Why Filters Don't Really Work

from the in-case-you-missed-it-before dept

There's persistent talk from politicians about making laws that force schools, libraries, and other places to install filters to block objectionable websites. The problem is, though, filters are pretty bad, and not just because kids circumvent them. They let plenty of stuff through, but the bigger issue is that they often block plenty of harmless and useful sites as well. One area that creates problems is often medical content, particularly having to do with sexual health -- to many crude filters, it looks just like porn since it uses terms on the naughty words list. The latest example of how and why filters aren't really too great comes from YouTube, where Mexican gang violence is a-okay, but videos showing breast and testicular exams for cancer get labeled adult-only. Clearly this is the type of content that threatens the innocence of youth, and the sort of filth that corrupts young minds -- just the kind of thing we need filters for.


Reader Comments (rss)

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  1.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 15th, 2007 @ 4:21pm

    Filters Do Work

    Filters work just fine, the problem is filters that allow everything by default and only block what is specified. Filters that block everything by default and only allow what is specified work just fine (of course that's not very proactical in most situations).

     

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  2.  
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    Wifezilla, Feb 15th, 2007 @ 5:17pm

    Filter is not a substitute....

    A filter is not a substitute for a teacher actually paying attention. Unfortunately, the internet has become a replacement for the "film strip" of old, which allowed the teachers to put the kids on ignore and go read a magazine in their office.

     

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  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 15th, 2007 @ 5:18pm

    Filter DON'T work

    "of course that's not very proactical in most situations"

    That's exactly why filters don't work as an effective mechanism for blocking unwanted content. They are dumb and primitive systems that follow a basic set of rules with no ability to accurately interpret what they are filtering.

     

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  4.  
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    Alex, Feb 15th, 2007 @ 5:27pm

    As a student...

    As a student in a high school that widely uses laptops, I find that filters are an extreme hindrance.

    Not only do they NOT block inappropriate sites (I know this one first hand, last year a friend tricked me into going to a "shock site", which showed very disturbing pictures and shouted "I'm looking at porn")

    But they block things that ARE needed. I had photoshop class last year, and new media this year (which both have units on altering pre-existing photos), and with all image searches blocked, its INCREDIBLY difficult to find interesting (appropriate) pictures.

    And once, I swear it, my name "Alexander" was blocked on the google search. I was like totally "WTF, mate?"

     

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  5.  
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    A different Alex, Feb 15th, 2007 @ 6:01pm

    Is the youtube adults-only warning determined by filters? I thought users flagged videos based on their own standards, which is why so much ridiculous stuff is labelled adults-only (people dancing etc.)

     

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  6.  
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    K12 School Net Admin, Feb 15th, 2007 @ 6:03pm

    As A K12 School Net Admin

    1. The teachers are supposed to watch the kids, however I see all the time, the internet being used as a babysitter. Filters can only do so much. 2. The only way you stop it is to nail a few of the kids that are searching for porn, suspending them or having a parent/ teacher conference. Once the word gets around, it pretty much stops after a while. 3. My philosophy is if you abuse it, you loose it. That is why I have had to block all image search engines except for Google safe search. Too many kids were using search phrase such as "phat azz" to pull up porn. 4. Try even doing a image search on yahoo for cheerleader! How would you feel if your seven year old needed to a picture of a cheerleader for a report and did a yahoo image search for it? Just do a search and see what I mean.

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 15th, 2007 @ 6:17pm

    Change the world, don't hide from it.

    The simple fact is that the concept of filtering, like censorship, is a way of hiding from the world, and not dealing with the problems that we will have to face.
    We need to train our children to think for themselves, and filter their own behavior to live well in society.
    Many of society's problems arise from people that have been too sheltered encountering stimuli that they are not equpped to handle with the social filters that they are equipped with.
    While I agree that there is no excuse (or need) for some behavior, hiding it may have worse long term consequences than learning to deal with it appropriately.

     

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  8.  
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    Noone Special, Feb 15th, 2007 @ 6:18pm

    Re: As a student...

