Web Filters.


Contents


Introduction

To protect children and others from pornography, some innovative Web software vendors have developed filtering programs that attempt to identify and screen the web addresses of known pornographic sites.

 

Less than one percent of Internet browsers currently operate using these filters, primarily because they are too complex and difficult to use, and even when used are ineffective, often allowing pornographic material to slip though. Below an adult site is being displayed despite apparent efforts of Cyber Patrol to block it.

Currently there are more than 40 million web sites and tens of thousands of adult web sites, with new adult sites being added everyday. Moreover, current adult web sites often change their addresses. Most developers are fully aware that it is essentially impossible to keep track of them all.

Pornographic material on the Web can flow freely into any computer that uses one of the commercial browsers from Prodigy, American-on-Line, or CompuServe, as well as Netscape or Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. In order to limit this material a number of filter programs have been developed. Most of these programs provide a useful but limited block to adult sites. Filter programs rely on a database of known adult sites. It is estimated that their are more than 50,000 adult sites with many more web pages. However, web filters are usually limited to restricting less than 5 percent of these sites. Thus, they focus on limiting the most popular or well known sites. Moreover, hundreds of new adult sites are added weekly. Filters are unable to block sites that are new. Taken together these limitations make the filter programs little more than a one foot fence. They block access, especially for very young children, but are ineffective for children ten or older who have an interest in finding adult material.

Probably the best approach is to talk to young people about these issues. See Tips.

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Surf Watch

SurfWatch is software filter which blocks sexually explicit material on the Internet. It blocks known sites from a database maintained by Surf Watch. The program checks names of news groups and chat channels and websites and filters out those that have known adult oriented content. For a monthly fee, the filter database is constantly updated.

Features

FamilyPC "The list of questionable material is based on SurfWatch's database of sites. However, you can't specify any sites of your own -- the product's major drawback....The software ships with over 1500 blocked sites and offers monthly updates for downloading (for an additional $5.95 per month), but SurfWatch does not give you additional tools for custom Internet blocking." 

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Cyber Patrol

 Cyber Patrol blocks access to adult sites on the Internet. Cyber Patrol blocks access to WWW, ftp and gopher by site name (down to the file directory or page); Usenet, by newsgroup name (including a wildcard * extension) and Internet Relay Chat (IRC) by both name and identified words/phrases. Executables files on PCs, such as the programs for the major on-line services and games, can be blocked by both time of day and cumulative duration.

Cyber Patrol loads during start-up and runs in the background, controlling access to all associated applications. Cyber Patrol is accessed via password, and offers two levels of parental password control: Headquarters , the master password which establishes parameters for Internet and application access, and Deputy, a password which allows an authorized guardian to bypass restrictions.

$49.95 - subscription for 6 months, $19.95, 1 year $29.95

Features

Trial Version

FamilyPC "In our tests under Windows 95, however, it was far too easy to view sexually explicit images"

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Cybersitter

CyberSitter blocks sites and subject matter the user deems unacceptable. It also offers site lists for automatic blocking. Parent can add controls for games, programs and files that they want to be restricted.

39.95 - free updates to site database.

Features

Trial Version

FamilyPC "Cybersitter does a passable filtering job, but when you're moving from the more obvious to the more obscure Web addresses with adult content, blocking becomes hit-and-miss."

 


NetGuardian

NetGuardian - a product which screens accesses. to Internet sites, directories, and documents.

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Net Nanny

Net Nanny blocks various inappropriate sites and subject matter that the user identifies as unacceptable. Parents can build a collection of forbidden words. Net Nanny allows the user to monitor, screen and block access to anything residing on, or running in, out or through the user’s PC. The program works with all major Online Providers and in e-mail and IRC.

Price $49.95. No monthly site update subscription fees ever!

Features

Trial Version

FamilyPC "Setup can be complicated, and Net Nanny's constant scanning makes your system noticeably slower."
"The most difficult and frustrating aspect of Net Nanny is the dictionary itself. Parents need to select "bad" words, file types, or phrases judiciously; otherwise, everyday e-mail and word processing can be disrupted."

