Bit of a claim. It is said that no child web filter can be 100% effective, and I would say that this probably isn’t fully effective, however it does a lot more than any other filter on the market, and whats more – it’s absolutely, 100% free. But more on that later.
One of the big topics of discussion at the moment is the Australian Government’s Internet Filtering plan. One of the biggest problems, despite the possibility of it being used to restrict access to material that the Government objects to, is that the filter itself is highly ineffective, less so than many commercially available filters – which are themselves less than perfect.
Many of these filters, while blocking many sites, will allow a large number of sites through. How many? Well, let’s assume that most filters are around 99% effective. That sounds like a good number, right? In January 2008, a Netcraft report suggested that there were 156 Million websites. In March 2009, Netcraft reported that there were nearly 225 Million sites, an increase of 9 million sites from the month before. If your censorship software is 99% effective, that’s 2.25 Million websites that can possibly leak through your software. What’s worse is that if there were about 9 million new websites every month, your censorship software cannot possibly keep up with the large number of new websites containing material you might not want your children seeing. Sure, they might eventually get added to the filter software, but eventually is not really good enough is it?
Filtering software – safe as condoms
Recently, Pope Benedict said in an interview that the distribution of condoms in Africa can lead to the increased spread of HIV/AIDS. Despite being attacked by the French Government, aid groups and much of the Western Media, he does have a point – he just said it the wrong way. There is an AIDS epidemic in Africa, there’s no denying that. And condoms can help prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. However, what the Pope was trying to indicate was that if condoms are distributed freely as a way to try and curb the epidemic, it will only make people think that it’s safe to have sex, if you’re wearing a condom. Now, condoms can break, and are ineffective if used incorrectly. So it is idiotic to think that a condom alone will prevent the spread of AIDS. Also, with the more condoms in the area, the more likely people will be having sex. Simple numbers here – let’s say that in a sample population, 100 people have sex with no condoms, and of those, 2 people contract HIV. Now in a similar populations where condoms are freely available, 1000 people have sex, and 10 people contract HIV. Now the percentage is less in the larger population, but more people have HIV.
Now, unlike the Pope, I’m not going to say that we shouldn’t have condoms. However, they can’t be the only measure. We need to use the Pope’s suggestion of behaviour modification, along with the availability of condoms, to fix this problem. Teach them that sex can be a risk best left alone, but if you’re going to do it, be safer about it.
Now how does this relate to internet filtering software? Simple – Internet filtering software fails because it gives a false sense of security. Install the software, and then you can allow your child to roam free on the web, because the software will block all the sites that you don’t want them seeing, right? Wrong! As I’ve already pointed out, an unacceptably large number of websites will still bypass your filter, and I don’t want to be the one you come complaining to when they do (though I would find it slightly odd if you did, as I have nothing to do with the software).
The most effective child web filter – YOU
Just like condoms alone will not fix the HIV/AIDS problem in Africa, Internet Filtering Software will not protect your child online. It is your responsibility to protect your child, and to do that in regards to the internet, you need to supervise them. When first introducing your child to the internet, you should sit alongside them at all times, allowing them to do what they want (or suggesting sites for them to go to), but just making sure they don’t click on anything that looks suss. Later on, you don’t need to sit next to them, but you should stay in the same room, just to keep an eye on them.
During this stage, internet filtering software on your computer should be a given. More than likely nothing will come down while you’re looking at legitimate websites, but there may be the odd advertisement or false link that you might not catch. The software is a backup – to catch those things you miss. Remember – mostly, you don’t see porn on your computer unless you request it.
When they get a bit older, and you can trust them more, you can let them use the computer without you being in the room. However, should you still want to watch over them, just to make sure that they are doing the right thing, installing TightVNC on the computer, and have the server running as a service on the computer might be what you want. TightVNC is a program that allows you to remotely connect to another computer and view their screen. You can set it up so you have complete control, or vision only. In this situation, I would recommend vision only – don’t want a stray swipe of the mousepad or an accidental keystroke to alert them to being monitored. Buy a cheap laptop like the eeepc and set up a wireless network at your home (make sure you secure it so no-one else can log in and steal your internet). From there, whenever they use the internet, whatever you’re doing, you can log on and view them.
Other options are logging programs, to see what they’re looking at and checking anything that looks suss.
All in all, the Government’s plan to censor our internet is the worst possible choice – it will make us think that the Government will protect us, when in fact is is giving us a false sense of security. It is your responsibility to protect your child – not the Government’s – so give your child that time. Surely it’s time well spent!