002, 02:35 PM
Here is some info for you:
Digital Chaperones for Kids
A Consumer Reports Online feature report
Copyright 2001 by Consumers Union of U.S., Inc., Yonkers, NY 10703. Posted by permission from the March 2001 issue of CONSUMER REPORTS ONLINEŽ. Downloading, copying, excerpting, redistributing or retransmitting of our material is prohibited without written permission from the publisher. Log on www.ConsumerReports.org. To subscribe, call 1-800-234-1645.
WHICH INTERNET FILTERS PROTECT THE BEST? WHICH GET IN THE WAY?
Are you concerned that your kids will encounter sexually explicit material online? Recent studies show that such content appears on just 2 percent of web sites. Even so, it's easy to reach a site with X-rated content, via a major search engine, using terms like "Bambi" or "adult." If you use a more suggestive word for the search, you will be steered to hundreds of sexually oriented sites. Pornography isn't the only troublesome area. According to the Simon Wiesenthal Center, there are now some 3,000 hate-promoting web sites. Countless other sites accessible to children promote drug use, fraud, or bomb-making.
The federal government hasn't been effective at restricting children's access to sexually oriented content online. The Supreme Court struck down one law, the Communications Decency Act, on First Amendment grounds. In December 2000 Congress passed the Children's Internet Protection Act. This legislation would require schools and libraries that want federal funding to filter objectionable Internet content.
The only federal law offering explicit protection to young web surfers at home is the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, which prohibits any web site from collecting a child's personal information without parental consent.
Who has the primary responsibility for protecting children when they go online at home? The parents of the 26 million U.S. youngsters who surf the web, that's who.
According to a recent survey by Jupiter Research, seven out of ten parents handle the issue by being present when their kids go online. Only 6 percent use stand-alone filtering software, products that promise to steer kids clear of undesirable material.
Does that small minority know something? Can a technological fix substitute for a parent's watchful eye? In 1997, when we first tested this kind of software, the answer clearly was no. But since then, the number of software filters has grown from a handful to well over a dozen. Internet giant America Online (AOL) comes with parental controls that filter content.
Is the present generation of filtering software any better than its predecessors? To find out, we bought nine of the most widely used titles, ranging in price from $39 to $80. Most are written only for Windows computers, not Macintoshes. We also tested AOL's parental controls.
Some filters proved to be so simplistic or so complex to set up effectively that we didn't test them fully. And a few dropped off the market while our tests were under way. In the end, we rated six products plus AOL's parental controls.
The basics of filtering
Each product we tested filters web content by interposing itself between your computer's web browser and Internet connection, then preventing objectionable content from getting through. Some let you decide in advance whether to filter different types of content, such as profanity or sex information. Depending on the product and how a user configures it, a child trying to access an off-limits site may receive a warning message, a browser error message, or a partial view of the blocked site. Sometimes, the browser itself will shut down.
Filtering-software designers use one of three approaches to determining whether a site merits blocking:
Software analysis. A site's contents can be rapidly analyzed by software. The filter may render a judgment at the time a child tries to access a site, or check a list of sites to block. The presence of certain phrases or images may render the site objectionable.
While efficient, software analysis has its drawbacks. The software may decide to block a web site that's completely above reproach only because it contains a prohibited word. It may partially block a site, preventing text from appearing but letting through photos or onscreen images with embedded text. Or it may block images but not text. Most software we tested blocked both words and images.
For example, in 1999 Dr. Jamie McKenzie, publisher of an online journal about educational technology, found his site blocked by a major filtering product, which warned users that McKenzie's site was in the "sexually explicit" category because it contained a file named adult.html. The blocking was lifted after McKenzie complained.
Human analysis. Some companies have their staff review sites individually, then place them on a list to be blocked or designated as suitable for children. This time-consuming process limits the number of sites that can be reviewed. Given the web's volatility, chances are that numerous objectionable sites will remain perpetually outside the reviewers' scrutiny.
Site labeling. Several of the products we tested incorporate a popular ratings system run by the nonprofit Internet Content Ratings Association (ICRA). This program, in which web-site owners voluntarily label their content, has been around for several years. The ICRA system recently expanded its labeling to include drugs, alcohol, tobacco, and weapons, plus the context in which words appear.
Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser can filter sites using these labels, including the expanded ICRA labeling. (You'll find it listed as "content advisor" under Internet Options in the Explorer menu.) Netscape's browser doesn't have the feature.
We found this feature in Explorer ineffective as the sole filtering technique, because the many sexually explicit sites that aren't rated won't be blocked. You can set the feature to block all unrated sites. But that will block so many unrated conventional sites--including, for example, the White House, the U.S. Senate, the House of Representatives, and the Supreme Court--that it makes browsing pointless.
Site labeling also depends on the honesty with which sites rate themselves. We found one site containing profanity that slipped past Explorer's filter because the site owner chose a label that didn't accurately reflect the site's content. Until far more sites suitable for children are properly labeled, labeling must be considered a complement to other filtering techniques, rather like motion-picture ratings.
How well do filters block bad stuff?
Our main test determined how well the filters blocked objectionable content. We configured all six products for a 13- to 15-year-old; we also tested AOL's Young Teen (ages 13 to 15) and Mature Teen (ages 16 to 17) parental controls. We pitted them all against a list of 86 easily located web sites that contain sexually explicit content or violently graphic images, or that promote drugs, tobacco, crime, or bigotry.
AOL's Young Teen control, the best by far, allowed only one site through in its entirety, along with portions of about 20 other sites. All the other filters allowed at least 20 percent of the sites through in their entirety. Net Nanny displayed parts of more than a dozen sites, often with forbidden words expunged but graphic images intact.
Why did Young Teen perform so well? According to AOL, the Young Teen control lets kids see only the sites on its approved list, while Mature Teen blocks access to a list of prohibited sites. Kids could view an inappropriate site just because it wasn't on the Mature Teen list. (AOL considers the lists proprietary and does not disclose the number of sites on them.)
Only a few filters were able to block certain inappropriate sites. In some cases, that probably reflected differences in filtering techniques more than differences in judgment. Faulty though it may be, for example, filtering based on objectionable words apparently helped Net Nanny and Internet Guard Dog intercept a site with instructions on bomb-making that eluded most others.
However, differences in judgment seem the most likely explanation for why only Cyber Patrol and both AOL controls blocked the Operation Rescue anti-abortion web site, which contains photos of aborted fetuses. Such differences raise questions about how people decide what gets blocked.
Do filters block good stuff?
In some cases, filters block harmless sites merely because their software does not consider the context in which a word or phrase is used. Far more troubling is when a filter appears to block legitimate sites based on moral or political value judgments.
Prominent filters like Cyber Patrol and Cybersitter 2000 may make some people suspect that value judgments come into play because their makers refuse to divulge the blocked-site lists. In October 2000, the Library of Congress ruled that such lists could be made public by anyone who could decipher the data files in which they are stored.
To see whether the filters interfere with legitimate content, we pitted them against a list of 53 web sites that featured serious content on controversial subjects.
Results varied widely. While most blocked only a few sites, Cybersitter 2000 and Internet Guard Dog blocked nearly one in five. AOL's Young Teen control blocked 63 percent of the sites. According to AOL, its staff and subscriber parents choose the sites kids are allowed to see using this control, with an emphasis on educational and entertainment sites. Our test sites may have been blocked because they didn't meet AOL's criteria, not because they were controversial.
Our results cast doubt on the appropriateness of some companies' judgments. Perhaps the most extreme example of conflicting judgments: the ones applied to the site of Peacefire, an anti-filtering site that provides instructions on how to bypass filtering products. AOL, Cyber Patrol, and Cybersitter 2000, which keep their blocked-site lists secret, blocked Peacefire. Net Nanny, which makes its list public, didn't block it.
Filtering software is no substitute for parental supervision. Most of the products we tested failed to block one objectionable site in five. America Online's Young Teen (or Kids Only) setting provides the best protection, though it will likely curb access to web sites addressing political and social issues.
If you're not an AOL user but still want some restriction on your kids' access to the Internet, consider which product's features best suit your needs. Some examples:
Cyber Patrol, the most full-featured product, has the most extensive controls over when your child can go online, plus the ability to block or unblock sites that deal with sex education.
Cybersitter 2000 and Norton Internet Security 2001 both let you control access to at least 20 categories of subject matter.
