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Legal

content filtering

The Internet as a medium is not moderated, and while this has obvious advantages, there are also disadvantages. Most countries have formulated their own rules for the media within them, based on majority moral standards and political interest, so censorship levels vary from culture to culture. The global nature of the Internet, both culturally and physically, makes centralised regulation impossible. This issue is often particularly worrying for parents, for while the Internet is an excellent resource for children and an exciting new means of communication, they cannot be sure their children access only content that is appropriate for them.

The Broadcasting Services Act established a regulatory scheme for online content. The ACMA has registered a code of practice developed by the IIA which requires ISPs to provide filtering products or services to their subscribers. These products are designed to allow users a choice about the content they can access online.

The Internet Industry Association (IIA) has prepared the following guide to assist Australian Internet users understand Australia's regulatory framework for online content

This page has been created to let iiNet subscribers know what the various options are regarding content filtering, and to present the advantages and disadvantages of each solution.

Possible Solutions

There is no better solution to keeping children safe on the Internet than to make sure they are ALWAYS supervised when online. The Internet is not like television which only allows adult shows to broadcast late at night. It is more like a library where anyone can access, and insert, content anywhere on the shelves at any time. Undesirable content can be accessed just as easily as content that is useful, so it.s always better if an adult can be on hand to assist children when using the Internet. Adult supervision can help children avoid or at least put into context any Adult material found.

However, you may not want to risk the chance of any material inadvertently popping up, or you may wish to make sure you yourself are not confronted with material you are not comfortable viewing. The ACMA has provided a list of 24 approved filtering programs that you can use to help avoid this material (see the list following this article). We have also provided several links to allow you to be better equipped in deciding if, and how, you want to moderate your access to the World Wide Web.

About Filtering Software

Consumers should be aware that no filtering solution is foolproof. The main advantage filtering software offers is that it tends to make it harder to access adult material on the Internet, although some of the applications available have other really useful features as well (eg. Restricting access to the computer to certain times).

What you may wish to keep in mind when choosing a solution is that there are other online services around other than the WWW (sites with an address like http://www.xxxxxx.com). All kinds of content can be accessed through FTP, IRC, Instant Messaging, Email, Newsgroups and File Sharing, among others. Also remember that Adult Content is not the only concern when accessing the Internet - children should also be warned about 'stranger danger'. The links at the end of this article provide detailed discussion on how to deal with these issues.

All filtering software works with one or a combination of the following three methods:

White Lists

  • Advantages
    This is the most useful of the filtering software applications provided for children. A White List is a list of 'safe' sites, sites that are thoroughly checked and deemed safe for the majority of the population to view. These sites should never have any adult material of any kind on them and generally consist of entertainment and education related sites.
  • Disadvantages
    The disadvantages of white lists are is that the range of content accessible is severely limited. They are definitely useful, as children can safely plunder the approved sites, but the types of sites are so restricted that users miss out on a lot of the interesting and informative content that makes the Internet so popular. It also helps to know that the filtering software companies are not guaranteed to be impartial, and have been known to allow access to certain companies while restricting access to others that provide similar content.

Black Lists

  • Advantages
    Black Lists are the exact opposite of White Lists. They prevent access to a list of sites that contain content that is not deemed appropriate by the creator of the list. These Lists are usually well maintained (often weekly, although this varies) with adult content/themes that have been discovered by the maintainers of the filtering software regularly being added. Each software package generally keeps their black list secret (so their competitors can't use them) so there can be any number of sites blocked. Also, most software packages categorise their blocked sites under common themes, so you can choose which type of content you wish to block.
  • Disadvantages
    Black Lists are very popular, but for the purposes of safeguarding children are unfortunately close to useless. There are many ways to get around them, and the Internet is so vast and develops so rapidly that there is no guaranteed way to block all of the Adult Material available. Also, filtering companies can be very quick to black list any sites that offend them, especially sites that criticise their software or practices.
    These days Black Lists are generally used in combination with Keyword Filtering (see below), with well-known offensive sites banned by default.

Keyword Filtering

  • Advantages
    Software that uses Keyword Filtering reads each page as it is downloaded and searches for a list of 'key' words that the software maintainers have banned. Some programs will not display a page that contains any of the key words, and some programs just strip the word from the page. The major advantage to Keyword Filtering is that it can scan -any- site as needed, not relying on lists of sites compiled by the filtering software developers.
  • Disadvantages
    Sadly, the disadvantages of this technique are many.
    There is no way for the software to understand the context of a word, so many sites are blocked although their content is not actually offensive. For example, one software package blocks sites that use such words as blonde, explosive, barely and amateur - these do regularly appear on Adult sites, but there are far more that use these words in a neutral manner (this page simply discussing the software would be blocked).
    Some software will remove only the 'offensive' words from the page. . .but will still display any images on the site, this technique often causes the meaning of sentences to be completely altered as key words are missing.
    The other alternative for the software is to restrict access to the page entirely. Some software will display a reason why the page has been blocked, some just display a blank page instead of the offending content. Dealing with this latter technique can be fairly frustrating as you have no idea why the page has been censored.

