To Our Children and To Ourselves
We have a responsibility as parents to protect our children from the dangers on the internet. A filter is a critical part of this protection. We also have a responsibility for our own safety — we wouldn’t build a deck without a railing, and so we should have internet without a filter. Just to give one example of responsibility, if one of your young children picks up your smart phone or other device and plays with it, will they be protected from accidentally seeing something evil? Make sure all devices have a password lock screen so children can’t use them when you aren’t around.
Don't Leave It To The Filter
The one thing we don’t want you to think is “I have a filter, I don’t need to worry about it anymore”. Filters are not 100 percent effective; in fact 70% is a pretty good estimate for the effectiveness of a good filter.
Accountability is probably the most fool proof solution for discouraging misuse of the internet — also for adults. Most good filtering programs will also log activity online and some will send a report periodically to an accountability partner. This accountability can help discourage any curiosity to click on a questionable link.
Ultimately the best protection is a multiple level approach using accountability, parental controls, filtering, and time limits.
Types of Filters
Router Based Filters
Router based filters filter the internet as it comes into your home. A router basically acts as an internet splitter or traffic controller. It allows multiple devices to connect via a physical or wireless connection. Some routers can be configured to filter internet content at the router, if this feature is not included by default. This type of filter works well in a home with multiple computers or devices as it filters all devices that are connected to it.
Software Based Filters
Software filters are software programs that need to be installed on each device requiring a filter. This type of filter is important for portable devices like laptops that can be used outside of the home. It can also be important if other sources of internet data are available in the home (for example a neighbors wireless network or a smart phone with a hot spot connection).
Using a router based filter can be illustrated as follows: if you knew that your local water source is contaminated in some way, you would probably first install a whole house water filter (which can be compared to a router based filter). You might also add a filter to your water bottle as it can be filled outside of the house. This would be an example of a software filter. Your water bottle could be filled from the neighbors outside spigot, which is like wireless internet available from neighbors) or from another water bottle (which is like using another smart phones internet connection through a hot spot).
There are several features that you should look for in a filter (router-based or otherwise). A good filter will have all these capabilities.
Separate User Accounts
Having separate user accounts will allow you to set different settings for younger children than for adults.
A good filter will have the ability to set up accountability logs that can be sent automatically to an accountability partner.
Time constraints will allow you to limit the time the internet is available, for example turning it off at night or on Sundays.
A filter that works on all your devices or computers will keep all the settings and reporting in one place for you to review.
A good filter should not be easily disabled or bypassed.
A white list is a list of allowed websites. Most filters will allow you to create your own list of allowed websites and then limit a user to only be able to access those sites.
Most websites are given a label that filters use to decide to block or allow them. For example foxnews.com might be labelled as a news site and be allowed based on your filter settings. However on a certain day there may be a news article with some objectionable content in it. A good filter will use a technique called dynamic filtering. This is where the filter actually scans every word on the page and decides whether to block it or allow it. That means a page on a news site may be blocked on one day due to its content and another day allowed because the content has changed. Take a look at the list of common web pages listed — most filters would not block these sites based on how they are categorized. However, there is much objectionable content on each of these sites that can be blocked using dynamic filtering.
While technological tools, such as filters, are a necessary part of staying safe on the internet, they are definitely not everything. Accidental, but more often, intentional exposure to incorrect content is possible regardless of the technological solutions in place. Any determined individual will find a way around, and it doesn’t take much to think outside the box. See the infographic below for an illustration of this (click to expand).