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CBC MARKETPLACE: HEALTH » INTERNET FILTERS
Do internet filters work?
Broadcast: October 22, 2002 | Reporter: Jacquie Perrin; Producer: Richard Wright; Researcher: Colman Jones

Critics say net monitoring software is a waste of time and money.

In April 2002, Toronto city councillors called on public libraries to equip their computers with Internet filters - that's software designed to prevent kids from gaining access to sexually explicit, violent, seditious or hate mongering websites.

Critics say that policy is a waste of time and money.

Among those critics is Bennett Hasleton. The 20-something computer whiz from Seattle created a website —and an international reputation— for criticizing filters, blockers and monitoring software, programs he calls "censorware."

"I’ve always thought of it as a support group for people who are too smart to buy into the conventional wisdom about kids and the internet," Hasleton said.


Bennett Hasleton fights what he calls "censorware"

Gordon Ross —CEO of NetNanny— caters to what Hasleton calls the conventional wisdom. "There’s certain things I don’t think children should be into," said Ross.

NetNanny is one of the better-known Internet filters. Others include CyberSitter and CyberPatrol. There are more than a hundred of these products, available from computer stores or from the Internet for about $40.

"What we monitor and look at is mainly child pornography. We keep the kids out of those sites, adult pornography, pedophilia, and chat rooms where they may be solicited," Ross explained.

Bennett Hasleton doesn’t think Ross —or anyone else— should be defining what young people should have access to. His website (PeaceFire.org) helps kids fight the "censorware" their parents may have installed.

"We have a program on our site that’s clearly labelled as the tool for disabling NetNanny," Hasleton said.


NetNanny's Gordon Ross takes aim at child porn on the web

Ross suggests Hasleton might change his mind if he had kids or grandchildren of his own. But he might have a harder time dismissing some of the other well-known critics of filtering software.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the American Library Association oppose mandatory filters in schools and public libraries in the U.S.

'Parent best filter': Cdn Library Ass'n

The Canadian Library Association says filtering software often keeps out the good with the bad. The association says the best filter is the child’s parent or guardian.

Cathy Wing makes a point of talking to her teenaged-daughter Julia about the Internet. She’s a media education specialist with the Media Awareness Network, an Ottawa-based organization.

Last year, the organization surveyed 1,000 parents and 6,000 young people across the country and turned up some interesting and some alarming statistics.

"What we found was a big disconnect between what parents thought their kids were doing on the Internet and what kids were actually doing on the Internet," said Wing.

The survey asked about chat rooms, for example. They are infamous for the opportunity they provide adults, misrepresenting themselves as kids, to stalk young people.

Among the survey's findings:

  • 70 per cent of 13 and 14 year olds visit chat rooms
  • 60 per cent of 11 and 12 year olds visit chat rooms
  • 20 per cent of parents know their kids visit chat rooms

Those kinds of statistics concern Toronto parent Daryl Monaghan. When we first talked to the father of four —five years ago— he had just installed NetNanny.

When we checked back with him, Monaghan said the product didn't work for him. He says people are getting craftier about disguising the true nature of their sites.

"People who create these sites are a heck of a lot smarter than me and they know how to get information through the Internet so people can see it," said Monaghan.

Filters 80 per cent effective: study

An Australian study released in March 2002 says filters are only 80 per cent effective at stopping the bad stuff. Gordon Ross says all he can do is try to keep up with every new gambit.

"We continually search the web ourselves. We also have organizations we work with who submit lists to us that have been pre-screened," said Ross.

Monaghan says filters can be too effective, blocking a lot of things they should let through, like recipes that include chicken breasts. That same filter could prevent kids from doing research on breast cancer.

Ross says the simple answer is turn the filter off for special projects:

"If the child is going out there and doing a sex education report for school, the parent can always do an override and let the child go, but the child would have to go and ask the parent for that."

16-year-old James Monaghan calls filtering software a waste of money. "Any kid who knows his way around a computer can crack his way through it," he says.

James told us he was able to find pretty much anything on the web once he found his way around the filtering software.

Both generations of the Monaghan family have concluded that enlisting technology to fight technology may not be the best answer.

"I would say the best principle is no unsupervised access if you’re uncomfortable with children on the Internet," Daryl Monaghan said.

Cathy Wing of the Media Awareness Network makes a distinction between children and teens:

"We’re saying that when kids are younger it can be a very handy tool. We’re saying understand the drawbacks of filters, and don’t let it replace adult supervision."

NEXT: Internet filtering policies in selected Canadian libraries »


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INTERNET FILTERS: MAIN PAGE POLICIES AT SELECT LIBRARIES
MORE MARKETPLACE: ARCHIVES: YOUR HEALTH AND SAFETY
RELATED:

CBC News Indepth: Spam

Schools test ways to filter porno websites (May 29, 2003)

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Yahoo! rejects French court ban on Nazi-related sites (November 10, 2000)

Gadget filters hate from Net (November 12, 1998)

EXTERNAL LINKS:

CBC does not endorse and is not responsible for the content of external sites. Links will open in new window.

Filtering software:

NetNanny

CyberSitter

CyberPatrol

Surfwatch

BESS

SurfControl

SmartFilter

X-Stop

SafeSurf

WebSENSE

SafeExplorer

Other links:

Young Canadians In A Wired World: Student Survey - from the Canadian Media Awareness Network

An Investigation of Internet Content and Online Safety Issues: Literature Review

Filtering Tools

Recommended Resources

Peacefire - site run by Bennett Haselton, "created in August 1996 to represent the interests of people under 18 in the debate over freedom of speech on the Internet"

The Censorware Project, formed by a group of writers and internet activists in late 1997

Filtering Software: The Religious Connection by Nancy Willard, M.S. J.D.

Blacklisted by Cyber Patrol: From Ada to Yoyo - a report from The Censorware Project

The X-Stop Files - October 1997 essay by attorney Jonathan Wallace

Effectiveness of Internet Filtering Software Products - prepared for NetAlert and the Australian Broadcasting Authority by Paul Greenfield, Peter Rickwood, Huu Cuong Tran

Faulty Filters: How Content Filters Block Access to Kid-Friendly Information on the Internet - December 1997, Electronic Privacy Information Center

Internet Filter Assessment Project

Access Denied, Version 2.0 - December 1999 report by the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation

Digital chaperones for kids - Consumer Reports feature report March 2001

Internet Filtering in Public Libraries, a memorandum from Jenner and Block

American Civil Liberties Union site on the trial concerning the U.S. Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA), passed in December 2000 that ties crucial library funding to the mandated use of blocking programs on Internet terminals used by both adults and minors in public libraries

Text of CIPA, passed as part of massive omnibus appropriations bill H.R. 4577

Electronic Frontier Foundation analysis of CIPA

Additional information on CIPA

Parent's Guide --blocking and Filtering

GetNetWise, information and assistance in guiding children online, with Internet Safety Tips, Tools for Families, How to Report Trouble Online, and a Guide to Good Content

FilterReview.com

Family Based Filtered Internet Service Providers

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