Google/Youtube .. Mostly Fail - While I applaud the sentiment .. this 'opt-in' feature is all but useless for parents concerned with protecting their family members. a) it defaults to Off (Bad Stuff Available) vs On (Somewhat Protected) when not yet signed on - you must scroll way down to the bottom to click it On. b) by simply switching to incognito mode is is again defaulted to Off c) can only be 'locked' On after you sign on to your Google/Youtube account - but the 'lock' is easily defeated .. just scroll to the bottom and turn it back Off (because everyone in the family knows the email passwords) .. or just clear your Cookies (intentionally or inadvertently) and the 'lock' goes Off again. So .. What to do?
"I am Oz the Great and Terrible" - L. Frank Baum
Google Search and Youtube Videos, and many other internet things, are great .. and terrible. They are immensely powerful and useful tools, even critical, to the current functionality of the internet. Without them, we literally would not know where to go or what to see - just ask 'Captain Literally' and would end up with a lot of unproductive free time on our hands. The Internet is filled with a LOT of stuff. Some is Great. Much Inane (51.6 million cute cat videos). Some (or maybe a lot more) just plain Terrible.
So .. how do we protect ourselves and our families? or at least how do we minimize the problem? Well, one option is to simply cancel your internet account and throw away your all your computers, tablets and cell phones (as they are mostly useless without the internet :). We did a similar thing in our family when I was a teenager. Back then the internet was not invented yet - but TV was .. first black and white and then color! After a while, Mom decided TV was more terrible than great and so for a number of years we just did not have a television set in the house. Eventually she noticed that some of her kids (not me - as my only friends were books) started spending a LOT of time visiting at the homes of friends in the neighbourhood where a TV happened to be available .. and so we got the TV back again (but no cable) and the kids returned back home more often (until they married and moved away)! The Ned Flanders approach while effective is not that practical, because the Simpsons live next door and have a TV visible through the window. So the second part of this solution is to encourage (or legislate) all your neighbors to do the same, all through your town and all over the world. Of course, that is never going to fly, so eventually the real filter must be installed into your own brain and the brain of every sentient, responsible adult. You will 'know it when you see it' and then must choose for yourselves what is great and what is terrible for you and yours. So, presuming you choose to keep the great and avoid or minimize the terrible .. How is that done?
This is what I recommend (and do) ..
OpenDNS - opendns.com
They: "PROTECT EVERY DEVICE IN YOUR HOME, INSTANTLY. OPENDNS SETTINGS APPLY TO EVERY DEVICE — laptops, smartphones, tablets, DVRs, game consoles, TVs, literally anything that connects to the internet. We’re the world’s leading DNS service, meaning you’ll see noticeably faster internet speeds as well." For home users, I recommend their free OpenDns Home service. You must sign in and create an account and make some adjustments to your internet router settings, but once that is done they mostly take over and do much of the heavy lifting for you. You can do it yourself or hire a computer guy like me to set it up for you. You will need the admin username and password for your specific router and know the local IP address for said router. After everything is set up, browse over to their https://www.opendns.com/welcome page to confirm that everything is set up correctly.
How does it work? First you need to understand IP addresses and DNS servers (danger - eyes glazing over - we're losing them!). Wait .. it is not all that hard to explain. Every computer serving up a website on the internet is assigned an IP address (kind of like a phone number for that website) and DNS servers are just giant phone books that look up those numbers for the names of places you want to visit. Want to go to the Google search page? You type in: google.com in your browser, that browser does a DNS lookup and finds: 22.214.171.124 as the IP (think website phone number) address and surprise, surprise, surprise you are transported to the Google search page .. if you happened to have memorized the IP address you could have just typed that in ie 126.96.36.199 vs google.com and gotten directly there, but who does that? Also, on the internet the IP address 'phone numbers' switch and change from time to time for many sites (using virtual IP addresses). So you need to look them up to find their current locations .. on the regularly updated DNS server 'phone book'. OK, so once you know all about this IP and DNS stuff: realize that OpenDNS is just a replacement 'phone book' for the internet - one that only looks up the good stuff for you.
