Addiction Week: Internet Filtering Edition

Read and share. It’s long but it’s worth it. I promise.

I have a confession: I hate Internet Filtering.

It’s not what you think. This isn’t some staunch Libertarian stance, and it’s not some new – agey 21st Century hippie thing. I am a parent. I live with OCD. I understand addiction and I understand Internet security, and trust me: if I thought Internet Filtering worked as advertised, I’d be driving the freaking bandwagon.

But, it doesn’t work as advertised, so I hate it.

Hate’s a strong word. Here’s why I’m willing to use it:

  1. Too many parents and companies believe that if they stick a filter or a program or a you-name-it on their Internet connected devices they can call it good. Problem solved. Hands washed.
  2. Too many companies claim to be the safest, best, most reliable, easiest to manage solution ever (heck, even Disney got in on the act recently) – when in reality, there is no single solution that is 100% effective, easy to use and understand, and easy to manage and enforce.
  3. We’re living through a weird generation gap. At risk of generalizing, we’re currently in the middle of a generation that includes too many tech savvy kids and too many tech averse parents. That creates a market where opportunistic companies can prey on parent’s fears when kids can easily subvert filtering attempts.

I’m on record as loving some of the solutions out there, like OpenDNS, OpenDNS works, it’s inexpensive, and it’s easy to configure and maintain. Every home and business should run a version of OpenDNS (home) or Cisco Umbrella (business).

OpenDNS is good. And, it’s nice and easy to filter by category and get usage stats whenever you want them.

But even my favorite tools have holes, workarounds, and flaws.

Without geeking out too much, just know that most of the time actual porn sites, gambling sites, etc are well categorized and filtering can help stop access.

But, there are three really big holes that almost nobody can 100% address right now:

  1. There are new porn / gambling / proxy / etc sites popping up every minute. And usually it takes a period of time in order for even the best and fastest filters to categorize those sites and add them to the filter list. So, while a filter will block an old site, it won’t usually block a new or uncategorized site for a while – and that’s a problem.
  2. An even bigger issue – and one that every parent ought to know): The Internet is like a big city. To use that analogy, there are safe streets, dangerous streets, and then many many streets that may or may not be safe depending on where you are at and who is around you.
  3. Nobody only accesses the Internet on 1 network. We all have computers in our pockets. Those pocket computers (sometimes still called, anachronistically, phones) can access the Net from anywhere, anytime, and there is no such thing as a ubiquitous filter – not even in China.

To point #2, which is actually my biggest concern as a parent: Some of the best sites on the Internet are also the most dangerous, depending on what part of the site gets visited.

This can include sites like YouTube, Snapchat, Instragram, Twitter, Reddit, and even Facebook.

Simplistically, it’s absolutely impossible to filter only the questionable parts of these really big sites. Companies like YouTube are trying (see our article from Monday afternoon), but even then, they’re not going to catch everything, filter everything.

There are filters that can be set by users that will block much of the questionable content, but that doesn’t really help parents, or those who are worried about addiction.

Why, because that would be the equivalent of a crack addict having complete control over the dealer and supplier network. That doesn’t work.

Oh, and don’t even get me started on controlling user accounts and sharing logins. Do you know how easy it is to create a dummy account now?!

Rant aside: What can be done? Well, we’ll go into details on these over the years, but for now, please just internalize these three things:

  1. Parents / spouses / friends: If you have a loved one in your life who is struggling with addiction and wants help with accountability, help them. Filtering isn’t going to solve it – but open communication and a lot of love can. And there are some awesome 12 step type programs out there now as well.
  2. Parents: teach your kids about why they want to avoid bad stuff on good sites (YouTube, Twitter, etc). Just the fact that you’re brave enough to have the conversation with them will go a long way.
  3. If you are out over your skis, call in outside help. Know that there are guys like me who do this for a living and would be happy to do training, give some suggestions, and help you work a plan. Whatever you spend on this service will pay dividends. Avoiding heartache, addiction, and pain is always a good investment.

Stay safe (and relatively addiction free) out there.


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