Editor’s Note: In light of all the attention that the recent Internet Asifa garnered, we thought it wise to offer this analysis on the subject by Rabbi Gil Student, founder of TorahMusings.com and former managing editor of OU Publications. Without a doubt, the Internet offers many wonderful opportunities, but it also presents substantial dangers for young and old alike. We believe Rabbi Student’s constructive advice and assistance will serve our readership well. The fact is that we can’t hide our heads in the sand; the Internet is often vital to our lives, especially in the work place, which is often Internet-related and dependent.
Internet Filters For The Orthodox Jew
Filters are an important tool in responsibly using the Internet. Without a filter, someone browsing the web may accidentally stumble onto, or in a moment of weakness intentionally go to, objectionable websites which may contain any of the following: pornography, gambling, gaming, profanity, lashon hara, counter-religious ideas or pictures/videos objectionable to Orthodox Jews. A filter will prevent that access or at least make it more difficult. However, filters are totally useless without attendant computer security, which we will also briefly discuss. What follows are explanations and recommendations I put together and had reviewed by a techie.
II. Filtering Methods
There are three methods of filtering: time control, content filtering, and content control. Time control sets limits on the time Internet access is available. For example, you can allow it only between the hours of 8 and 9 p.m. or on Sundays from 3 to 5 p.m. This can help prevent overuse of the Internet and also ensure that people only access the Internet when others are likely to be awake and may walk into the room.
Content filtering blocks websites that are deemed objectionable. Black lists contain addresses for offensive websites that are blocked. These are generally compiled by a combination of algorithm and human evaluation. Often, filters allow you to add your own list of blocked sites (for example, you can decide to block SportsIllustrated.com). They also allow you to choose entire categories to block or allow, such as social networking.
In contrast, white lists contain addresses of permissible sites that a user adds to it. The rest of the Internet is blocked. Each website must be approved before passing through the filter.
Content control actively changes objectionable content on a website. It may block pictures or change profane words to a string of punctuation marks. Ad blocking software is an important example of content control.
Filters have to be smarter than just blocking URLs and must use a combination of methods to ensure that content that is supposed to be blocked actually is. To my knowledge, there is no way you can fully accomplish this, but you can get pretty close to airtight.
III. Filter Types
There are four types of filter structures for consumers: browser-side, client-side, router-side, and ISP-side. A browser-side filter is either a web browser or a browser add-on that limits your access to the web in any of the three methods discussed above. In order for these to be effective, users must have limited ability to install and uninstall add-ons and new programs. Otherwise, they can easily disable the filtering capabilities or install an unfiltered browser or other program that accesses the web.
A client-side filter is installed on a computer (or device) and limits all access to the web from that computer. These sometimes slow the computer down, but they are harder to deactivate than browser-side filters and regulate all programs on the computer.
An ISP-side filter limits the Internet access provided to a customer. If the ISP successfully blocks content, the customer cannot access it through any program, on any device. These filters require a special Internet provider that usually lacks the same scale of operation (and therefore cannot offer cheap prices) as the large, unfiltered Internet services.
A router-side filter also limits the Internet access received by a customer, including wireless connections at home. Unlike an ISP-side filter, the customer installs this. It is generally somewhat complex to install but more powerful than a browser-side or client-side filter.
IV. Activity Monitoring
Another function many filters provide is the ability to monitor online activity. There are three types of activities often monitored: website visits, search terms, and social network activity. The results can either be saved and available for an administrator to access (pull) or sent via e-mail to the administrator (push). The latter includes “buddy” monitoring, in which a user selects someone to receive a detailed list of online activity. Social network monitoring is particularly important for parents who wish to ensure that their children are not sharing information that should be kept private.