Protect Yourself from the Internet's Moral Dangers

JEFFERY A. MIRUS

If you have both an Internet connection and children at home, and you haven't considered this problem seriously, I urge you to do so now.

I haven’t taken a poll, but I would guess that many PetersNet members have children living at home. Given that our members also have Internet connections, the danger of their children encountering morally offensive material is real.

If you have both an Internet connection and children at home, and you haven’t considered this problem seriously, I urge you to do so now. It is incredibly easy to find morally bankrupt information and images on the Internet with just a few mouse clicks, right in your own home. And take it from a father of six: No, you can’t trust your children to police themselves. Even if they mean well, they will seldom have the moral stamina to do it consistently until they’re well into their twenties, and even then only if they’ve developed good habits and have a strong prayer life.

What to do

An argument can be made that kids should simply be kept off the Internet, especially the World Wide Web. This is a very counter-cultural point of view, but they really won’t lose anything essential by being deprived of the Internet, though they may well lose something essential by being exposed to it.

If this is not the approach you wish to take, then you need to monitor their usage of the Internet and set limits. No child should have a private computer with an Internet connection in his own room any more than he should have a television in his own room. In fact, the computer should be not only publicly accessible but in a room which receives significant traffic, even if it is kept quiet for study. Working late on school projects online should be prohibited. The point is, you have a clear responsibility to know what your children are doing online.

There is no substitute for regular and active parental involvement, but software can help — specifically Internet filtering software. Happily, I don’t need to make specific product recommendations, because PC Magazine did an excellent report on parental filtering software last year, and it is available with reviews of the major products at: http://www.zdnet.com/pcmag/features/utilities98/filtering/index.html.

How to do it

Note that there are four different ways that software can help you:

Using Lists to Restrict Access The software can block access to sites based on an updateable database of bad sites. Companies that specialize in this type of software generally provide very good databases and update them regularly. This keeps out a lot of junk, but it isn’t foolproof. The database maker’s judgment might be different from yours and the database can never be up-to-date since web sites come and go so rapidly.

Alternatively, you can filter positively: you can develop an approved list of sites (perhaps starting with something like Yahooligans on Yahoo!), and the software will restrict access to the sites on your list. This is much safer, but you’ll have to disable the restriction manually whenever you want to permit online research.

Using Real-Time Analysis to Restrict Access The software can monitor either incoming or outgoing text, or both, to prevent certain kinds of pages, newsgroups, email and chat from appearing on the screen or being sent out from your PC (as when a child may attempt to send a scurrilous email message to a buddy).

Controlling the Time Users Can Go (or Spend) Online The software can control the times at which users are allowed to connect to the Internet. For example, you can set the software to allow connections only during times which you are typically home and able to take an active interest in what is going on. You can also set time limits, allowing particular users to use only so much time per day, week or month on various Internet activities.

Logging Where Users Have Been The software can keep a complete log of the places users have gone on the web, so that you can review the log periodically. Most of these products are hard to fool or disable without the password, but nothing is fool- proof. Therefore, logging should probably be used even when other techniques are in place. It is a wonderful deterrent to tell your kids that you log all Internet activity and periodically check the logs.

Note that not all products provide all features. Be sure to select a product which has all the features you need, or purchase more than one.

Restrictions aren't for children only

In addition to protecting your kids, protect yourself, even (or perhaps especially) if you’re all alone. When you have filtering software in place and it blocks a site you really shouldn’t be visiting, you must go through the additional step of bypassing the software by entering a password. Often, this is all it will take to bring you to your senses and give you the will power to turn away.

If you’re married or live in a group (perhaps you’re sharing an apartment, or you live in a religious community, or you are a priest in a multi-priest parish), then do yourself a real favor. Put both filtering and logging software on your machines and let your spouse or confrere control the passwords (and vice versa). Review each other’s logs. Keep each other out of trouble.

Finally, if you control a network at home or in the office, you’ll have to use more sophisticated — and more expensive—techniques. Several of the products covered in the review have corporate, enterprise or proxy versions. Check out their web sites for details.

Above all, take this issue seriously, and take prudent steps to guard against moral danger. If you like doomsday scenarios, well, this one is far bigger and more dangerous than Y2K.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Mirus, Jeffery A. “Protect Yourself from the Internet’s Moral Dangers.” Trinity Communications (February 14, 1999).

Published with permission of Jeffery A. Mirus and Trinity Communications.

THE AUTHOR

Jeffery A. Mirus is President of Trinity Communications.

Copyright © 1999 Petersnet


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