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Latest trends in Web filtering

GetParentalControls.org has not only done parents a service in testing and ranking 9 top filtering products, they noticed some key trends in the process. First, the winners of their three categories for effective filtering are NetNanny in both the Editor’s Choice and Most Secure categories and K9 Web Protection in the Most Accurate category. They invited the 20 companies in their product guide to participate, but only nine did. Here’s their ranking, based on accuracy, security, manageability, and features, are NetNanny (5 stars out of 5), Norton Online Family (4.5), Safe Eyes (4.5), BSecure Online (4), and CyberPatrol (4), BitDefender (3.5), BrightFilter (3.5), and Optenet (3.5). For “intuitive, easy to manage interface,” GPC’s favorite is Safe Eyes. For well-rounded online parenting, they Norton Online Family and BSecure were their top picks (they used the term “well-rounded parental control,” but there’s (see “Soft-power parenting works better,” linking to Cornell University professor Sahara Byrne’s study on parenting new-media users).

Even more interesting to me are the trends. First, because the US filtering market’s greatest interest is in blocking adult content (as opposed to violence, hate, etc.), that’s where the most innovation and improvement has appeared, GPC reports, with the nine filters blocking “between 97% and 100% of our sample of commercial pornography sites, consistent with other recent filtering tests that score in the mid to high 90s.” But there has been improvement in overblocking too, with 0-7% of sexual education and health sites getting blocked (“breast cancer” information being the most frequently cited example of what gets over-blocked). All nine also did a very good job at blocking explicit search results (as opposed to Web sites), “most using a combination of locking in the ‘safe search’ settings for major search engines and their own keyword filtering,” GPC reports.

The record isn’t so good with sites depicting violence. Most of the filters caught between 77% and 87% of well-known gory sites they tested – “not good enough for protecting young children.”

Despite all we’ve heard all the workarounds kids have for filters, GPC found that these products were also pretty good at beating at least the more basic ones. They tested “10 publicly available filter circumvention techniques” of the simpler variety on the filters – “free proxies; search engine caches; online translation sites; Internet archive sites, and reverse IP lookups” and more advanced ones (e.g., “unknown secure proxies, SSL VPN clients, efforts to halt the product at the command line, and dedicated circumvention client software running on a USB stick”). They found that most of the filters handled the simpler workarounds just fine, but “a determined, sophisticated user can find ways to circumvent most of these products,” GPC found, offering a lot more detail on this in the article.

Some parents have “determined, sophisticated” young Net users at their house, so the No. 1 safety tip still is: talk with your kid. Right? Through an ongoing, calm conversation, we can know what the benefits – and limitations – of technology are for our children’s online experiences, calibrating or eliminating as they grow. More importantly, though, we’ll also see the benefits of helping them develop the filter in their heads that’s with them wherever they go.

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3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Just posted a link to your site on mine. Hope it will help raise awareness for the Mom’s that visit. I can’t believe your boys are already 18 and 13. How time flies.

    November 12, 2010
  2. Hi Ann: Now that Amelia is at the age of wanting to spend more time online, I am finally checking into this great site. Great information. Will be a frequent visitor. Tell everyone in the ‘ole neighborhood hello. Farewell from Seattle.

    November 12, 2010

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