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The Internet has changed our lives in ways absolutely unforeseen even ten years ago. Much like walking into an all-you-can-eat buffet, the Internet offers unlimited and unrestricted access to anything and everything 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Who would ask for anything less?
In reality, once this steady diet of anything you could ever imagine (and more!) started settling in, it became obvious that along with the wealth of useful information the Internet gives us, it also serves up a fair share of unsavory content. And that is why Internet filters were created-to help those who want all the benefits of the Internet, without exposure to easy-to-access material that may not fit into one's personal value system.
There are literally as many different approaches to Internet filtering as there are filter producers, each with their respective advocates and critics. Unfortunately no filtering product is foolproof. There are currently several lawsuits pending that deal with the issues of filtering in public schools and libraries, as well as in the business sector. These issues will be dealt with in future editions of this newsletter; but for our purposes today, we will be focusing on the facts and fiction surrounding home filters.
In order to understand why the popularity of filters has fizzled of late, it is necessary to understand the basic technologies that have been used and their inherent weaknesses. Filters 101 will offer a brief filter overview, while Filters-The Next Generation will show you how new filtering technology is solving the problems and responding to the needs of users.
All filters are alike in theory, but different in approach.
The goal behind virtually all Internet filters is to block accessibility to certain types of content. How this is accomplished (or in many cases, not accomplished) varies greatly. There are two basic approaches: server-based and client-based.
Server-based filtering originates on a central computer (or server) within a local area network or at the Internet Service Provider (ISP). Many ISPs offer their users the option of filtered Internet service. There are also some filtered ISPs that offer no choice-their mission is to provide their users with "protected Internet usage."
With server-based technology, pre-determined websites are blocked before they get to the user's computer. Typically, the service provider decides what is appropriate or inappropriate content. Another approach is to offer users a "white list." Rather than filtering out what is deemed inappropriate when access is attempted, the white list service providers have a pre-selected group of approved-or white-listed-websites. White list programs are also referred to as "inclusion" programs.
Client-based filtering takes place on an individual computer. The filtering software and list of blocked-or allowed-sites are stored on the user's computer, offering more flexibility and letting the user decide what content is acceptable. Many client-based filters also offer controls for email, chat, and newsgroups.
Within these two styles of filtering, there are many different blocking methods. Among the most common techniques are to block by key word, website address, IP address, or human review, each with its own advantages and disadvantages.
Though no filter product is perfect, proponents agree that the benefits of filtering outweigh the negatives, particularly when it comes to protecting children-just as seat belts in cars are still valued even if they don't prevent all injuries. The benefits that filter buyers are most often looking for include:
On the other hand, those who have experienced filter-failure and have abandoned their filters, cite the following as reasons:
It is true that first-generation filters have been fraught with problems, and it may seem as if blocking technology has been eclipsed by the innovations that pornographers are using to get onto your PC monitor and into your hard drive (see Tricks Pornographers Play. But if you have had your fill of filters, don't give up yet. The next generation of filters is emerging, and the future looks bright.
It is apparent from examining the shortcomings of first-generation filters that no single approach will resolve all the issues contributing to filter-failure. An integrated technology that includes both server-based and client-based filtering, as well as client-based control, is needed to win back the confidence of frustrated filter users.
ContentWatch Inc. has addressed each of the above concerns with the result being the premier filtering product of the next generation, Net Nanny. Utilizing both client-based and server-based technology, Net Nanny provides two levels of protection for the user, as it monitors and filters a wide range of Internet protocols, including web and chat.
What sets Net Nanny ahead of the pack is the formula that is used for categorizing and analyzing websites. Rather than just looking for words or URLs that may be objectionable, the Net Nanny formula contains a list of "indicators" (words, phrases, website links, meta tags, and web objects) that when analyzed altogether indicate a higher likelihood of a site being pornographic, or gambling-related, etc. This unique formula gives Net Nanny the ability to evaluate sites that contain only graphical objects, and even foreign languages. Then, at that point, the user is empowered to determine the action to be taken. Net Nanny recognizes that different users will have different values, which is why the decision-making tools are given to the user.
Another feature unique to Net Nanny is the ability to analyze each page of a website rather than blocking the entire site because one page has questionable content. For example, if a user has the filter set to block adult-mature content but to allow news, and they try to access CNN, as a news site it would be accessible. But if one page in the CNN site covers a story that contains content that is adult/mature (according to the sensitivity set by the user), that particular page would be blocked, not the whole site, as with most filters.
Parents will be most interested in the remote management feature of Net Nanny that allows them to remotely disable access to specific categories and services, or completely disable Internet access. For example, if a parent is away at work (or vacationing in Cancun!) they can view in real time what their children are doing at home on the Internet or in a chat room, and can disable their children's access instantaneously. Email notifications can also be sent to a remote address notifying the parents of inappropriate activity. To manage their family's Internet activity by remote, all a parent needs is access to the Internet, anywhere, any time.
In addition, parents can access online reports to find out about any past Internet activity. Net Nanny offers graphical web-based, drill-down reports, allowing parents to view as little or as much detail as they want from any computer with web access. These reports can be an invaluable tool in comparing and determining the family's use, or misuse, of the Internet.
Read on to see how Net Nanny is the answer to concerns about previous filtering technology:
Whether you purchase ContentWatch products, or buy from our competitors, we encourage you to get the level of protection you need for your computer. With the wide range of effective Internet technology solutions available today-from scans to cleanup tools and monitors to filters-control of the Internet is back where it belongs, in the hands of the users.
--For more information on Net Nanny, or to buy now, click here.