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The PICS Censoring Approach

To cope with the problem of pornography, bigotry and other obscene material on the Internet, Microsoft and Netscape have agreed to a rating system designed to allow censoring of unwanted content. In the most recent release of its browser, the Internet Explorer, Microsoft included an Internet Ratings feature that included a rating scheme based on the Platform for Internet Content Selection (PICS) standard. Microsoft’s browser will examine the content of a web site for a PICS rating and based on this rating allow users to control access to the material at the web site.

Three fundamental problems exist with this approach. First, it relies on web sites to post a rating that conforms to the PICS standard. Perhaps many adult oriented sites will, although the decision to do so is strictly voluntary. Some may be opposed to the PICS rating scheme, and some may just not bother.

Second, the PICS rating scheme is a complicated taxonomy of language and media content that few people are familiar with. It requires making subtle distinctions about content where evidence of the ability to make these distinctions reliably and consistently is missing.

Third, and most importantly, the approach puts the decision as to what material is acceptable or not into the hands of someone other than the parent.

The PICS approach used by Microsoft and Netscape is a weak and feeble effort which provides very little protection and permits minimal parental control of content. Overall, it is likely to be ineffective in providing parents with any sense of security that their children will be protected while using the Internet. Currently, it is rarely adopted and employed and protects children from less than 5 percent of adult sites.

Clearly, if Microsoft or Netscape thought this was an important issue they would have solved it. Apparently, they either do not think it is important or are not concerned with it.

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Voluntary Content Rating System (from Solid Oak Software, the makers of Cybersitter)

In response to the complexity of the PICS rating system announced a new voluntary web page rating system that will enable WWW publishers to insert a simple, one line code in their WWW documents to identify objectionable content. The VCR (Voluntary Content Rating) System is already supported by CYBERsitter and has been incorporated into many WWW pages from publishers of adult or mature oriented material world wide. To date several thousand publishers of adult or mature content web sites have been contacted, and the response has been very positive.

How does this differ from the PICS standard?

The purpose of the VCR system is to give publishers an alternative to the extremely complicated PICS compliant rating system. The average web page publisher will have a very difficult time trying to figure out how to rate their web pages so that PICS compliant browsers and other software will be able to properly read their codes. There are thousands upon thousands of web page publishers. Basically PICS would require that every web site be rated, no matter what the content. This is a massive undertaking. It is estimated that 30,000 new web pages are published everyday. Why should those publishing totally innocent web pages have to comply with a rating system standard because of a relative few adult web site publishers?

What about cost?

In the spirit of the Internet, participation in the VCR system is totally voluntary and will always be free. In contrast, while PICS participation is now free, we believe that it will eventually be a giant profit center for ratings services. One PICS compliant rating service is RSAC (Recreational Software Advisory Council). The RSAC already rates computer software titles for content. This rating system involves a fee based on the annual gross income of the software publisher. We believe that it is simply a matter of time until all web page publishers will have to pay a one time or annual fee to have their pages rated.

This will ultimately lead to a time when every little "Home Page" publisher will have to pay an annual fee for the right to publish their home page. At Solid Oak Software, while we and our products fully support all ratings systems, we believe that a "fee for rating" system will be an unacceptable outcome of what was originally supposed to be a system to protect young Internet surfers from areas not intended for their viewing.

Is the VCR system complicated?

In contrast to PICS compliant ratings systems where there are several dozen possible ratings, rating the content using the VCR system web pages is extremely simple. There are 2 basic categories, "mature" and "adult". Sites rated as "Adult" would typically include material intended for an audience 18 years of age or older. Sites rated as "Mature" would contain material not suitable for children under the age of 13. The parent or other concerned adult will be able select the level of blocking desired.

For an automated response with instructions on how to add the VCR System codes to HTML documents please send mail to: ratings@solidoak.com. No subject or message is necessary.

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