Web filtering software

Thursday 1 January 2004

After a recent incident of a too-curious child surfing somewhere they shouldn't have, I'm looking for web filtering software for my home machine. Anyone have any recommendations? I'm not sure I want to prevent viewing so much as ensure that we know what has been viewed, but I'm considering all possibilities.


Paul Leclerc 5:53 PM on 1 Jan 2004

I've tried Net Nanny and one other one (don't remember) and found that they slowed down my son's computer to the point of being unusable. This was a 300mhz cpu and 128mb RAM on Win98. Not the speediest of systems but enough for an 8 year old.
I only looked at these solutions after he got some objectionable popups. I just ended up installing the Google toolbar which blocks popups as a feature.
It doesn't do filtering but it solves part of the problem for free with NO overhead.

Matt Goodall 9:23 AM on 2 Jan 2004

Eek, this is a problem I will probably have to tackle one day.

I can't recommend anything for web filtering from experience although I have bookmarked these for future possible use: DansGuardian ( http://dansguardian.org/ ) and Willow Proxy Server ( http://www.digitallumber.com/willow ). Willow looks particularly interesting as it uses Bayesian classification rather than some dumb blacklist. However, if you just want logging then I would imagine any HTTP proxy would provide that.

Personally, I am more concerned about the content of some of the spam email. With the web you have to go looking whereas spam just arrives. Yes, it's possible to filter the spam out (SpamBayes is great) but the "cost" of simply deleting incorrectly identifed spam is too great for my liking which means it's marked as spam and moved to a junk folder ... where anyone can read it :(. Fortunately, I came across TMDA ( http://tmda.net/ ) the other day which looks like it could be very useful for tackling this problem, as well as spam in general.

By the way, I like with your approach - don't restrict access, just make sure the kids know we know. My hope is that the threat of being discovered will be sufficient.

Ben Poole 10:45 AM on 2 Jan 2004

Echoed; with a five year old and a three year old, this is something I'm having to consider too... My home network is driven from a router which has extensive logging options, website blocks and email notification when certain URLs are used. Is that an option for you?

Richard Schwartz 10:55 AM on 2 Jan 2004

I've put Norton Internet Security on my kids' computer. Seemed to make sense since I also use other Norton products on various other machines. No real complaints. As for the question of filtering versus just tracking, I decided to turn on filtering for several reasons. I found direct evidence in the history file on my kids' computer that showed that one of them had been lured into a cascade of pop-ups, and while I trust my kids to know what is and isn't appropriate, and I don't want to discourage their curiosity, the sad fact is that there are sites out there that are deliberately designed to take advantage of kids' curiosity. The "threat of being discovered" leaves the kids with the same sense of not being trusted that filtering does, and yet it doesn't save them from the embarassment of what they might stumble into accidentally.


Matt Goodall 1:53 PM on 2 Jan 2004

Richard, you may be right about filtering vs the logging "threat" (a stronger word that I had really intended). I once typed a URL incorrectly and got some very dodgy site by mistake and although I have not personally seen the type of popups you describe it is, sadly, easy to imagine that they exist in abundance.

So perhaps the best solution is to enable content filtering and explain to the kids what it's for (protection rather than restriction) and that it can be changed if it's getting in the way. Phew, at least I have a couple of years before I have to worry about this for real.

Jonathon Duerig 4:43 PM on 2 Jan 2004

I have yet to get children, but I was on the other side of this 8 or 9 years ago. Filters are (a) dead easy to bypass, (b) tend to filter completely innocuous things (I remember being blocked from a site about Napolean's Russian campaign because there was mention of violence, and (c) are based on the 'virulence of information' theory.

If you don't trust your kids to be able to handle what they stumble across on the internet, then be there with them. Its just like television or any other media in that respect. If they aren't mature enough, only your supervision is enough. If they are mature enough, don't worry about it.

When I have children, I intend to get them private computers that aren't connected to the internet. If they want to surf the web, they can only do it on the 'family' computer with my presence. When they are mature enough, I'll connect their computers to the internet directly.

Of course, by the time I have kids, my perspective might have changed.

Ben Poole 6:36 PM on 2 Jan 2004

> Of course, by the time I have kids,
> my perspective might have changed.

Yup ;-)

Joking apart of course, you're right: it's always good to be with your children when they watch TV or go on the web... if only it were so simple in real life!

Richard Schwartz 11:58 PM on 2 Jan 2004


Filters are a lot better about their blocking now than they were 8 or 9 years ago. They're also harder to get around, though still of course not perfect by any means. Still, if the kids do learn to disable the filters, then we're dealing with an entirely different level of problem... and as a parent I'm confindent that I can deal with that if it becomes necessary.

Back to the subject of filter quality: my kids are aware of what they need to do if a site they are intersted in is blocked: they come to me to unblock it. In a year of using the filters, this has happened exactly once.

As for the practicality of requiring all Internet access to be supervised until the children are mature enough, sometimes that's not practical. If, for example a 3rd grader has a homework assignment to look something up on the net, with kids' and parents' busy schedules these days it's entirely possible that there is simply no time between school and bedtime when both kid and parent are free to surf together.


Jon Johnston 3:51 PM on 8 Jan 2004

I'll be looking into squid and squidguard in the not too distant future.
One 11 year old, 8, and 4. like I said, not too distant future.
Right now, we have one sharable Win2k box for the kids, which no doubt will change as well. However, Windows XP will not be in my home's future, so whatever I use has to be platform independent.

Nicholas Chase 12:27 PM on 18 Jan 2004

As the father who's been dealing with this for a couple of years now, I'll tell you that it's filtering or nothing, IMO. The "threat" of getting caught does nothing when your child can just tell you that it popped up from an email or a link on someone else's site.

And yes, in a perfect world, we'd be able to supervise our children all the time, but the reality is that we can't. At this point, I've choosen to pick my battles. He's not allowed to chat with random strangers (periodically he has to tell me who every single person on his buddy list is), he's not allowed to give out personal information such as his address or phone number, and he's not allowed to go to the obvious no-nos.

Having said all that, I've opted to NOT add filtering software, and instead he doesn't have a computer in his room. The only one he uses is the one in my office, where I can walk in at any moment (and frequently do) and that I use for work, so he knows that if I suddenly discover he's installed "Celebrity Nudes" (as he did a couple of years ago) he's going to be off the computer for a long, long time. (And, more importantly, I've followed through on the threat when I have caught him.)

Does it work? No idea. My feeling is this: he's seventeen now, so it may seem silly to try and block him from the obvious, but I feel like if I back off, I'm sending him a message that it's OK. (Obviously this became an issue when he was much younger.)

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