The search for better filtering software

Note: Going off the beaten path today to discuss software…

Every red-blooded male using the internet should strongly consider filtering software (it helps to fulfill the A in Piper’s ANTHEM). Men are led by their eyes, and it’s not hard to end up in seedy byways.

For years, we have used Cybersitter; my wife keeps the password. This software behaves itself by not interfering with other programs or slowing down the system. It logs activity for accountability and has a small memory footprint. It does a very good job at filtering bad sites, much better than other packages I tried a few years ago. It seems to use a blacklist combined with some sort of proprietary filtering.

However, Cybersitter lacks nuance. It’s like a repairman who uses a hammer to solve all problems: everything looks like a nail. It inexplicably filters outbound data, so if you type “underrated” on a blog form, it may show up as “unde”, while typing “Sex in Literature” (a Lewis essay) is apt to post as “in Literature”. And there is no option to separately disable this word-filtering feature. Worse, Cybersitter routinely blocks harmless sites. These will show up as a blank page or with half of an article missing. I have had to add dozens of regularly and irregularly visited sites such as sports pages and Christian blogs to its Acceptable Sites list, because sooner or later Cybersitter will block articles on them for some reason or other. Given our family arrangement, it’s problemmatic to add sites to the Acceptable Sites list when you don’t have the password (“O honey…”). And when it comes to researching certain topics such as abortion or homosexuality, be prepared for filter-city and a log filled with what amounts to false positives.

The Cybersitter makers have not eliminated these shortcomings in my many years of using it, and they do not seem interested in doing so. There’s no such thing as simply asking Cybersitter to block porno sites and images. It is basically intended for those supervising children.

Maybe someone someday will release filtering software for adults. Or maybe such software already exists. If you have found it, please send email. And if you have not, Cybersitter, with all its faults, remains as an option. In the spirit of Matthew 5:29, it is worthwhile despite the hassles.

Edit: Two readers of this post have suggested interesting solutions, Covenant Eyes and X3 Watch (hat tip: Ryan and Jim). Both programs do not use client filters, but instead log your internet activity and send them to an accountability partner on a regular basis. This eliminates the annoyance of harmless sites being blocked while still keeping you in bounds. At least one of the solutions claims to be nearly impossible to circumvent. Unfortunately I cannot evaluate these solutions further now because… yes, you guessed it, Cybersitter (aka. the Hammer) is blocking a lot of their content. However, I will research and test these solutions further over the coming weeks and post results.

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1 Response to The search for better filtering software

  1. Pingback: Jack’s Pipe » Search for Filtering Software, part 2

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