Filter face-off: Consumer Reports magazine puts software to the test

Following the enactment of the Children’s Internet Protection Act, ConsumerReports magazine tested the effectiveness of six Internet filteringproducts plus America Online’s parental control function. Most of the productsfailed to block one in five objectionable sites, the magazine’s testersfound.

The study named AOL’s Young Teen (ages 13 to 15) controls as the mosteffective filtering product, allowing access to only one inappropriatesite in its entirety. The product seems to have done well because it onlyallows kids to view sites on a pre-approved list.

Some of the filters did not block certain sites deemed “inappropriate,”the survey showed.

Net Nanny and Internet Guard Dog obstructed access to a site explaininghow to make bombs using a blocking method based on objectionable words.That same site slipped past other filtering software.

In addition, the study found that the software often blocked legitimatesites because it could not distinguish between the way in which words andphrases are used.

Cybersitter 2000 and Internet Guard Dog blocked nearly one in five nonobjectionablesites, while Young Teen blocked 63 percent of such sites.

The reason for this might be that none of the three approaches usedby filtering companies to determine which sites will be blocked-softwareanalysis, human analysis and site labeling-have proven to be completelyeffective, according to the study.

The findings also show that in many cases companies’ judgments playedan important role in deciding which sites to block. The study pointed tothe fact that AOL, Cyber Patrol and Cybersitter 2000 all blocked,a site containing instructions on how to disable filtering software. Peacefire’sslogan? “It’s not a crime to be smarter than your parents.”

The full results of Consumer Reports’ test of filtering productsis available on the magazine’s Web site at: