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Internet Filters for the Orthodox Jew

 

I. Introduction

Filters are an important tool in the responsible use of the internet, allowing you to safely navigate the web without accidentally landing on sites you find inappropriate. However, too many people do not know how to use them. I offer here an overview for the Orthodox Jew with some practical suggestions on what and how to implement.

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 ha-ra (forbidden gossip), 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 fairly quickly and had reviewed by a techie. I ask that readers offer corrections, suggestions and links to improve this resource.

II. Filtering Methods

There are three methods of filtering: time control, content filtering and content control. Time control sets limits on the time when internet access is available. For example, you can only allow it between the hours of 8 and 9pm or on Sundays from 3 to 5pm. 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, such as if you want to block SportsIllustrated.com. They also allow you to choose entire categories to block or allow, such as social networking. White lists assume that the entire internet is blocked except for the sites contained in this list. 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 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 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 cheap prices, as the large, unfiltered internet services.

A router-side filter also limits the internet access received by a customer, including wireless connections in the house. 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 oversharing information that should be kept private.

V. Choosing a Filter

Consumers who choose a filter need to balance simplicity and effectiveness. Most people are not technologically savvy and prefer easy installations and minimal options. There are a number of robust filters available for a small charge. You can find a comparison of their features here. Additionally, some filters with fewer features are available for free. One popular filter is K9 Web Protection. For computers, K9 provides a client-side filter with time control and content control, category blocking, ad blocking, black list, white list and website activity monitoring.

All browser-based and client-side filters allow an administrator to override the blocking by entering a password. If you find a site that you believe is unobjectionable to be blocked, you enter your password to access it by overriding the filter’s control. This means that you must guard your password and change it regularly. Do not let your children see you type it in or give them any clue by which they can discover it. If you do, you have compromised your entire filtering system.

VI. Mobile Devices

Filtering mobile devices is more complicated than a computer because you cannot install a filter. Corporations that filter their mobile devices do so at the server level (similar to ISP-based filter), which average consumers cannot do. However, many mobile devices incorporate parental settings (“Restrictions” on iPods, iPhones and iPads) that serve as client-side filters. Learn how to use them. For example, you can set your iPhone restrictions (protected with a 4-digit password) to disable or limit music, movies and apps. However, be aware that a motivated child can easily bypass all these restrictions.

For browser-side filtering, you must disable the built-in browser Safari and download a filtered browser like K9, SafeEyes or McGruff. In order for this to work, you must also disable the downloading of apps. Otherwise, your child can easily download an unfiltered browser. Again, a child can easily bypass this restriction and re-enable Safari. OpenDNS is one free router-side filter that works on your home wifi network.

VII. Computer Security

None of these filters will accomplish anything if a user can easily deactivate them. At a bare minimum, you have to make sure that no users have “admin” control and therefore have only limited ability to install and uninstall programs. Create a separate adminstrator account for which only you have the password and make sure that all other users have limited rights.

Guard your passwords. Pick one that your children cannot easily guess, do not let your children watch you enter it and change it regularly.

For iPods and similar devices, it is best to share an iTunes account with your children so you know what apps they are downloading. However, you have to occasionally check in order to monitor.

VIII. Filters Are Not The Answer

To my knowledge, no commercially available filters reach the standard of Orthodox Judaism. In particular, they do not block lashon ha-ra and counter-religious websites. However, other than that you can use the internet without having to see ads or being able to reach inappropriate websites.

Be aware, though, that filters can be bypassed by motivated, clever people. You need to use filters along with security measures and other precautions, such as placing computers in public areas like the kitchen and educating toward healthy and proper use, not least of which is maintenance of privacy. Net Nanny lists the following top ten internet safety tips (see here for more elaboration):

1) First educate yourself, then your child
2) Teach children the obvious identity rules
3) Install an Internet filter or family safety software
4) Know the dangers associated with sites your children frequent
5) Teach children what to do if they encounter pornography on a home or public computer, such as at a school or a library
6) Manage your children’s time on the Internet
7) Set specific Internet guidelines for your children to live by and consistently enforce consequences, if they are not being followed
8) Keep computers out of children’s bedrooms and in open areas
9) Create a relationship with your children that is conducive to open communication
10) Understand Internet Privacy Policies as they apply to your child

There are many websites and books about “family friendly” internet use that are worth exploring. Google “family friendly internet” for a wealth of resources.

Last updated: May 7, 2012 9:23 pm EDT

 

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About the author

Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the founder, publisher and editor-in-chief of Torah Musings.

 
The opinions and facts here are presented solely by the author. Torah Musings assumes no responsibility for them. Please address religious questions to your rabbi.
 

27 Responses

  1. thank you says:

    Thank you. You saved me 10$.

  2. Yossie says:

    BTW, there is an app available for Android phones call Visidon AppLock. The free version allows face-recognition locking of apps and if too many tries fails, it locks and requires a password to put in, so you can set up the app, and not train it and therefore it will fail and require a password. This way you can lock down a phone so that no apps can be downloaded.

