• Three Essential Requirements for Effective Internet Parental Control

    First of all, Internet parental control is not about prohibiting Internet use or monitoring your kid’s every move on the Internet. It’s not about showing who’s the boss. To achieve its goal, Internet parental control should facilitate the productive use of the Internet while avoiding the dangers that might be harmful to your children.

    Tools are needed in order to make parental control effective. But no tool can replace parent-child communication, and no tool can replace educating yourself and your children. No tool can be one hundred percent effective. A tool is simply a helper for you to achieve your goals.

    All that said, we believe that there are at least three essential requirements for an effective parental control tool: content filtering, safe search and time management.

    Without doubt, content filtering is the most important task for parental control. Generally speaking, there are two distinct approaches: filtering by keywords and filtering by domain name or URL. The former scans the contents being downloaded from the Internet and looks for keywords or combinations of keywords. A score is calculated based on the keyword scan, then the content is either allowed or blocked depending on the score. The latter is probably more accurately described as domain or URL classification: classification tags (or categories) are attached to domains or URLs, then based on these classification tags (or categories) access is either allowed or denied. Additionally, you can white list or black list individual domains or URLs. There are pros and cons for each approach.

    For keyword based content filtering, the pros are:

    • Since filtering is based on the actual content, it does not depend on the URL through which the content is being accessed with, i.e., filtering is essentially the same whether the page is accessed directly, or via a cache, or through a proxy.
    • Filtering remains effective for contents from new web sites that were not previously reviewed.

    The cons are:

    • Complicated setup is usually required.
    • It does not work on images or videos.
    • It does not work on HTTPS (secure HTTP).
    • Depending on the complexity of the filtering algorithm, false positive or negative reporting may happen. And it may be hard for an average user to tweak the keywords so that filtering is actually improved.
    • The filtering mechanism consumes considerable computer power, which may impact computer or network performance.

    The advantages for domain or URL based filtering are:

    • Easy setup.
    • Practically no performance impact.
    • Since filtering is based on domain name or URL, images and videos are blocked when the URL is blocked.
    • Works on HTTP and HTTPS.
    • Easy to override default filtering policies with customized black list or white list.

    The drawbacks are:

    • Web sites must be previously reviewed and categorized in order for it to be blocked.
    • For domain or URL based filtering to work, anonymizing web proxies and caching sites should also be blocked.

    URL based filtering is used in pcWRT. Out of the box, you can choose either OpenDNS or Norton ConnectSafe as your DNS provider. If you have a preferred DNS provider, you can enter the setting manually.

    While bad sites can be blocked by domain name or URL, their contents can still leak through the search results of search engines, especially for image searches. You can choose to block search engines altogether, but that would greatly diminish the usefulness of the Internet. Fortunately, major search engines such as Google, Yahoo and Bing offer a “safe search” mode that filters out the “bad guys” in their search results. So the best strategy is to turn on “safe search”, while blocking the search engines that do not offer safe search. With pcWRT, you can turn on safe search by simply checking a checkbox.

    Aside from inappropriate contents, there are a plethora of time wasters on the Internet: social networking, forums, videos, games, fan fiction, anime/webcomic, etc. Kids are easily drawn to and may get addicted to these distractions. We believe that it is essential to limit the time they spent on certain sites so that they’ll have time for more important obligations such as homework or preparing for a test. In pcWRT, we provide the ability to create calendars that define the time slots within which Internet connectivity is available. The calendars may be domain (web site) specific. Therefore, you can set limits to overall Internet availability, put time waster sites on a stricter schedule, while leaving the school web sites always available.

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