Internet Monitoring and Filtering

As you know, you can find literally anything on the internet. The good, bad, ugly, and absolutely unimaginable is all out there to be sought-after or perhaps stumbled upon accidentally. Much of it is just a google-search away.

People or companies that own computers that other people use may wish monitor or limit what is happening on their computers so there exists software that does that.

First a discussion about monitoring and filtering in general then we'll talk about your kids toward the end.

Let's define the terms here.

I. Monitoring

This is software that tracks specified types of activity and logs it. e.g. Web sites visited, instant messages exchanged, files that are uploaded or downloaded, software that's installed, recording VOIP-based phone calls, and pretty much any other thing that can be done on a computer. The person or company admin who installs the monitoring software can choose from likely dozens of things to be monitored. Certain monitored activities can be easily flagged for closer scrutiny. e.g. All web sites visited can be logged but then specific classes of web sites (e.g. containing prohibited content) can be easily highlighted for later review.

II. Filtering

This takes monitoring a step further by preventing access to certain types of web sites or programs. Such filtering can be site specific (Facebook only), cover an entire category (social networking in general) and even carve out exemptions (prohibit all social networking except LinkedIn).

Multiple categories to prohibit can be easily specified: Photo hosting and sharing sites (unmoderated only or all), pornography, hate speech, religious or political extremism, sites or forums promoting or discussing illegal drug use, sites promoting violence, how-to sites for making bombs and other weapons, the list goes on. There are dozens of site classifications that can be included in your filter. When a computer user visits a web site in a prohibit classification, an "intercept screen" appears explaining why the web site is unavailable.

Youtube is the big challenge here. It's just one website -- but a really popular one. You can find videos ranging from cute cats playing in a paper bag all the way to vitriolic hate speech. How to separate the two?

Content Moderation -- Filtering done for you by the site in question

Operators of mainstream sites such as YouTube or Facebook try to remove illegal or overly graphic content. People are constantly posting things even on mainstream sites that they ought not. There's a small army of people (called Content Moderators) tasked with viewing posted content and removing the really bad stuff. Yes, that's a soul-crushingly real job* with high turnover and the people that do it often need counseling afterward.

But there's plenty of unsavory content that is not moderated. And it depends largely on which site you are concerned about. For example, Facebook, because it's hugely popular with mainstream users, has a very low tolerance for unsavory content. You are quite unlikely to witness graphic content on Facebook. But other lesser known sites, or those sites catering to a specific audience, may have higher tolerances for graphic content.

Employer Monitoring

As an employee using a computer and network owned by the employer, such employee has no expectation of privacy using these tools. Do not engage in any conversation or web surfing activity that you would not want posted on the break room wall. The computer is there for the employee to perform his/her job, first and foremost.

In a larger corporate setting, such monitoring and filtering software likely resides not on the computers themselves, but in the networking equipment such as routers or edge firewalls, where local users cannot detect or disable monitoring.

From a human resources perspective, the company determines how to proceed with discipline, if any, based on what the logs reveal. Some companies might not do anything -- they simply want to know what their employees are up to. e.g. Are they wasting too much time surfing the web? Most companies have fairly lax policies about "personal" computer use on company time so long as it's not excessive nor are particularly offensive sites visited. Others are more strict. Just be sure you obey the Acceptable Use Policy in your employee handbook, if there is one.

Parental Monitoring

Parents have long been concerned with what their kids are up to on their computers and such. Depending on parenting style, trust levels, maturity of kids, and other aspects of how limits are set for children, teens, etc., such monitoring/filtering products could be useful.

Here's some questions to ask yourself:
 

  • If you have installed monitoring software do you tell your kids about it?

  • Do you allow your kids to use internet-enabled devices in their bedrooms or other areas outside your visibility?

  • Does your kid have a cell-enabled device?

  • Do you regularly inspect your kids devices and demand to know their PINs and online credentials?

  • Do you allow your kids' friends to use your wi-fi while they are visiting in your home?

  • Have you "had the talk" about the internet? The good, bad, ugly, and unimaginable?

  • How will you loosen the reins as your kid grows up and, presumably, becomes more responsible and trustworthy?


Monitoring/filtering software isn't very hard to disable especially if the kid's account (on a laptop or desktop computer) has administrative access (nearly all do). They'll learn that on Youtube in no time. Better if their user account does not have administrative privileges. For mobile devices, it can be a little harder, as they don't really support varying levels of user privileges the same way.

Suggestions

There a product, free for home use, called K9 Web Protection (Google it) that does a decent job of monitoring and filtering web content. I've installed this for some of my clients.

Years ago before every kid had a smartphone, some parents would place the computer in the family room with the screen facing the room. That made for a strong disincentive to surf for things that were prohibited by mom and dad. That's a lot harder these days since many (most?) teens and even preteens have their own internet-capable device with them at all times. They could be messaging with an ISIS recruiter sitting right on your living room sofa or from their bedroom and you'd never know it. Don't laugh. This is precisely how western kids are groomed and indoctrinated.

* External Links
https://www.wired.com/2014/10/content-moderation/   Warning: Although the linked article contains no graphic pictures or videos, the people interviewed describe some of the gruesome things they saw while performing their jobs.