PARENTAL CONTROLS AND INTERNET FILTERING SOFTWARE

Over the years various programs have promised to filter Internet browsing to prevent access to inappropriate content. Net Nanny, for example, was reputed to be one of the leaders a couple of years ago, but I found it wildly confusing and abandoned it almost immediately. Norton’s filter in the Internet Security suite is poorly designed and difficult to figure out. Comcast offered a security program for a while – it was just awful and Comcast eventually dropped it. I became pessimistic about the whole idea.

PC Magazine reviewed a number of new releases recently and gave high marks to Safe Eyes. (Here’s the PC Magazine review, and here’s the Safe Eyes web site.) It’s impressive. The controls are well-designed and flexible; it’s easy to configure and offers lots of options without being overwhelming.

I wound up installing another program on the kids’ computer, though. K9 Web Protection is free web filtering software that works beautifully. It’s simple, easy to set up, and impossible to circumvent.

K9 and Safe Eyes work similarly. All of your Internet traffic goes through those companies’ servers. There’s no software running on your computer for a teenager to hack and defeat. As long as the administrator password is secret, there won’t be any traffic to blocked sites – period. There was no perceptible lag or slowdown caused by either program.

One size may not fit all, however. K9’s simplicity may not suit your needs. K9 does not distinguish between computer users; all the Internet traffic is filtered on that computer for every user. (The filtering can be turned off but not particularly easily.) K9 doesn’t include additional filters to control instant messaging, online game-playing, file sharing programs, or other Internet activities that parents may want to control. Check out Safe Eyes if you’re looking for more fine-grained control.

K9 is offered by Blue Coat, a company selling security appliances to big companies for lots of money. They claim the consumer filtering for individual computers is industrial strength and that they have the capacity to offer it for free forever. For the moment it stands out as a simple and effective way to keep kids out of the worst parts of the Internet.

For what it’s worth, Microsoft is working on free family safety and Internet filtering software that will be available later this year. Here’s the press release. As of today it’s not available anywhere outside a select group of beta testers.