    I am also a student in HS, and our filter is even worse than yours. We can access porn (a friend of mine did so), but it blocks google, ask, and yahoo. The entire sites, not just the email or whatever. It even blocked cisco.netacad.net. We have to have "special permission" to get through to take tests.

    This isn't a case of the filter blocking it, as it is a case of the people running the filter don't understand what "google" is.

    Me: "Sir, are you aware that google is blocked"
    Admin: "What's google?"
    Me: "Are you joking? You don't know what google is?"
    Admin: "I'm not joking. What's google?"

    Admin above is not an IT admin, it is a school administrator. There is a big problem with our school system.

     

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  9.  
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    K12 School Net Admin, Feb 15th, 2007 @ 6:46pm

    Filtering...

    For those of you interested in a great and free content filter, firewall, spam filter, etc. check out ClarkConnect. We use it and it works great. It has exceptional reporting features, allowing you to see the Top 100 allowed/ denied sites. You can also download blacklists from urlblacklist.com to enhance filtering.

     

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  10.  
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    K12 School Net Admin, Feb 15th, 2007 @ 7:59pm

    Re: Change the world, don't hide from it.

    So you should let children be exposed to pornography so they are hardened by it?

    Also keep in mind that filtering also keep children from being exposed to pedophiles.

    What do those of you that have children think about filtering?

    Check this story out: http://archives.cnn.com/2000/LOCAL/westcentral/07/24/ahd.police.web/index.html

    THIS IS WHY WE HAVE FILTERING.

     

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  11.  
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    Another School IT Admin, Feb 15th, 2007 @ 8:06pm

    Re: Filtering...

    ClarkConnect uses DansGuardian (www.dansguardian.org) as it's filtering system. The idea of context / content filtering is a better system than URL lists.

    Don't blindly download URL lists for Dansguardian / SquidGard / etc.

    The above example blocklist blocks *.akamai.net, which stops windows updates, adobe downloads, and other legit software:P

     

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  12.  
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    Krystal, Feb 15th, 2007 @ 8:10pm

    Acutally ours is pretty good.

    Ours is actually ok for a filter. It does limit some sexual themes that could be used in reports, but for the most part everything is regulated. The only computers you can used to access the internet on are all facing the same way and that is screen towards the computer lab teacher's desk. And that is all she does the entire day is help people in the computer lab. They limit a lot of things, but I have never had any problems doing school work. There is even a program on the computer that the teacher can cut off access to programs completely.

     

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  13.  
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    Veteran IT Security Guy, Feb 15th, 2007 @ 8:53pm

    There are many good filters out there but ...

    you need to do your homework before buying one and... you have to properly administer it. Most of the horror stories I see above can be attributed to inept administrators. I've got over 9 years of experience running filters and know they can be effective with minimal complaints from the people subjected to them.

    A lot of the filtering companies have human verified databases which are very accurate. Of course they will never rate all the pages (- how many new sites come on line every day? -) but they will definitely change browsing behavior. Content based filtering is more prone to false positives.

    A reasonably well administered filter is a good thing, but as someone said above, filtering cannot substitute for proper supervision.

     

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  14.  
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    Veteran IT Security Guy, Feb 15th, 2007 @ 8:54pm

    There are many good filters out there but ...

    you need to do your homework before buying one and... you have to properly administer it. Most of the horror stories I see above can be attributed to inept administrators. I've got over 9 years of experience running filters and know they can be effective with minimal complaints from the people subjected to them.

    A lot of the filtering companies have human verified databases which are very accurate. Of course they will never rate all the pages (- how many new sites come on line every day? -) but they will definitely change browsing behavior. Content based filtering is more prone to false positives.

    A reasonably well administered filter is a good thing, but as someone said above, filtering cannot substitute for proper supervision.

     

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  15.  
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    Paul, Feb 15th, 2007 @ 10:06pm

    Ok So?

    Some blocked content is better than none.
    At a school I would say block youtube completely. The video downloads are going to saturate the tube and the kids dont need to be wasting time on youtube at school anyway

     

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  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 15th, 2007 @ 10:22pm

    Re: Re: Change the world, don't hide from it.

    OH SOMEBODY THINK OF THE CHILDREN!!!!

