The Effectiveness of Filtering

The Internet is a powerful tool whose use is increasing in every realm.  To cope with the complexity and abundance of content on the Web, it's necessary to understand the various content filtering options in order to select the most effective method.

Content filtering software is designed to reduce access to offensive or undesirable content, and it is particularly helpful for children.  Adults, and even workplaces, use it to avoid distractions or temptations.  One should view content filtering software as a tool for a safer work environment, and not as a solution to all problems.  No filter can provide full protection on the Internet, where millions of new content items surface at any time.  And no filter is impenetrable by a user who desires to circumvent it.

Foster a positive attitude towards screening so that a child doesn't feel filtering software is being used as a punishment.  It's important to develop a child's mutual trust by explaining that filtering is designed to maintain a clean and safe work environment, and to prevent against even random intrusion of undesirable content.  Ideally, the entire family should use filtering to demonstrate its benefit for the entire household.  Use an analogy of a seat belt – which can protect us in the event of accidents by other drivers, though our driving might be excellent in its own right.

Filtering software is an important tool, but it does not take the place of proper education.  Build a healthy and balanced framework for Internet use by your children, one that includes smart surfing, one that has a time limit, and one that can confront the hazards of harmful content.  Parental involvement in children's computer use is essential.  For younger children, parental control software is also helpful.  

In this section we bring vital and timely information about filtering options, and how to adapt them to the different needs.

Important Note:

In recent years there have been significant changes in Internet traffic data.  Web applications such as Google, YouTube, Facebook and others have become secured sites, meaning their content is encrypted, which prevents filtering software to identify content unless identification means are enabled.  Therefore, when selecting a filter it is important to clarify that the filter is an updated one that can filter encrypted sites. See our recommendations for filtering software at the end of this article.

A. Two Common Filtering Methods and Their Effectiveness:  "Black List" and "White List"

The "Black List" methods allow access to all online content other than those from a specified list of sites or files.  The "Black List" method is aided by a concepts dictionary or by keywords that help the software identify content defined as disqualified by means of a constantly updating content list.  More sophisticated filters can even identify the content of images by analysis of the image's color and shape.  The advantage of the "Black List" method is it allows one to access almost the entire breadth of information on the Internet.  The disadvantage of the "Black List" method lies in its difficulty to identify all content in real-time, which thus leaves filtering loopholes.

The "White List" method is simply an approved list of checked content or websites.  The advantage of the "White List" method is its near 100% ability to protect from unwanted content (except in cases of malfunction and site hacking).  Its disadvantage is the greatly restricting access to the breadth of ever-expanding information available on the Web.

Both methods contain varying features which further restrict or reduce filtering capacity.  Evaluate your personal circumstance to determine which method is best for your household.  As with any product, quality will vary between software companies and by cost.  We recommend choosing a more quality filter, even if the cost is greater.  See our recommendations below.   For young children, we recommend using only with the "White List" method if no adult is present.

Filtering through the Internet Service Provider (ISP), or through a Software Program?

Internet content may be filtered through software installed on your computer, or through a filter powered through one's Internet Service Provider's (ISP) servers.  The advantage of installing software on the home computer is protection even if an internet connection through another provider is used.  And if it is a mobile computer, the filtering software will work even when connecting to the Internet from a WiFi or other connection outside the home.  Another benefit of installing software on the home computer is the receipt of additional services such as a report or action alerts.

Disadvantages of installing software on the home computer is that the software will not provide protection to additional devices (Smartphones, Tablets) in the home that also connect to the home WiFi network.  In addition, the installation or removal of software on a home computer is often complicated and requires more time to do so.  Filtering software also occasionally disrupts the functioning of other software programs on a home computer, increasing the chance of computer malfunction.

The advantages of a filter powered through one's Internet Service Provider's (ISP) servers are protection for all devices that connect to the WiFi Internet at home, minimal installation or removal difficulties, no need to operate software, and a higher level of reliability.  The disadvantage of using a filter powered through one's Internet Service Provider's (ISP) servers is that it will not work when connecting to an Internet connection not through the home ISP.

