Filter face-off: Consumer Reports magazine puts software to the test

Consumer Reports magazine tested the effectiveness of six Internet filtering products plus America Online's parental control function. Most of the products failed to block one in five objectionable sites, the magazine's testers found.

The study named AOL's Young Teen (ages 13 to 15) controls as the most effective filtering product, allowing access to only one inappropriate site in its entirety. The product seems to have done well because it only allows kids to view sites on a pre-approved list.

Some of the filters did not block certain sites deemed "inappropriate," the survey showed.

Net Nanny and Internet Guard Dog obstructed access to a site explaining how to make bombs using a blocking method based on objectionable words. That same site slipped past other filtering software.

In addition, the study found that the software often blocked legitimate sites because it could not distinguish between the way in which words and phrases are used.

Cybersitter 2000 and Internet Guard Dog blocked nearly one in five nonobjectionable sites, while Young Teen blocked 63 percent of such sites.

The reason for this might be that none of the three approaches used by filtering companies to determine which sites will be blocked-software analysis, human analysis and site labeling-have proven to be completely effective, according to the study.

The findings also show that in many cases companies' judgments played an important role in deciding which sites to block. The study pointed to the fact that AOL, Cyber Patrol and Cybersitter 2000 all blocked, a site containing instructions on how to disable filtering software. Peacefire's slogan? "It's not a crime to be smarter than your parents."

The full results of Consumer Reports' test of filtering products is available on the magazine's Web site at:

reports, Spring 2001