Ruth, my wife, and I host a podcast about parenting called parental geekery. We’ve been doing it in various guises since about 2007 and lately it’s kinda off-again, on-again but as parents and geeks we often get asked about how to protect children from the unsavoury elements of the internet. Well that’s a HUGE topic and I’m not going to pretend I can answer every facet of it here but I can point you at one rather good free service that will go a long way towards helping.
Open DNS have been offering a free, fast and protected DNS service for years now. Unsung heroes and all that. Also check out Google’s DNS service for another great fast, free and somewhat protected option. But Open DNS are now also offering a free version of their service aimed at parents called Family Shield. It filters unsavoury websites protecting little eyes from seeing stuff they shouldn’t. You can find it here: http://www.opendns.com/home-internet-security/parental-controls/opendns-familyshield/
So how does this work? Well forgive me getting just a tiny bit technical but you’ll have noticed that websites and services on the internet have names like, “google.com”, for example. Now computers don’t use names when they’re talking to each other. They use IP addresses which are in the form of numbers like, “126.96.36.199”. So the service that turns those human readable names into computer readable numbers is called DNS or Domain Name Service. And because it’s such an important part of how we use the internet it’s a super way to implement parental controls.
But all security measures only protect against certain things so it’s important to understand what isn’t covered by this solution. First of all, although DNS is a good solution it’s not foolproof. A determined internet user could circumvent it but it would require some technical knowledge. Second, Open DNS does nothing to protect your kids from unsafe videos on YouTube. It filters whole websites but not the pages within the websites. Personally I think YouTube is one of the biggest problem sites on the internet for kids at the moment simply because there’s so much content on there aimed at kids and it’s jumbled up together with content for older audiences and YouTube does very little to help you understand which is which. So personally I don’t let my kids use YouTube unsupervised.
Expect this topic of protecting children online to come up again.. and again..