Good vs Free

Jun 23, 2011

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Over the last 12 years of my career I have worked in the Content Filtering, Internet Security and parental control segments of the technology market. I have seen many "free" solutions announced, then launched, then sputter, and finally die or become irrelevant. Although I am not a marketing expert, I do have an informed opinion about the reasons for the majority of these Epic Failures.

To completely understand these "free failures" you must first acknowledge that good protection tools are never 100% complete. These tools require constant tweaking to be effective, accurate, and remain good.

The tools to provide true Content Filtering and parental controls are constantly changing. 10 years ago a filter that contained a 2 million URL list and the categories of content found on said URLs, coupled with protection for all HTTP traffic was considered fairly robust. Now it would be laughable.

Today's protection requirements are more inclusive, they require Real time Dynamic Contextual Analysis to look at each web page and determine the content type found on that page in real time not what it contained 2 days ago or even an hour ago. The technology of generically "stamping" a URL as a single type of content is no longer effective. Imagine saying that everything on youtube.com is considered "entertainment" or saying everything on wikipedia.com is educational. Accurate filtering and analysis requires technology that is constantly tuned to recognize new types of sites and content.

Protection that is truly effective also requires more than standard web filtering for your browser.  Comprehensive protection should cover things like Social Networking, Instant Messages, Video Games, Time Controls, Blogging and messaging sites, etc.

To continue to provide updates and features to truly protect a computer for all emerging technologies and, to continue to have an accurate filtering technology for web pages the technology must be a "living work" constantly tweaked and updated. The methods to detect inappropriate content or other Internet dangers are constantly evolving.

Free solutions "such as the Parental Controls in Windows 7", are not constantly updated and are not concerned about expanding to provide protection in all aspects of computer usage. These free products are typically intended to fill in a check mark that says "parental controls" or "content filtering".  

Most of the free solutions fail because when used as a "serious solution" they are ineffective, inaccurate or not comprehensive enough to provide the peace of mind protection that users are seeking.

When evaluating solutions here are 20 questions I would consider asking.

Does it actually filter or just go off a list of naughty websites?

Will it filter both http and https content?

Will it protect against inappropriate image and video searches?

Will it protect on Social Media sites?

Will it protect on websites where the content is always changing and is user generated such as youtube?

Can I monitor the profiles and activity on Social Media sites?

Is the protection confined to an Internet Browser or are all applications protected?

Will it protect/monitor/block Instant Messages?

Will it protect/monitor/block Web based chat?

Will it allow me to limit the times the Internet  can be accessed or create an allotment of time online?

Can I control what games are played or installed by name or ESRB rating?

Will this monitor or protect the online interaction within video games?

Can I be notified when there is a block or potential Internet danger detected?

Can I monitor or view the activity of the computer remotely?

Is there anything to prevent a user from disabling or uninstalling the solution?

Can I have different settings for different users?

Can the solution block posts or uploads to the internet?

Can the solution block access to programs that could download inappropriate or illegal content?

How will the solution react when it finds profanity?

Is the solution updated regularly to protect protection for new technologies and threats?

The maintenance to continue providing a "good" solution is labor intensive. Free solutions don't even attempt to provide all the needed updates and additions to the technology because "There's no money in it".