     

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  17.  
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    Enrico Suarve, Feb 16th, 2007 @ 2:15am

    Re:

    Is the youtube adults-only warning determined by filters? I thought users flagged videos based on their own standards

    It isn't and they do

    The 'adults only' rating comes from your fellow internet citizens and their biases

    Is it just me or does anybody else find it disturbing in general that our fellow citizens find a cancer exam more x-rated than someone getting their head blown off?

    That's it, i'm staying indoors - you're all freaks! ;0)

     

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  18.  
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    NJ, Feb 16th, 2007 @ 3:36am

    Filter it

    Oh but they work fine, *algorithmic* filters don't work. Blacklisting and whitelisting filters work exactly as they were designed to work. (As a commentor points out further up).

    Given a child and the choice, I'd have YouTube blocked completely, for the violence, dangerous jackass tricks to be copied and Lesbian twins kissing videos.

    But then again, I don't think my choice of filter should be applied to other people's feeds. So I don't see why anyone has the right to complain about the filtering choices I make for my children.

    As for AC's 'change the world', no, don't. We don't need a kid safe world, we don't need a world where movies are made for 5 years olds. We need to keep 5 years olds away from movies made for adults.

     

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  19.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 16th, 2007 @ 9:45am

    Re: Filter DON'T work

    filters don't work as an effective mechanism for blocking unwanted content
    Sure they do, you are also simply using the word "filter" instead of being more specific. Filters work very effectively, just not certain types, which you did not specify.

     

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  20.  
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    Kim, Feb 16th, 2007 @ 6:51pm

    Very good filter for websites

    If you want a good Web filter, Look for K9 Web Protection by Blue Coat. My child has tried a pointless amount of times to try to look at naked girls and sex films online, but only to fail miserably. I mean he is a smart boy but i feel proud of myself for blocking these degrading images from my son. I hope this helps the parents of those, select few, young boys who frankly, Have too much testosterone for their own good.

     

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  21.  
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    Gregory Bloom, Feb 17th, 2007 @ 12:07pm

    Prepare them for the real world - spy on them

    I've worked for several companies that started out using a filter but then decided it is easier and more effective to skip filtering and just let everyone know that their web access is recorded, and if it is found that they have been accessing sites that violate company policy, they can be fired for it.

    Many schools now provide grades and feedback to parents via the web. They could simply add a list of URLs that their child has accessed, perhaps flagging any URLs that would otherwise have been filter-worthy, and let parents provide supervision in this area, which is more their responsibility, anyway.

     

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  22.  
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    SmartAssWhizKid, Feb 21st, 2007 @ 10:05am

    Re: Very good filter for websites

    I think you need to yank that PC away from little Johnny.

     

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  23.  
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    Steve0, Mar 10th, 2007 @ 7:55pm

    Working Bypass

    I have been using TZG Site Sniper to bypass restrictions at work

    bypass.thezerogroup.com

    -Steve

     

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  24.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 16th, 2007 @ 12:26pm

    UR MOM DOESNT WORK!!!!!!

     

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  25.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 16th, 2007 @ 12:27pm

    UR MOMS FUCKING GAY

     

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  26.  
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    :'(, May 2nd, 2009 @ 3:57pm

    *sigh* If you are using a parental filter to block your kid from viewing porn, maybe he shouldn't be using the damn computer. That's just moral issues, but then again I shouldn't be talking, because I have K9 on my network blocking facebook.com from an administrator who watches PORN on HIS own computer. Teens who are old enough to use the computer should be able to monitor themselves. It feels great being the administrator, but it's frustrating having more than half of the links I click on google being blocked even though they're not related to anything bad like sex or hacking o_O... "You are protected by K9 Web Protection!" No, dumbshit, I'm restricted.

     

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  27.  
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    Shine (profile), Feb 18th, 2012 @ 7:46pm

    Parents should closely monitor their young children's internet activities. This doesn't mean that you have to be watching them all the time but you can do this by your day to day conversation with them. For me violence is one thing that really should be filtered. Some stuff are just too violent for little kids and it can affect them negatively.

     

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