Porn patrol: online help for worried parents

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Indy Lifestyle Online
With names inspired by a bizarre combination of Baywatch and Robocop, a new wave of programs is vying to become a vital part of your Internet set-up. It is no secret that pornographic images are available on the Internet and, as families begin to explore the online world, parents are inevitably worried their children might stumble across some seedy sites on the Web. But because nobody can effectively censor what is put on to the Internet, and the National Viewers and Listeners Association has yet to turn its steely gaze Netwards, it is up to individual users to filter what comes on to their desktops. That's where NetCop, Net Nanny, WinWatcher, Surfwatch, CYBERsitter and Cyber Patrol come in.

To a certain extent they are jumping on the Internet backlash bandwagon that started a year ago when it was revealed that rude pictures were freely available on the Net. By a fluke of technology, the responsibility for what children see is, for once, where it should be - in the hands of parents.

Thanks to the wonders of modern software technology, mum, dad, granny and babysitter can now indulge do-it-yourself censorship. Install any one of half-a-dozen programs and your computer's view of the Web will be deeply unerotic. These Net censors all work in a similar fashion, running in background memory with their electronic ears to the Internet grapevine, listening out for words defined as offensive by the user. When a forbidden word is encountered, the program performs a pre-defined action, which can be as innocuous as an on-screen warning or as drastic as a complete Windows shut-down.

You can also prohibit access to specific World Wide Web sites, newsgroups and bulletin boards. Some programs, such as Surfwatch and Cyber Patrol, come with regularly updated and pretty comprehensive lists of pornographic sites, so you need not worry that your kids will find a site you didn't know about. Cyber Patrol lets you decide about access to sites with bad language or alcoholic and sexual content.

The programs are fine as far as they go, but treat the symptoms of online porn, not the causes. As John Perry Barlow, Internet evangelist and former Grateful Dead lyricist, says, the best way to stop children accessing pornography is to bring them up to be disgusted by it. The only way effectively to censor the Web is to do it at home on a desktop-by-desktop basis; but the Web is only providing a taste of things to come in a digital age where 4,000 rather than four television channels will be the norm.

Cyber Patrol $49.95 (pounds 33 approx) Micro Systems Software http://www.microsys.com/ cyber/cp-order/.htm

CYBERsitter pounds 35.19 POW! Distribution 01202 716726 http://www.rain.org/solidoak/

Surfwatch $49.95 (pounds 33 approx) Surfwatch http://www.surfwatch.com/

Net Nanny pounds 57.58 Leaf Distribution 01256 707777 sales@leaf.co.uk

NetCop (due in Nov) Pathfinder 0161 406 7399

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