About Anti-Spam Protection

We are all aware of Spam - those annoying, fraudulent and often offensive unwanted emails that show up in our email account. But did you know that as an iiNet customer your iiNet email account has built-in, premium anti-spam protection? This solution provided by Symantec Brightmail, offers amazing accuracy with only one in every one million email messages having a chance of being incorrectly filtered.

In addition, you may wish to install another anti-spam notification service - SpamMATTERS - available through the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA). SpamMATTERS is free software, which enables you to simultaneously delete your spam and report it to the ACMA.

As the ACMA is responsible for enforcing Australia's anti-spam law, the Spam Act 2003 - SpamMATTERS is a tool used by the government agency to take enforcement action against spammers.

The installation of the ACMA SpamMATTERS button is straightforward and is available to users of Microsoft Outlook and Microsoft Outlook Express.

If you are not a Microsoft Outlook or Microsoft Outlook Express customer alternative spam reporting options are available on the ACMA website for customers using other email programs. And remember you already have anti-spam protection available with an iiNet email account.

Please Note: SpamMATTERS is an initiative of the ACMA and as such, all queries related to the service and support of this product need to be directed to the ACMA via their online feedback form or by calling 1300 855 180. The iiNet call centre is unable to support this third-party service.

The anti-spam protection we offer our customers for free is of a very high accuracy, stopping around.95% of spam from reaching your account. As such, we strongly believe our anti-spam service provides one of the best filtering solutions available. We are providing you details of SpamMATTERS because we are greatly supportive of the ACMA's efforts to bring spammers in line.

To Sum Up...

Software filtering will prevent access to the more obvious offensive sites, but as mentioned, there are still many ways to get around it. It cannot be stressed enough that the best solution to keep children safe on the Internet is to make sure they are ALWAYS supervised when online.

Kids are information sponges, constantly learning, and if they set their minds to it will discover how to bypass filters almost faster than it took to install them. If you are concerned about the content children in your charge may be accessing, sit with them and involve yourself in their Internet activities, or keep the computer in a public area where you can easily see the monitor.

As stated earlier, the ACMA has provided ISPs with a list of filtering software they consider appropriate for use in Australia. These are some that are appropriate for home users:

Software Available

Product Name   Price   demo   white
list
  black
list
  keyword   checks
other
apps
  custom
profiles
  logging
Arlington Custom Browser USD
$25/
year
     
Cyber Patrol USD
$50/
year
Cyber Sentinel AU
$99
CyberSitter USD
$39.95
   
NetNanny USD
$39.95
   
Norton Internet Security USD
$69.95
     

Please Note: iiNet does not provide support for any of these applications and are not responsible for any problems occuring from the installation of any of this software.

Legend  
Product Name: The softwares name
Demo: A link to download a demo/trial version of this software (if available).
Price: The price of the software package, and if its a once off fee or subscription based.
Method: The way in which the software performs its blocking (see above for descriptions of the three methods).
Checks Other Applications: If the software performs any filtering on non-www applications (such as Newsgroups/IRC/ICQ).
Custom Profiles: If the software allows you to specify different settings for different family members.
Logging: If the software logs any attempted accesses to unauthorised material.

These are the main client applications for Windows. If you use a Macintosh you don't really have much to choose from, CyberPatrol was the only product found that advertised availability on the Mac platform. Linux desktop users will have to install one of the more advanced proxy filters you can find listed on the IIA website.

Before you install any of these applications you may wish to visit some of the following sites which provide more detail on the filtering situation, and how to handle looking after your children on the Internet:

  • Child Safety On The Information Superhighway Discussion and guidelines regarding child safety on the Internet.
  • Cybersmart Kids "Cybersmart Kids Online is a community education project developed by the ACMA with the objective of providing parents and children with information and tools to help them have a rewarding, productive and safe experience of the Internet."
  • Peacefire Censorware Pages Critical reviews of common filtering software
  • Safe Kids "Welcome to SafeKids.Com where you'll find tips, advice and suggestions to make your family's online experience fun and productive!"
  • Chat Danger Teaching parents about the issues associated with online Chat
  • Get Netwise Assistance for parents trying to understand the Internet
  • Disney Cybernetiquette Flash cartoons created by Disney to teach children how to be safe and polite on the Internet
  • Internet Industry Code of Practice The code created by the Internet Industry Association (of Australia) regarding Internet Content.