  3. none says:

    what about router side filtering? This will help for mobile wifi devices too.

  4. Srully Epstein says:

    Rav Gil,

    Many thanks for this valuable primer.

  5. Anonymous says:

    And how do you stop a kid from booting off a live USB?

  6. David Ohsie says:

    To my knowledge, no commercially available filters reach the standard of Orthodox Judaism.

    This is probably true, but you can get as close as possible by using a “whitelist”. Basically you exclude *every* website, except for the few ones that you have identified as OK (the whitelist). To do a really good job, you really need to limit what you open up including things that many would consider essential like google. This is good for people that use computers for very specific purposes and websites. For people that need to use their computers for general research, this approach is more difficult.

    For this approach, I’ve had success with “Windows Family Safety”. This is a free program from Microsoft that you can can use to control many Windows computers using a single online account. When something is blocked that the “monitoree” wants to be added to the whitelist, he/she can request the “monitor” to open that website via email, and the “monitor” can approve that request with a single click. As someone who serves in the “monitor” role, this saves a lot of effort over having to go to the “monitoree’s” computer to update the filter.

    This approach doesn’t help for mobile devices (as far as I know) and also doesn’t help if the user wants to get around the filter and is sophisticated enough.

  7. Dovid says:

    “There are many websites and books about “family friendly” internet use that are worth exploring. Google “family friendly internet” for a wealth of resources.”

    You mean you’re recommending these goyishe resources instead of going to hear what the gedolim say at the Asifa?? You’re mamash a koifer. Revolting!!

    :-)

  8. Jenny says:

    While one could come close to providing security for his children, many men require filtering as well, as pornography being a click away is not a safe environment.

    The problem with these solutions (including the Buddy-system, which will not be adopted by many for a number of (legitimate) reasons) is that the Admin can presumably override any filtering or monitoring system.

    The real Admin, who has the password to the filters has to be the wife, but that requires an uncomfortable conversation with one’s spouse.

  9. emma says:

    “but that requires an uncomfortable conversation with one’s spouse.”
    Not if it becomes a norm that everyone does without individual reasons. (Kind of like the dream for the RCA prenup – that doing it has no bearing on your personal relationship, but is something you do so unspecified “bad” other people do it too.) Bigger issue is that there are real social reasons why the admin is often going to be the father (he may have more tecnical expertise, eg) that will cause some resistance to such a norm.

  10. Jacob says:

    R,Gil how come you are not mentioning any info about the frum internet filter providers

  11. Shmuel says:

    You should mention Open DNS, which has filtering features that operate outside of one’s home (Not sure if ISP is the right term for them). You don’t lose anything by using them (to my knowledge) and the service is free. I would think it is a good backstop to software etc. filters, but I leave that to the computer experts.

  12. Hirhurim says:

    Shmuel: You are right and I need to add a section on router-based filters, such as OpenDNS. I think someone else above also made that point.

    Jacob: I don’t know anything about the frum internet providers. Can they possibly have the scale to be as good and cheap as Fios and Optimum?

  13. David says:

    Some decades ago, my parents put their TV in a locked cabinet. I found out where the key was, and had a duplicate key cut. The same dynamic exists today.

    Chances are your kids know more about this stuff than you do, and anything you do they can undo. If the Chinese government can’t effectively censor the Internet, neither can the frum community.

    For adults, the only effective filter is free will. Kids need to be supervised, but they also need to have the opportunity to practice making good decisions.

  14. Rafael Araujo says:

    David – there is no leeway here. One mistake with a child and internet could end up being one mistake too many, if the child access porn and other “wonderful” online material.

  15. Hirhurim says:

    Rafael: Oh, please. Could it be? Possibly. But somehow when I was a kid we were exposed to actual porn magazines (on rare occasions – seriously) and didn’t become ruined for life. There’s a chance that one exposure could ruin a kid for life and a chance that driving once without a seat belt could kill a kid. But let’s be realistic about the probabilities.

    The real issue is that by failing to offer limited and filtered internet access, we run the very real risk of pushing kids to find unfiltered access.

  16. Rafael Araujo says:

    Gil – with all due respect, the magazines, which were bad, compare to live or recorded videos of pornography? To the choice of types of pornography out there? You get real. Reading a Playboy is childs’ play compared to what the internet can expose any person today.

    I don’t disagree you with you on making sure that filtered access is in place, if you have internet at home. I was countering David’s point that we have to assist our children to practice making good choices. My point is that you can’t “practice” making smart choices when it comes to the internet. Hence, the need for a filter, if you have internet at home (and I don’t).

  17. Hirhurim says:

    Rafael: I’m not denying that videos are worse than magazines (and there are worse magazines than what you mentioned). But are you really arguing that if a kid sees one porn video then he will be ruined for life? Because, again, videos were around when I was a kid. Seeing it once will not ruing a kid. Let’s be realistic. The problem is repeated viewing over a long period of time.

