Vital Signs: Cleaning the Internet

The Internet is not just for computer junkies anymore. 50.6 million people in the U.S. and Canada are on the Internet, so far.

Sadly, the Internet contains material that is offensive and psychologically damaging, especially to children. It is estimated that approximately 3,800 sites are dedicated to pornographic material. Subscribers to these services engage in vile conversation and trade lurid, sometimes illegal, images (e.g. bestiality, child pornography, etc.).

Because the World Wide Web is so simple to use, obscene material is available to anyone who can point and click a mouse. In fact, due to the interlinked nature of the Web, this kind of material often appears through innocent searches.

Internet chat represents the most commonly abused online tool. Pedophiles use public chat rooms to stalk children and lure them into private conversations where real damage can be done.

Given these concerns, many people who could benefit from the Internet are frightened out of the whole experience.

The first flicker of hope came in the form of software packages that restrict access to offensive sites. But such software is ineffective for two primary reasons. First, they do not block offensive material at its source, but only filter it out. So, any user clever enough to outsmart the security system—which would likely include your typical grade school child—can get around the filter. Second, many packages block sites based on certain key words like “breast.” This is obviously insufficient. A student searching for “breast cancer” would find his relevant material blocked by the filter, while someone else would be inundated with pornographic material based on a search for “love.”

Now, the International Internet Alliance (IIA) is setting out to provide a service that will better protect Internet users. Their service, CleanNet, is more effective in its filtration process, “hack-proof,” and competitively priced. In addition to pornography, CleanNet filters out information on how to commit suicide, hate groups, and other offensive material at its source so that it cannot be transmitted to subscribers, regardless of their computer savvy.

Rather than filters based on key-words, CleanNet maintains a database of sites known to be offensive and blocks access to them. In the event that a subscriber stumbles across offensive material that is not already filtered by CleanNet, a simple email message to IIA will trigger an investigation of the site.


  • Matt Bondi

    Matt Bondi is director of training and education for the International Internet Alliance.

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