Filtering Programs: online safety for children
What are they and do they work?
Child safety online is a constant concern for parents. So how can you be sure they're protected when you're not around? Probably the best way to secure online safety is to invest in a filtering program. With varying degrees of success, these programs prevent unsuitable websites from being viewed
Filter programs are no substitute for real parental controls; neither are they entirely successful. They've been known to block perfectly appropriate sites. If your child has a human biology project and needs material on breast cancer, filter programs may prevent key sites from being displayed due to the word 'breast'.
Unfortunately, sites specifically and safely aimed at teenagers can also be blocked, because many sex sites include 'teen' in their title or keywords. Filter programs would successfully block your child from looking at 'Club Eighteen' a pornographic site, but would also stop them from looking at 'Teens vs. dyslexia' (aimed at helping children with reading/writing difficulties).
Filter programs cause difficulties because they almost always include a list of 'hit words'. If these words appear in a page title or in 'keywords' used by search engines, they won't be displayed.
As Internet pornographers and others who run 'adult' sites have found, the use of these keywords vastly increases visitor numbers. To ensure filter programs work to their best effect, you need to keep the list of suggested 'hit words' otherwise you're likely to get a mixture of appropriate and inappropriate sites being displayed.
Most programs include an updating service that provides a complete list of actual 'banned' web sites. This means that even if these sites don't use keywords, your child can't view them.