Cybersitter 2000, Net Nanny, and Cyber Snoop can all keep a log of your child's online activity, including any attempts to view blocked sites.
Nearly all the filters offer some control over the disclosure of personal information, such as name and address. But we found such privacy protection too weak to rely on.
People who visit sites they don't want their kids to see can delete the browser's off-line files--where it saves copies of recently visited web pages. And you can check your child's recent online activities by reviewing the browser's history list and bookmarks. To check for any adult images your child may have downloaded from the Internet, search your hard drive for recent files with names ending in .gif, .jpg, .tif, or .zip.
Two sites that provide information on how to protect children online are www.getnetwise.org and www.safekids.com.
This article can be found at the following address. www.consumerreports.org/Special/ConsumerInterest/Reports/0103fil0.html
03-11-2002, 02:47 PM
First, I must confess that are a very technical household.
We are using JunkBusters
The folks at Junk Busters also recommend Guidescope.
Because we run our own web server, we've installed a program called SpamCop to help filter our e-mail.
03-11-2002, 02:59 PM
Thanks for all of the information. I will be checking on these products.
Does anyone on this bb have any experience with any of these packages or am I going to be the pioneer?
03-12-2002, 07:04 AM
We are NOT a high tech household! We use CyperPatrol to block what the kids can access on the Web. It has been fairly user-friendly for us "low tech" types, I am very happy with the job it does filtering stuff on the Internet. You can get a 2-week free trial at www.cyberpatrol.com.
03-12-2002, 07:33 AM
Ok, I'm going try to say this well. Sorry, I'm a librarian and censorship is a 'hot button' issue for me.
I just want to say that please be aware that these blocking software packages can NOT catch everything. Personally my biggest problem with these packages is when/if parents' expect them to do exactly that, block everything bad and nothing good. It's just not possible, and I applaude you for trying to make an education decision and protect your children.
My Aunt was getting a lot of x-rated spam on her e-mail and was very concerned that her teenage son was getting the same kind of stuff via their ISP.
Stepping off the soapbox now, and I hope I haven't offended anyone.
03-12-2002, 09:04 AM
What Leigh said is certainly a good point. You cannot trust software to do everything you may want it to do. We also have our computer in a very public area in the house so that DH and I can easily see what the kids are looking at.
That said, I have to say that, to my knowledge, CyberPatrol has never allowed something to "get through" that we don't want the kids to see. I have even tested it by putting in the names of a number of objectionable Web sites, all of which were blocked.
Several times our older (13) son has wanted to check out a Web site that was blocked for reasons that were not clear. So I checked it out, using the password, and if it was OK I let him view it. This is what I like about this sort of software -- I don't consider it to be censorship in any way. The people who are in charge (in this case, parents) can access anything they wish, and can also control what is and isn't readily accessible on their computer. When people talk about these programs (usually in the media) they often act as if some sort of censoring monolith is going to descend on your computer and control what you see. It simply isn't the case.
03-12-2002, 09:07 AM
There is no absolute answer. I'm hoping that, at least at home, I can stop the majority of stuff that is bad from coming through. I get really tired of seeing it myself.
Our pc is centrally located and we monitor what the kids are doing on the pc. They are getting older and doing homework assignments on the internet. I can't and shouldn't hang over their shoulders every moment that they are on the computer. They have access to the internet at the library and at school. The schools are using some filtering, the library does not. When they are not at home, I hope that we are instilling a sense of right and wrong and moral values. Particularly, "that just because we can doesn't mean we should". This world is full of temptation, that we cannot avoid, but we can find ways to deal with it. That's what I hope they learn.
03-12-2002, 09:47 AM
We tried Lifeway Online for a while but it often would not allow us to search for medical terms and really slowed our internet speed down. Ultimately, we decided to place our computer with internet access in an area where we could monitor closely when our children were using the computer and they have very strict guidelines as to internet usage. For example, our 5-year-old son knows that, when we log on to nickjr.com for him, he is only allowed to play the games and never, ever to change screens. Changing screens is an adult function. If he decides to take that function upon himself, he will lose internet privileges.
It is a very hard decision and will vary from person to person. Also consider that, even if you filter your internet at home, if you have children in school or children that visit public libraries or friends' homes, they may have unfiltered internet access there.
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