Parental Control Software
Parents who cannot directly supervise all of their kids' hours online should consider using software to help control web surfing. Similar in some respects to controls on TV viewing, the software can:
  • block specific websites entirely
  • mask offensive content within sites, like certain words, phrases, or images
  • prohibit web usage at set times of the day or week
  • permit e-mails only to or from a list of addresses that you approve
  • track web usage after the fact, including the sites visited
However, even the most sophisticated parental control software has limitations:
  • No software is likely to mimic your own decision making process perfectly.
  • Some web content that you would find inappropriate will get through.
  • Some acceptable web content will be blocked.
  • Tech-savvy kids might figure out ways to circumvent the software.
  • The software is only a tool. You cannot delegate all decision making to it.
Software vendors use three strategies, alone or in combination, to evaluate websites:
  • Human reviewers evaluate websites, preferably along several dimensions (e.g., sexuality, violence), and suggest age restrictions. The vast, growing, and changing web means that only a very small percentage of sites can be reviewed. You also cannot be certain in advance if a given vendor's reviewers reflect your values.
  • Computerized reviews search for words and phrases that suggest questionable content. This also is imperfect: the word "adult" in a file name might block a site about adult education, for example. Meanwhile, because computerized reviews of photos are in their infancy, inappropriate image content can

    slip through if there are no taboo words.
  • Self-ratings from website owners are collected by the Internet Content Rating Association (ICRA), but this group does not guarantee accuracy or consistency.

To learn more, continue to Choosing and Using Parental Control Software

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