Friday, June 13, 2008

Accountability software would supplement filters

Some companies are offering a supplement or alternative to Internet filters at home, called “accountability software”. This kind of software emails the parent a record of all of the child’s surfing activity. The parent makes an agreement with the child (usually a teen) to perform monitoring and review, in addition to or as a substitute for the usual use of filters. As the teenager gets older and displays more responsibility (and maintains grades in school and has some reasonable level of legitimate “real world” activity) the parent backs off.

It’s also possible for a spouse to install such a package on a computer clandestinely and get emails about a spouse’s website habits, such as addiction to pornography.

In opposing COPA now in the Appeals court (previous post), it sounds like it is possible to strengthen the ACLU's arguments about the general effectiveness of filters, properly used, with mention of the opportunity to use accountability software.

A typical site offering such a product is this. Another site is “Covenant Eyes” (not connecting this morning). That site gave a reference int he comments to the ACLU blog post (given in yesterday's entry on this blog, about the COPA appeal).

Thursday, June 12, 2008

COPA: oral arguments of DOJ appeal made to Third Circuit

The ACLU reports that oral arguments on the government’s appeal to the Third Circuit in Philadelphia took place yesterday June 12. This is the third time the ACLU has been before the Third Circuit in the nine year history of the litigation over the Child Online Protection Act, whose enforcement was first enjoined in early 1999. Chris Hansen (not the same person as the Dateline reporter) argued for the ACLU. The original opinion declaring COPA unconstitutional was rendered by Judge Reed March 22, 2007 (after a bench trial in the fall of 2006 in Philadelphia) and reported on this blog that day. The trial progress had been reported on this blog in the previous fall.

The Supreme Court has indicate that it would strike down the law on merits (outside of the community standards debate in 2002) if filters can be found to work. The trial showed that they work about 95% of the time. The government is left to argue that it has an “in loco parentis” responsibility to protect the children of parents who do not know how to operate their kids’ computers and install filters. And it seems to believe that it should control domestic “harmful to minors” material before it tackles the problems from overseas servers (the ACLU calls this the “belt and suspenders approach”.)

The efforts by New York state to get private communications carriers to remove CP materials from their servers may further back up plaintiff’s claims that private screening techniques work, even if there are other legal objections to depending on “private censorship.”

The ACLU’s blog entry yesterday (June 11) was “Take Three: Appellate Court Hears Challenge to Internet Censorship Again,” link here. I love the ACLU's title "Blog of Rights: Because Freedom Can't Blog Itself."

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Parental monitoring: Kidzui site may provide a useful tool for parents to lock a kid's computer to specific sites

This morning (June 4), the NBC Today show presented a report on a new kids web service which is supposed to be set up to make it easier for parents to control what their kids may access on the web. The site is called “” ("The Internet for kids"). The parent can install it, free (I’m not sure if its just for Windows) and the site controls what web sites can be visited by the kid on that computer. The sites come from a “white list” made up by a panel of teachers and parents. The site home page has a promotional video with kids that does seem a bit silly. The site appears to be designed to benefit mainly parents of younger (elementary school and earlier) children.

Certainly, any reliable service that makes the job of parental monitoring easier is, given the legal struggles going on, a welcome development.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

COPA, filers, labels: sundries; news in a holding pattern

I still have not found any evidence of “progress” in the Third Circuit (in Philadelphia) of the Department of Justice’s appeal of Judge Lowell Reed’s ruling that the Child Online Protection Act of 1998 is unconstitutional (this blog, March 22, 2007). I’m trying to track this with some other news-tracking sites, like Mixx.

I did find some interesting discussion on the “how things work” sites about how filters for children work. There was a lot of testimony about this at the COPA trial in 2006. The main techniques are blacklists and using keywords. There is a “How Stuff Works” link by Jonathan Strickland that I found on Mixx, link here. But filtering software, like software trying to detect spam, has a hard time placing the context of words it finds, particularly in the English language itself, with its “analytic” grammar (Wikipedia explains that pretty well) and heavy use of idioms and slang and the use of context (rather than conjugation) to establish subjunctive mood or “fictive” speculation.

That’s why a cooperative venture among software developers and companies that facilitate user-generated content on the web to develop labeling schemes ought to be a good thing. Unfortunately, as noted before, the bills currently in Congress aiming at labeling look rather Draconian and inflexible (discussed on this blog previously). I checked recently, and both House and Senate versions have been sent to committees, but are not doing a whole lot (thankfully). (Look at the January 2008 entry on this blog for details for S. 1086 and December 2007 entry for H.R. 837; follow them on .)

There is no substitution for parental involvement in a child’s learning to use the Internet properly, any more than there is a substitute for parental supervision of a teenager’s learning to drive a motor vehicle. And for teens, there is no substitute for real-world success (in bricks-and-mortar learning and regular activities) in a school environment.