Internet Filtering in An Ever-Evolving Technological Landscape

Recently, I was unexpectedly given the opportunity to spend time with my sister and her family, who live several states away. We were discussing some piece of news her kids, aged 16 and 14, hadn’t heard yet. The 16-year-old had asked why she hadn’t heard this news yet. “They put it on their Facebook,” I replied, thinking that would be the end of it. My nephew, however, looked me dead in the eye and said, “Facebook is for old people.” Once I recovered from being (prematurely) labeled as old, an enlightening conversation ensued, and I wondered about what effective filtering might look like as these teenagers grew into adulthood.

Of course, Facebook isn’t really in danger of dying any time soon: their desktop userbase has been increasing by 10% every year, and their mobile is increasing even more. Plus, they own several other assets, including the immensely popular Instagram. The natural evolution of technology does beg the question, however, of “how do we continue to protect our children and ourselves from content we don’t want to see online?”

Those familiar with the one-step forward, two steps back nature of filtering the Internet can attest to the levels of frustration that can come with trying to prevent less than savory material making it from the Internet to their screens: there always seems to be some hidden website, some special browser, etc, that comes along and undoes everything that had been put in place for protection. One browsing session with the right tools, and suddenly the Internet is a wide-open arena and all bets are off. As infuriating as this can be for people searching for online protection, it’s just as irksome for those of us trying to provide a reliable filtering service. Not only are we not immune to the pitfalls of the Internet, but we get to see firsthand and en masse the devastation unchecked Internet access can wreak. In an attempt to make it safer for everyone (including ourselves), we’re often left scrambling to design new, better solutions as each and every technological advance hits the market.

Traditionally, filtering is often done with key words. The filter ‘reads’ the words in the URL or on the site, finds words that have been programmed to be blocked, and blocks it. In this system, there are often black and white lists that allow otherwise blocked sites through and otherwise unblocked sites to be blocked. This method is easily undone with the right tools and often leaves people feeling hopeless and powerless regarding what they or loved ones see online. Luckily, technological advancements don’t just make getting around filtering easier-they also give us new ways to filter. Iris, for instance, isn’t a keyword filter, but a screen filter that blocks pornographic imagery regardless of source.

In a world where the technological landscape changes almost as quickly as the date, it can be a struggle to find a solution to a technology problem, particularly when, like filtering porn, the solution goes against the tide of popular opinion. For those who are feeling overwhelmed and hopeless in the journey to a porn free life, hopefully it helps to know that there are people working against the cultural norm so that that goal can be achieved. There are people here to help you live a porn free life, whatever your reason.

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