Dad, Please Unblock This Website!

Reading time ~2 minutes

I guess it's time to take a break from kvetching about my job for a moment and talk about something security related. Or more specifically, something related to keeping your kids safe on the Internet.

My 8-year old son is becoming a bit more adventurous in his quest for all things Pokemon, not to mention Tower Defense-type games. He is using that "search area" in the upper right hand corner of the Firefox window to find things. This has resulted in coming across pages that are "blocked" by Microsoft's Family Safety filter, which I use on all the downstairs computers. This inevitably means he'll run into whatever room I am in and ask me to "type in my password" to unblock the site. Frequently, he asks me when I am doing something else and, of course, he wants it NOW.

When I am ready, I go to his computer--which is in our living room and thus in a public room--and find out what site he was trying to go to. Some sites I know aren't particularly great for his age range (e.g. MySpace), others I will check first. Because I'm not quite sure what I am going to find, I ask him to leave the room first. Either that or I will make note of the site and go check on a different computer.

The reason for this is very simple: Microsoft's Family Filter does not offer a lot of granularity on blocking. Furthermore, it doesn't give any explanation as to why it was blocked (e.g. what category the website was in). Even if it did, one should never assume the filter is entirely correct. Best way to keep the kids protected is to manually review the site--without them in the room--in case something particularly nasty shows up!

In one case, I went to a blocked website that appeared to have ok content, but had ads on it that were clearly not ok. Furthermore, there was so much crap on the site that the browser basically locked up! In short, there was no way I was allowing my son anywhere near this website.

I then explained to my son why I was still not going to allow access to the site in question. I reiterated why the filters are there and why I manually check things first. He understood and moved onto something else.

Obviously, things are relatively simple right now. As time wears on, things are going to be more complex, particularly when we get into instant messaging and interacting with other people online. Not to mention the difference in age-appropriateness between my 8-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter as they get older. However, it will hopefully be handled much the way it is handled today: with a conversation.

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