RealTime IT News

Study: Net Filtering Blocks Useful Content

Internet filtering technology meant to prevent Web surfers from accessing pornography also blocks out useful health and other useful information available over the Internet, according to a study released Wednesday.

The study, conducted by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, says several Web filtering software programs often block out words with any association to sex. Many schools, libraries and parents utilize the most restrictive level of the filtering software to prevent access to objectionable sexual content, widely available over the Internet. But when institutions and families use restrictive filter technology they also block out information about safe sex, condoms, abortion, and even diabetes.

The Internet filtering study is being published in The Journal of the American Medical Association and marks the first major study of the blocking software and its impact on public and private access to valuable health-related information available on the Web.

Free speech advocates argue that filtering software technology squelches the First Ammendment and is a form of censorship, but public institutions also have to be wary about young people's access to objectionable sexual content. The Kaiser Family Foundation is an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan philanthropic organization devoted to health policy.

The study was conducted for the foundation by University of Michigan researchers, who tested the six leading Internet filtering programs. The study found N2H2 is the "most effective at blocking pornography." Other filtering vendors profiled in the study included Websense, SurfControl, SmartFilter, 8e6 and Symantec.

The study searched health-related information using three levels of filtering: most restrictive, an intermediate setting and a least restrictive level of blocking. The study found that a survey of 20 school districts and library systems across the country, only one of the schools sets its filters at the least restrictive level.

The report entitled, "See No Evil: How Internet Filters Affect the Search for Online Health Information," says that 73 percent of public schools and 43 percent of libraries are using some type of Internet filtering software on their computers.

N2H2 put out a press release saying the study "scores a major victory" for Internet filtering, but the findings of the Kaiser are far more sobering pointing to the difficulties young people may face when trying to find out information on AIDS, gays and lesbians, and even depression, when searching from school or library computers.