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Consumer Reports on Filtering

By schporto in Internet
Tue Mar 06, 2001 at 03:36:53 PM EST
Tags: Freedom (all tags)

Consumer Reports just released a report on filtering software, ranking several of the software packages. It also performed tests on these software packages to see how well they fared against one another.

The article is pretty decent covering their tests, methods, some background, some praise and some harsh words. The basic results shouldn't be too surprising to people who've followed some of these debates.

Until now there has only really been a small public outcry led by Peacefire and some individuals. Generally the kind of groups you can ignore, and sweep under the carpet. Consumer Reports tends to fall outside that category. Many companies live and die by their recomendations. People generally listen to what they have to say. Politicians listen to what they have to say. This is not to say Consumer Reports is without controversy itself. But it did win that case. And in the process killed the Samurai.

The results from this set of tests was not as damning as the rollover test. Consumer Reports took several filtering packages and compared them to "a list of 86 easily located web sites that contain sexually explicit content or violently graphic images, or that promote drugs, tobacco, crime, or bigotry." While not the most extensive list it did prove interesting. AOL's "Young Teen" setting fared well on this portion - blocking most every site. All the others let through at least 20% of the sites. Consumer Reports was not done. They've heard of the problems associated with the filters so they "pitted them against a list of 53 web sites that featured serious content on controversial subjects." The results - most only blocked a few sites, but the one that did the best at filtering 'naughty' sites did the worst against sites it shouldn't filter. (In AOL's defense this is by design. That filter will only allows connections to approved sites.) The most interesting quote was this though.

Our results cast doubt on the appropriateness of some companies' judgments. Perhaps the most extreme example of conflicting judgments: the ones applied to the site of Peacefire, an anti-filtering site that provides instructions on how to bypass filtering products. AOL, Cyber Patrol, and Cybersitter 2000, which keep their blocked-site lists secret, blocked Peacefire. Net Nanny, which makes its list public, didn't block it.
To me this is the part of filtering that is most difficult to swallow and most objectionable. As there really can't be mistakes that get these sites put on. The only argument I've heard for this filtering has been that the sites lead to objectionable sites. (Side note - my ex-company's filtering software blocked ESR's site. When I asked about it I was told I did not need access to a site about anarchy.)

So what will this mean. It may mean nothing, but it was picked up by my home newspaper, and probably other's around. Many politicians, and regular folk read Consumer Reports. To most of thse people the results will be news, and may annoy them. The trick is there's now a legitimate third party out there, who has stated facts about filtering. They are generally considered neutral and well respected. And they can't be swept under the carpet. There are also some other links off the main report that are fairly useful.


Voxel dot net
o Managed Hosting
o VoxCAST Content Delivery
o Raw Infrastructure


Will Consumer Report's article have any effect on the debate?
o Yes, it will put a stop to the filtering. 2%
o Yes, filtering will be more debated but will still happen. 45%
o Yes, filtering programs will fix the cited problems, and consider the matter closed. 9%
o No, nothing will change. 23%
o No the article will be ignored. 19%

Votes: 42
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o Consumer Reports
o report
o some
o of
o these
o Peacefire
o itself
o Also by schporto

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Consumer Reports on Filtering | 11 comments (5 topical, 6 editorial, 0 hidden)
My two brief data points (4.50 / 2) (#7)
by Anonymous 242 on Tue Mar 06, 2001 at 03:20:18 PM EST

My public library uses Bess filtering software. It vaccums. In an hour of browsing time, I almost invariably come up against at leats one site that is inappropriately blocked. When the library was my sole point of Internet access, I'd have to email the Bess folks two to three times per week and each time the page I was blocked from seeing was reviewed and allowed through. Assuming my experiences with filtering is par for the course (and it seems to be judging from the Consumer reports feature) it seems only a matter of time before the newest federal regulation gets struck down. Mandating the use of filtering software restricts protected free speech in practice even if in theory only non-protected speech like kiddie porn is mandated to be filtered out. I've seen pages as disparate as a Salon article on Linux blocked to a how-to page on disassembling x86 binaries.

On the flip side of the coin, I have a friend who is a fourth grade teacher. One day he was supervising his class surf the net and one of his students came up to him, "Mr. X, look what came up on my computer. . ." My friend turned to look. His brain went into slo-mo as he lept across the room thinking, "OHHHH NOOOOOOO! MYYYYYYY JOOOOOOOOOOOOB." His intrepid fourth grader had done a web search on Cinderella for a book report and came across an illustrated version of that particular fairy tale that isn't likely to be found in the children's section anytime this century.

So, on the one hand, filtering software almost never bocks all the smut and on the other hand it almost always erroneously blocks sites that shouldn't be. As a parent, I don't see much use for it. I'd rather sit down with my daughters and teach them to be responsible and let them make their own choices. I value the trust I can place in my children far more than I value the brick wall I can errect around them that is at best something like 85% effective.

eh, of course they block Peacefire (4.25 / 4) (#8)
by Estanislao Martínez on Tue Mar 06, 2001 at 03:33:24 PM EST

Peacefire regularly includes step-by-step instructions on how to disable censowrware. They pretty much *have* to block it, as a security-by-obscurity precaution against the casual user.

And ESR's site-- of course they block him. He's an anti-American gun nut and free market advocate, and I wouldn't want him polluting the minds of my children.


ESR? (none / 0) (#10)
by scruffyMark on Wed Mar 07, 2001 at 02:16:24 AM EST

Two questions:

Who is this ESR and what is his site?

How is being a gun nut and free market advocate anti-American? (Not that I agree with either position, I just always thought many/most Americans did)

[ Parent ]

ESR == Eric Raymond (none / 0) (#11)
by Anonymous 242 on Wed Mar 07, 2001 at 08:41:20 AM EST

Who is this ESR and what is his site?
Eric Raymond is the author of The Cathedral and the Bazaar. The home page of ESR is Eric Raymond's Home Page.
How is being a gun nut and free market advocate anti-American?
I think you somehow missed the sarcasm from the previous post.

[ Parent ]
63%??? (2.00 / 1) (#9)
by trippingbridge on Tue Mar 06, 2001 at 04:38:13 PM EST

   AOL only blocked 63% of the sites? I thought 63% was a failing mark most everwhere. How can they recommend any of these tools when their success rates are so abysmal?
   I did like how their first suggestion was that parents should be supervising their children.
Do not mistake understanding for realization,
nor realization for liberation.
Consumer Reports on Filtering | 11 comments (5 topical, 6 editorial, 0 hidden)
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