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Keeping your child safe when surfing the Net

March 17, 1996


The Internet's explosive growth has been detailed in news reports as both individuals and corporate America discover a new outlet and tool for productivity.

A recent study verifies this growth: Approximately 17 million people are using the Internet Ï double previous estimates.

This makes the ``community'' of Internet users more than twice as large as the population of New York.

Both the Net and New York have their splendid and not-so-splendid neighborhoods. And as far as children go, both have areas you may not want them wandering into without some sort of adult supervision.

Constant supervision is a sure -- though not always practical -- way to keep your child safe when using the Internet or an on-line service.

On-line services do a fair job of giving parents a chance to control where their kids wander. America Online, CompuServe and Prodigy all offer parental controls -- though it is up to the parent to understand how to make it all work.

If you aren't using an on-line service for Internet access, there are still a number of ways to control the areas your child accesses.

A growing number of software companies are offering packages that offer parents some say-so over what can be accessed over the Internet.

CYBERPATROL. CyberPatrol is an Internet access management utility that helps parents and teachers control children's access to the Internet.

A trial version of the software is available to download over the Internet.

With CyberPatrol, you can:

  • restrict Internet access to certain times of the day;

  • limit the total time spent on-line per day and per week;
  • block access to specific resources and sites by content;
  • and restrict access to sites by content.

The trial copy of the software I downloaded was very effective. I was impressed by its ability to offer a complete log of Internet access, showing what sites were accessed.

CyberPatrol gives you seven days to register the trial copy, which means you pay the cost of the software. Completing the purchase also provides technical support and updates to the software's database of objectionable sites.

And if you don't like it after trying it, the package comes with its own uninstaller to remove it from your computer.

CyberPatrol is available for $49.95 for both Windows and Macintosh platforms.

CYBERSITTER. Another software package that can be downloaded for a free trial is CYBERsitter.

After installing CYBERsitter 2.0's demo version, I suspected the program wasn't running. After all, there was no icon or message indicating it was running.

But once I entered the Internet, CYBERsitter made its presence know.

CYBERsitter offers a great deal of versatility. Not only can you block inappropriate sites, but the software records attempted violations.

My attempts to look up the word ``sex'' on a search engine were blocked and recorded, complete with the time and date and the action taken by the software.

NET NANNY. Net Nanny is a DOS-based package that will block sites as defined by the user.

Unlike most software of this type, Net Nanny doesn't come with a database of objectionable sites or words to start with. A list of sites determined to be ``objectionable'' can be downloaded from Net Nanny's home page, and additional information can be updated quickly by the user.

SURF WATCH. One of the first Internet filtering packages was Surf Watch. The software package comes ready to block more than 2,000 sites on the Internet.

And while it doesn't allow the database to be customized by the user, regular updates are available by subscription.

The software isn't available for download over the Internet, but a visit to the Surf Watch Web site can provide an on-line demonstration of what the software offers does.

INTERNET FILTER. Another software package that isn't widely known yet in the U.S. is Internet Filter. A downloadable version is available at the Web site of its Vancouver-developer, Turner Investigations, Research and Communications.

Internet Filter offers the usual blocking features found on the other software packages listed here. But it does have an interesting option that automatically sends e-mail to a parent if a specific access violations occur.

The downloadable package Ï dubbed Version Zero Ï doesn't offer all the software's capabilities. Version One has all the bells and whistles.

SAFESURF. For parents concerned about their children's safety on the Internet, there's the California-based organization SafeSurf.

The group doesn't offer any software, but works to make ``the Internet safe for your children without censorship."

SafeSurf has developed a rating standard, and in theory, would aid a Web browser in determining what software was appropriate Ï or inappropriate Ï for young eyes.

With a SafeSurf-compliant Web browser, all non-approved Web sites are invisible.

The company offers their monthly newsletter on line, and an e-mail mailing list to help keep parents up-to-date on Internet safety.

CATS ON THE NET. For NCAA fans, March Madness if full swing. And sites devoted to the Holy Grail of basketball Ï the road to the Final Four Ï are plentiful.

CBS Sports offers a contest at its site on the World-Wide Web. The winner gets a trip to next year's Final Four in Indianapolis or one of 30 Microsoft software products.

SportsLine, another Web sports service, is also sponsoring its own contest, as well as plenty of action from the tournament.

Official Final Four merchandise is also available on the Internet.

The site offers officially licensed apparel and souvenirs.

Comments and questions about this column may be sent to jbrooks@myoldkentuckyhome.com, or visit www.myoldkentuckyhome.com on the World Wide Web.

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