Despite all the high-technology filters available in the marketplace to block certain inappropriate sites from kids and teens surfing the Internet, parents may be the very best filters available.
"Parents should sit down and browse things with their kids. They should chat about what is inappropriate and why," said Carl Miller, Canton Public Library information technology specialist.
In the wake of a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allows government to require libraries to filter all computers connected to the Internet - or lose certain federal money and grants - Miller says the answer may be as simple as a parent learning what their kids are surfing, teaching them what is inappropriate and knowing when to pull the plug.
"I think that's the answer," Miller said. "It's almost like putting kids in front of the TV and walking away."
Be Street Smart
Parents need to continually monitor what their kids are looking at on the Internet. One shot won't do. That's because those who make Web sites that offer pornography, nudity, violence and the like are pretty smart.
"Guile is the word that comes to mind. But sneaky is better," Miller said, "They try to figure out ways people can end up at their site."
Pop-ups - those little boxes that show up while you are visiting a site - are often the ones of which to wary, especially for kids and teens. That's why it is so important for parents to scrutinize their children's Web surfing, Miller said.
"People have to be street smart, especially when you are asked to provide your name and other personal information," Miller said. "It is best to be leery."
The Supreme Court ruling upholds the Children's Internet Protection Act, signed into law by former President Bill Clinton.
It requires public libraries that receive certain types of federal money to install filtering software to prevent access by minors to "inappropriate matter" on the Internet.
Library Director Jean Tabor said the ruling will have little impact on Canton.
The library uses the Bess filter software on computers used by kids and teens, and computers in public areas where children may pass and view the screens.
To allow adults access, a separate Internet room was created during the library's expansion that does not have filters on the computers.
No one under 18 is allowed in the room. And that is enforced, Tabor said.
In a second reading of the ruling, Tabor said it will have less impact than initially anticipated. The library uses approximately $11,000 in federal money for the telephone system.
Originally, Tabor suspected that would be lost. In fact, the filtering provision does not apply to telecommunication costs such as voice or data lines.
Canton will pass on federal grant opportunities in the wake of the ruling.
Tabor said that also has little impact as Canton does not often apply because of the cumbersome application process for the small amount of money that can be obtained.
The machines patrons use at the library are actually not full computers, rather just screens. "Programs run on a server. We use the Citrix system, which is a thin client solution," Miller said.
"People see things on the screen, but a computer is not connected. Our filters are on the server."
Three types of filters are available in the marketplace. One is the keyword filter, one of the earliest types available. From a list of "bad" words,documents are filtered.
But problems crop up with
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false positives - blocking something that shouldn't be as well as false negatives - blocking things that should be blocked.
"A keyword filter is not very sophisticated and easy to get around," Miller said.
The second type of filter is an image content filter that measures the percentage of flesh tones.
Again, easy to get around because a photo of a mosquito bite would be blocked because of the high percentage of flesh tone.
A woman scantily clad in a fishnet outfit, for example, could pass the filter because of a lesser percentage of flesh tone.
"There are ways to have pornography without lots of skin tones," Miller said.
A third is content filtering. In this one, humans go to sites and rate them: hard core pornography, soft core pornography, nudity, educational nudity, online gambling and game, for example. Bess the filter the library uses, is a content filter.
"Once a day, the computer is updated with new ratings," Miller said, adding you can let Bess know of any sites that need reviewing.
Parents are reminded that when accessing the Internet through the library from a home computer, the information is not filtered. "We do count on parents to monitor their children and to get filters for their home computers," Miller said.
When kids go to the library's Web page and access the kids' area, the information is purely for kids.
"The librarians are always looking for stuff for kids," Miller said.
Parents are also to be cautioned that e-mail is not filtered and of course, unsolicited e-mails of questionable content come pouring in.
"E-mail is untrustworthy," Miller said.
"Some companies manage to get your e-mail and put it on a list."
Reputable sites will honor your request to unsubscribe.
But disreputable ones will allow you to ubsubscribe and then sell your address to yet another company providing questionable e-mail messages.
Miller warns that some e-mails generate viruses.
Anti-virus software may help. "It will stop some of the flood of e-mails that go around," he said.