Has it ever happened to you?
You're innocently looking up something
on the Internet, and the next thing you know you are faced with a page of
pornographic sex goddesses emblazoned across your screen. To make
matters worse, you try and close the page, which has taken over your
entire monitor, but more pages keep popping up.
All it takes is one slip on the
keyboard and a misspelled website address can suddenly open a window of sexual
perversion. Or an innocent enough name (like the infamous
can lead to unexpected content.
If you've had this experience, you're
likely one of millions of parents who are reluctant to have the Internet in
their home because you don't want your children exposed to similar
Over the past few years, experts have provided
us with good ideas on how we can help our children use the Internet.
Having the family computer in a high traffic area is a great place
to start. As well, educating children on how to use the Internet
safely is very important.
But even in Internet savvy homes, accidental
brushes with porn, hate, and other objectionable content can occur.
And preventing a manipulative adult from extracting information from
your child in a chat session may not always be possible.
For these reasons Matt Stanley, Executive
Vice-President of Max.com, has created a unique way through which
parents can keep close tabs on their family's Internet habits and
"What we're trying to do is offer a tool to
parents," explains Stanley, who emphasizes that each client should
be able to select their own comfort level based on who is using the
computer. "You've got to use the tool to match your parental style."
Certainly many parents have resorted
to using some type of "filter" or parental control on their Internet
connection. Some of these have been around
since the Internet became popular, and are purchased like any other
software package from various electronics and discount stores.
These software "client-side" filters
reside on your computer, and usually rely on a list of websites that
are downloaded from the software manufacturer on a regular basis.
They also offer filtering or complete termination of chat
activities, and allow parents to generally regulate the time
their children spend on-line.
On the other side of the formula are
ISP (Internet Service Provider) or "server-side" parental controls.
Companies like AOL and Microsoft provide parents with filtering
services that require little or no setup on your home computer.
Both solutions have pros and cons. Max.com has
tried to create a hybrid solution combining the best of both models.
To begin with, Max.com is a full service ISP.
It can replace your current Internet Service Provider, and offer you
a very advanced parental control mechanism. With dial-up access
numbers across the US and Canada, chances are there's a connection
point within your local calling area. If there isn't, you can use Max.com with your current service provider.
But the most impressive part of Max.com is the
enormous control it offers. After registering your billing
information, you download the software required for installation on
your computer. A painless procedure follows and then you get to the
good stuff that will make you feel like you have more control than
even James Orwell imagined in 1984.
Logging into the MAX Family Manager over the
Internet, you are presented with a myriad of possibilities. First,
you can create individual user accounts for each member of your
family. MAX has preset settings for various age groups: Parents,
teens, children, and toddlers, or you can refine them further.
Clicking on the "Filter" tab lets you
choose to "allow", "warn", or "block" up to 11 types of content
broken into categories labeled pornography, adult/mature, illegal
activities, hate/violence, etc. If you enter specific information
about your child (like her name, address, and phone number) into the
"Pedophile Protector," it will prohibit that information from
entering into a chat session.
Finally, there are master "on/off" switches to
block peer-to-peer file sharing, chatting, web browsing, or even cut
off the Internet entirely for one specific user.
If a block is necessary, MAX closes
the Internet browser and can even take a "picture" of the screen so
you can see exactly what was happening when the infraction occurred.
It is also willing to drop you an email at the office (or anywhere
else) and let you know what happened. It's this remote warning and
control that makes MAX so powerful.
So how does MAX work in a real family
setting? While writing this article in my home office, I glanced out
the door to see what my daughter was up to in the family room. She's
supposed to be writing a book report, but instead was enthralled
with looking at pictures of various rodents on the web.
It's not exactly an illegal activity but one
guinea pig in the house is enough! And of course, it's an
inappropriate use of time when her homework isn't done. So I gave
MAX a test. I opened a web browser on my computer, logged into the
manager screen, and cut off her Internet. Moments later I heard a
sigh of frustration. Our eyes met across the crowded room, and she
knew she needed to get back to work.
The amazing thing is I could have checked what
she was doing from Timbuktu (assuming I had an Internet connection
there). All I need to do is log onto MAX, look at the "Reports" tab
and I can see how each member of my family is spending time on the
Internet. Has someone's been chatting for an hour instead of doing
their math? A push of a button solves the problem.
Many other options are available such as
setting time of day usage, or creating email addresses - a service Max
provides as your ISP, but also offers strict spam and content
filtering to avoid unwanted mail messages. One account also allows
you to install MAX on all the computers in your home with no
Matt Stanley emphasizes that MAX isn't a
babysitter, and underscores the need for parents to always keep tabs
on their family's Internet habits. But at least this filtering
option, with it's various levels of protection, should prevent those
nasty surprises from popping up on your computer screen.
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