Sweet! What can go wrong? A few things: A) your home internet has an IP address too and OpenDNS uses that to identify you and your settings. If it happens to change (and with many internet providers it can) you need let OpenDNS know so it can keep track of who you are and what your settings are or else you suddenly have unprotected access to everything again. Thankfully, they have provided a simple utility program that can be installed on one of your home computers to keep your current IP address setting up to date. B) sometimes the blocking is too lax - ie a website unknown to them yet can get through. You can add these to your 'always block' list and pass the suggestion back to them. I did this for Peggo.com - a wonderful video conversion utility site that also happens to provide unfiltered (safe mode Off) video search (mostly from YouTube) and download capabilites to your unsuspecting youth. C) sometimes the blocking is too restrictive - ie you are being blocked from something you want or need to access - you can add these to your 'never block' list and pass that suggestion on back to them. For example, OpenDNS blocks the installation site (recommended below) for K9 Web Protection. Hmm. D) sometimes the sites you want to get to have both good and bad stuff on them e.g. Google Search and/or Youtube Video. If you want the convenience of searching on the internet you also get the convenience of quick access to porn served up right on your screen (when safe mode is Off, the preview page on Google Image Search is as bad as you never want to see and Youtube Video Search is just as worse). One way to try to fix this is to turn 'safe search' mode On in Google and Youtube searches. What a great idea!?! Sorry .. doesn't really work as advertised .. Google/Youtube .. Mostly Fail - While I applaud the sentiment .. this 'opt-in' feature is all but useless for parents concerned with protecting their family members. a) it defaults to Off (Bad Stuff Available) vs On (Somewhat Protected) when not yet signed on - you must scroll way down to the bottom to click it On. b) by simply switching to incognito mode is is again defaulted to Off c) can only be 'locked' On after you sign on to your Google/Youtube account - but the 'lock' is easily defeated .. anyone can just scroll to the bottom and turn it back Off (because everyone in the family knows the email passwords) .. or just clear your Cookies (intentionally or inadvertently) and the 'lock' goes Off again. So .. what to do? Keep reading! Also, be aware that OpenDNS does not protect devices that are not connected to it - so your cell phone with 3G data is left unprotected, for instance. The free version of OpenDNS only permits 25 Always/Never Block entries but the paid version allows an expanded list for those of you willing to pay a token amount ($20/yr at last notice for the VIP version).
K9 Web Protection - k9webprotection.com
"K9 Web Protection is a free Internet filter and parental control software for your home Windows or Mac computer. K9 puts YOU in control of the Internet so you can protect your kids." K9 must be installed on each computer to be protected and I have found you need to register each with a unique key. The software works for many but not all (not Linux :( yet ) platforms, but once installed silently enforces safe search mode to be On and prevents users from turning it back Off. Great. It can also be used as a second level of protection for blocking. When it works, it is wonderful!
So, what can go wrong here? Well, again, the level of protection can be overly restrictive, preventing a user from getting access to needed sites and sometimes underly restrictive - not automatically blocking newer sites that are inherently unsafe. The parents must have enough computer savvy to set and protect the K9 password and to be able to recover it as needed (ie use an email account that only the parents have access to). Also, because each computer/device must be configured to be protected, if new computers or devices (laptops, tablets, phones, etc) are connected or brought into your home, they are not automatically protected by the K9 program. This can provide a false sense of security for users - with only some devices in the home being protected this way. Also, an override password can be provided to unblock sites or categories - but this has potential to undermine the entire protection scheme. These overridden sites and categories must be reviewed from time to time and updated so that protection remains in place.
Of course, as noted above, since an obscene amount of money is being made providing Terrible content to the world, they are unlikely to choose on their own to stop marketing the smut to us. The next best and real answer is the development of a portable personal moral filter - to be installed directly on your own/kids/users brains .. especially when they visit their friends and neighbors homes that are less well configured. No piece of software or hardware is fail-safe. Individuals and families need rules that will help keep them protected and safe .. by choice.
However, with the implementation and maintenance of this combination of OpenDNS and K9 Web Protection software, you are provided a Great level of protection against many or most of the Terrible things out there on the internet - at least within the safety of your own home.
- FamilyShield from OpenDNS. This is a great option for those who are a bit more technical. It requires some technical ability to install and configure, but protects all WiFi (wireless network) devices in the house, including game consoles. Typically, it does not protect cell phones which use a different network (mobile phone network- EDO/3G/4G).
- FamilyShield Router Configuration Instructions for Open DNS. This provides setup details for the OpenDNS FamilyShield Router, which blocks domains categorized in the OpenDNS system as Tasteless, Proxy/Anonymizer, Sexuality, Pornography, or Weapons.
- K9 Web Protection from BlueCoat. This is a great option for those who are not technical. It is easy to install and configure, and works very well.
- LDSTech: Family safety with technology - Tips https://tech.lds.org/wiki/Family_safety_with_technology#Tips_.26_suggestions
And finally, for your convenience: here are the settings (see images below) I have arrived at (after much back and forth testing) that allows me to watch Dr Who and still keep the family safe and happy.
R Davies Dec 2015