Kids Playing in Traffic on the Information
by Alan Zisman
(c) 1996. First
published in Computer Player, January 1996
Net Nanny, Ltd.
Main Floor, 525 Seymour Street
Vancouver, BC V6B 3H7
The child's eyes were wide open, with a combination of
horror and excitement,
watching the glowing screen.... you may have seen that cover of Time
early in the summer, a part of the media bouncing back from its
exaggerated hype of the Internet, with an equally one-dimensional
on so-called cyberporn.
Time, for example, based its June 26th cover story on
what it described
as "an exhaustive" study on the pervasiveness of online pornography, by
Martin Rimm, originally published in the Georgetown Law Review. Among
claims, Time quoted that in "Usenet groups where digitized images are
83.5 percent of the pictures are pornographic."
Response to the cover story was immediate, and
critical of its methodology
and results. Take the statistic about Usenet groups, for example.
groups, on the Internet, are online public discussion groups...
over 4,000 different topics from highly technical, to pop culture, to
to (yes), sexuality.
Rimm checked 17 of the 4,000 groups over a seven day
period-- 17 groups
that all had a sexual focus, and not surprisingly, found the majority
content in those groups was sexually oriented.... and even here, while
Usenet groups can include graphics, they are sent in as encoded text,
can't even be viewed without tedious decoding and special software--
typically among the computer skills of even the precocious subteen
on Time's cover. Buried in the fine print of both Rimm's study and the
Time article was another statistic, suggesting that only 0.5% of
traffic could be considered pornographic.
The harm, however, has been done-- the public
impression of the Internet
as a den of pornographers will be hard to shake. (Readers with Internet
access interested in a detailed critique of Rimm's study and the Time
can check http://www2000.ogsm.vanderbilt.edu/)
And like many paranoid fantasies, there is a core of
reality-- if you
look for cyberporn on the Internet, you're going to find it. Playboy's
World Wide Web site is among the most popular single destinations on
Web. Or go to a general interest site like 'Downtown Anywhere', which
to be sort of like an online mall. You'll find a wide range of
located there, such as the Icelandic National Tourist Agency. But check
the list of the ten most visited locations there-- the week I checked,
seven of the ten were sexually oriented.
It's not surprising. Sex has sold other new
technologies-- the first
generation of video rental stores, for example, were almost all
in x-rated movies. And even with the broadening of the Internet's
a large percentage remains University undergraduates (predominantly
with free access through their academic institution.
Parents, businesses, and schools have a legitimate
desire to limit access
to sex on the Net. And so there has been increasing interest in a
fix to the problem created by the uncontrolled technology of the Net.
of the most well thought-out has been created by Vancouver?s Net Nanny,
Ltd. (formerly Trove Investment Corporation).They have produced the
Net Nanny, which gives parents (or teachers or even employers) the
to limit access to any content deemed inappropriate. When this software
is installed onto a computer (currently DOS or Windows only), it
monitors the computer for content that has been added to its
this could be sexual or drug or even racial or violence-oriented.
If, for example, the word "bomb" had been listed in the administrative
dictionary, any documents accessed, or any requests for access that
this word will be recorded. At that point, the computer can be set to
record the access, to lock the keyboard, or even to shut down. If
the shut down computer cannot be rebooted without using a password
by adult controlling the Net Nanny installation. This can be very
and can do more than simply prevent a child from accessing certain
Many parents, for example, are uneasy about their
children giving out
their phone number or address while on-line. Adding these to Net
dictionnary will make it impossible for your child to share this
The Net Nanny folks are including sample dictionnaries
with their software,
and are promising to make updated lists available for downloading. This
is important, because adults can include the Web addresses or UseNet
names that they want their kids to avoid, simply by adding them to the
dictionnary... getting a ready-made list from Trove saves hours on the
Net looking for the places where you don?t want your kids to go.
There are lots of benefits from letting children
explore the on-line
community-- but like any community, physical or virtual, cyberspace has
its bad neighborhoods. Net Nanny allows a parent to set some limits,
allowing their child the freedom to wander where they choose within