Free Filtering Law

Israel's Ministry of Communications passed an amendment to the Communications Provision Law Requiring ISPs and mobile phone operators offer customers free and efficient Internet content filtering services.  Currently they are basic filtering software programs installed on a computer or through a cellular provider.  Not all of the free filter programs utilize the range of necessary security settings, leaving large gaps in the filtering capacity.  Some of the free filter programs do not offer technical support, so it is advisable not to rely on free filtering services at this time.

Filtering in Search Engines

Major search engines such as Google, enable a filtering option (sometimes two levels) called "SafeSearch," aimed at protecting children from stumbling upon adult content.  This filtering option does not guarantee full protection, and it works less effectively in Hebrew than in English.  Nonetheless, we recommend it be used to activate another level of protection.  Effective filtering measures also use the "SafeSearch" feature, and do not allow it to be deactivated.

NOTE: On YouTube it is possible and desirable to activate the "SafeSearch" mode; however since YouTube is unable to effectively classify the large amounts of videos being uploaded at any given time, it is not fully reliable.

 Link to Google's Safety Center, with Tips on How to activate protective Settings

Link to Google's Safety Tools

B.  Circumstances Where Filtering Programs Do Not Work

  • File download sites reached through a link
  • File sharing software
  • When transferring files to a computer via an external installer device
  • In Email
  • On YouTube and Facebook, given the constant uploading of offensive and pornographic content
  • When encrypted operations are performed (unless the filter opens the encryption code; see explanation below)

C. Filtering Smartphones and Tablets

For a full explanation about the influences of Smartphones and Tablets, particularly on younger children, see our article, Smartphones and Tablets: For Whom are They Appropriate, and How to Use Them.

On Android devices there are several options for filtering and restricted use, some more strict, and others less so.  Our Android tests were conducted with the Netspark Mobile application (app), developed by the Internet Rimon Company, and we found it to be the best filtering application for Android devices.  The app controls the entire device, allows restriction and filtering of other apps, and it runs on both WiFi and on mobile data network connections.  One can also set surfing time restrictions.  

Android devices with a version lower than 4 cannot install the Netspark Mobile app, but it is possible to use the filtered Internet connection through a cellular company, such as Internet Rimon's "Green Lane" via Cellcom.  Browser filtering is efficient, but it does not filter apps or browsing through WiFi.  Some individuals take an invasive measure and remove the internal wireless antenna.  But in doing this it is important to possess cooperation of the child.  Remember that a simple insertion of a friend's SIM card instead of the "disabled" one will allow for unfiltered surfing.

On Apple devices such as the iPhone and iPad, obtaining high-level filtering such as with the Netspark Mobile app is not possible, but use of the Operating System (OS) of the device allow for some effective restrictions with the use of a password.  The App Store can be locked, the browser can be removed, and one can leave only the desired apps.  One can also download a browser called Mobicip which directs all browsing to filtered servers, which only filter content during browsing, and not when using apps or other browsers.  More information about filtering options can be found on the website of the Venishmartem organization.

D. Filters Enabled for Use in Israel

One crucial element of a filter program is the support in the language of the user.  Many filtering programs available worldwide cannot read keywords or content of websites in Hebrew, decreasing the filters efficiency.  In addition, filtering software developers are unfamiliar with the nature of Israeli surfing activity at local video sites, forums, and other recreation sites, and do not know what must be filtered out.

In the comprehensive research we have conducted and continue to conduct, significant differences in effectiveness are evident between the filters offered by the various Internet Providers in Israel.  Differences result primarily in their abilities to filter secure, or encrypted, sites.  Currently, the only filtering program in Israel which unencrypts (and then filters) the content filter is that of Internet Rimon.  Recently filters manufactured by Puresight (i-keeper, מסננט and (שמרטף underwent upgrades which allow the cancellation of encryption in some secure sites such as Google and YouTube and allow the use of the SafeSearch features.

For help regarding filtering programs, please contact our hotline at 02-590-6602.