    I also disagree with David. But, to some extent, you can practice when we are talking about immodest pictures. It’s pretty easy to filter out porn. It’s much harder to filter out immodest pictures.

  18. anon says:

    There are two issues here as there are in general orthodox life. The halachick harm of committing aveirot that is specific to our world of religious judaism, and the physical (secular?) harm that is not unique to us.

    When it comes to halachik harm, is the internet so much more unique than any other form of media? Is the viewing of pornography or having “hirhurim” (in the colloquial meaning, not the real meaning of the word as used for this blog’s name) really worse than any of the others aveirot?

    When it comes to physical/secular harm, one would expect that we would suffer in a manner that is no better/worse than non jewish/religious people. So what harm befalls them?

    Addiction? Obvious harm to the person

    Creation of unrealizable expectations/fetishes? A little less obvious, but a physical harm.

    the above two impact singles and marrieds alike.

    In addition, for married in particular

    Poking holes in existing relationships. This isn’t so much a harm of the pornography, but a destruction of trust between the two people involved in the relationship. However, this is fundamentally the same as a spouse loosing faith in Judaism (which also happens) and the fallout is the same. While the example of loosing faith is not something that all non Jews have to deal with, there are myriads of reasons that a spouse discovers that the person they married is no longer who they thought they were and can no longer continue with the marriage.

    There are probably other harms that are not listed, but the point is to push the conversation. Without understanding the harms, one can not really create the best solutions/cures, one will only treat the symptoms by trying to avoid the problems, but having no answer for when the problems do occur. Of course, one might view the internet itself as the harm and the harms mentioned as only symptoms, and hence the cure is to excise the internet. However, it would appear that people reading this would disagree.

  19. Synapse says:

    ” in a moment of weakness intentionally go to, objectionable websites which may contain any of the following: pornography, gambling, gaming,”

    What is gaming doing in this list? Are we not allowed to play video games or something?

  20. David says:

    I highly recommend “K9 Web protection”… This filter provides a ton of different options for blocking content. It’s also 100% free if it’s for your home. It also allows for timing restrictions and provides an “internet activity” log. What I did was download it to my computer, assign a password for myself, and then had a friend of mine access my computer via screen sharing and had him change the password to one of his own. Now I am no loner the admin and can’t access the settings. I don’t see why people have an issue with the “buddy system”. After mincha the other day one of the guys came in and brought up filters and everyone gave their suggestions for which are the best and offered to be each other’s “buddy”. There is no shame in this and it should most definitely become the “norm” for Orthodox Jews.

    As for blocking out loshon hara…to be honest it’s hard enough to not be exposed to it in real life. Fear of stumbling on loshon hara in my opinion is not a reason to stop internet use, etc.

  21. David says:

    Also…www.guardyoureyes.com is a great Jewish website which helps with both prevention of these issues as well as helping those people who have moments of weakness get over the problem and move on with their lives.

  22. […] up on this post on internet filters, here are links to some free internet filters for […]

  23. […] and have not installed one, immediately download and install one of the many free and powerful filters available. Today’s discussion must be about responsible internet usage. That means carefully choosing […]

  24. ACP says:

    Extremely important, relevant and useful. Thank you Rabbi Student.

    But … This is only half the story. What suggestions are there for:

    (1) The best way to instill in our children such a love for Mitzvot, Torah, Tzniut, etc such that if (when?) they are ever exposed to what is out there, they they have the strength and knowledge to say no?

    (2) This is all about what you can do in your own home. How do you handle when your kids visit someone else’s home who does not have the safety rules that you do? Or people who are ignorant of the dangers and give their kids phones with open Internet access that can be viewed anywhere?

  25. danthecan says:

    A suggestion for setting up admin passwords:
    My wife and I each typed in several characters without the other looking. Now, any change requires both of us to type in a password.

  26. Eitan Schwarz Md says:

    I am glad to learn how the Jewish community is finally rallying in an effort about using the Internet for its educational benefits. 

    ACTUALLY, I HAVE AN ANSWER TO THE PROBLEM OF CONTROL. 

    As a practicing veteran child psychiatrist, I invented ZillyDilly for iPad for parents and teachers to better align technology to family life and children’s needs by child proofing the internet and vetting each site for appropriateness to age group and child development. 

    We are a lean startup bootstrapping locally,  and just launched the app. I would appreciate your perusal and review,

    http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/zillydilly-for-ipad/id492673037?mt=8

    As a Sabrah, I am dedicated to Tikkun Olam. See my book and http://www.mydigitalfamily.org
     I believe that parents and educators need to be enabled with good tools and the unmatched diversity of free resources online be as available as any app for parents and teachers to give to kids. I believe that home is where kids can learn best media habits.

     I believe that children and families both secular and observant Jewish communities would benefit from ZillyDilly and am eager for your input. 

    Many thanks
    Eitan Schwarz MD DLFAPA FAACAP
    Northwestern U Medical School

    http://Www.zillydilly.com

 
 

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