Internet Filtering

I came across this article this morning by Cory Doctorow. I enjoy Cory’s writing; I don’t always agree but I usually wind up thinking about it. Today though his article left out a very critical subject around filtering: we need a solution for keeping kids safe.I’m not [necessarily] talking about filtering or about schools & libraries. Filtering is a solution which has issues which is the gist of Cory’s article. Below is the text of the email I sent about this. The third paragraph is the most interesting I think — create a social network that tackles the filtering. This eliminates the poorly trained people his article mentions and also the poor socially dysfunctional programmers. It puts the burden back on a neighborhood, albeit a virtual one, to look after your kids. We do this in real life now; kids ride their bikes around and everyone keeps an eye out. Similarly we chat with friends, neighbors, i.e. our community about safe books and movies. Why not web sites?We’ll see if I get a response on this.

Cory,I read your post about internet filtering with interest. I posted a comment but wanted to send email directly as I would like to see your take on a very difficult issue: how to deal with “safe surfing” for kids. I want my kids to live in a connected world and economically they need to learn this stuff. Shutting off the computer or internet isn’t viable.I struggle with this. I don’t want my kids accidentally coming across “bad stuff”. But I recognize that technically speaking the solution to that problem right now is applying a sledge hammer to saw a log; wrong tool applied with too much force. But right now that sledge hammer is all I have.I’ll also point out there is a third option in filtering: use a social network. Parents already do this when they ask their neighbor “is that movie any good for kids”? Standards vary of course but over time you learn whose standards most closely align with your own. I would love to see a social networking site along these same lines, e.g. you rate any number of pieces of content/sites and slowly you figure out across the entire network who you align with. You will of course have all the standard social network problems such as people spamming, but this seems like a more tractable problem. You could also change your preferences over time as your child matures; what is appropriate for my older son is different than for my younger.At any rate, it’s an issue many of us are faced with. We’re not repressive governments, we’re not trying to censor free speech, we’re just trying to keep our kids safe and healthy.–Paul Steckler

—Update 8 JunenCory and I have exchanged a few emails. Frankly I was surprised at the speed of the response. I know I get a bunch of email; I can only assume Cory gets more. Thanks for taking the time to respond.That said… Cory seems to make the single point: internet filters don’t work. Okay, granted. Some people might disagree of course but let’s grant the point. So then what? The need is still present so what to do? My suggestion — (which of course is already taken). would simply be a site where registered adults could tag content. The content would be good, bad, sex, language, porn, i.e. whatever tags make sense. You want “good” tags like “age 3-4” and also “bad” tags. Then you build the filtering software to rely on those tags. But you don’t simply use the tags. You find the other adults who have similar “tastes” to your own. For example I am fairly liberal; a few cuss words aren’t going to corrupt my kids. A few racy photos? No problem, they see much worse when we travel to Europe and pass by newsstands. But hardcore porn? Not a chance. Others of course would want different profile matching, e.g. the Christian Conservative, etc.I also think the kid could request access to a blocked site. The advantage of this system is that access could come from the community and not from the parent. One issue with filtering software today is the kid could hit a legitimate site, get blocked, request access, but then wait hours or days until a parent can figure out how to add the  site to the “unblock” list. This way the community which I have already selected can help me out; I will then of course do the same when online for their kids.Of course as I ponder this idea… I wonder if you could leverage which already has so much of this information.

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