BOOT CAMP ARCHIVE 2000

  

 

BOOT CAMP 111

SAFETY ON THE NET, Part 1

Pornography and technology go back a long way. Virtually every development in visual communications, from the printing press, by way of photography, movies and video, to the Internet has been used to distribute words and pictures that at various times society and governments have deemed offensive. What makes the Internet different is that it is easily accessible. Books, magazines and videos can be hidden away or put on the top shelf; the Internet is available to anyone with a multimedia PC and a phone connection. To make matters worse the very things that make the Internet such an important resource – as a repository of information, a medium for exchanging ideas and the lack of regulation - means that a small but significant proportion of the material available goes well beyond accepted boundaries into some thoroughly unpleasant and undesirable aspects of human behaviour.

Naturally this is a big concern for parents and teachers. On the one hand the Internet is an invaluable source of information and a powerful research tool, on the other it makes it easy for almost anyone to view disturbing and potentially damaging material, either deliberately or by accident. This week we're looking at ways of configuring your existing Internet software to control web browsing on your PC, next week we'll consider some of the third-party software packages and on-line options that are available.

Both Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator -- far and away the most popular Internet browsers -- have built-in screening facilities that can be set to restrict access to certain types of information or images. At the moment it’s a bit haphazard and is largely dependent on content providers – the individuals and organisations who put pages on the Internet – adhering to a set of voluntary codes and ‘rating’ the material they publish by inserting labels into the page. Almost all parts of the Internet industry are keen to see this sort of initiative succeed, in preference to mandatory regulation and censorship. Access can also be controlled by domain names, keywords and even things like flesh tones in images, but more about that in part 2.  

The most widely used systems are SafeSurf and RASCi. The latter was developed by the Recreational Advisory Service Council, a non-profit making organisation based in the US that works in collaboration with content providers, and companies like Microsoft and others responsible for browser and ‘web filter’ software. The RASCi ratings are broken down into four levels. For more information refer to the RASCi web site at http://www.rsac.org/ratingsv01.html

SafeSurf has a similar background to RASCi but it is a more detailed system. It is used on Netscape’s NetWatch filter and it can be installed in Internet Explorer by downloading a small file from the SafeSurf site: http://www.safesurf.com/ or from Microsoft: www.microsoft.com. SafeSurf contains significantly more options, defined using PICS (Platform for Internet Content Selection) ratings or labels embedded in web page data (on a voluntary basis) by content providers. For example, it can be set to allow the download of pictures containing nudity, if they’re in the context of medical illustrations, paintings or illustrations from the web site of a content provider like National Geographic.

To set up RASCi filtering in Internet Explorer (versions 4 and 5) click on the View or Tools menu, select Internet Options and the Content tab and click on the Enable button. If you haven’t used the facility before you will be asked to enter a Supervisor Password, which will prevent anyone else from changing the settings. After that you can work your way down the list on the Ratings tab (language, nudity, sex and violence), setting the level for each one with a simple slider control. The approved Sites tab lets you set up a list of web sites that can be viewed, or blocked, it’s also possible to use ‘wildcards’ to allow or deny access to sites with a particular type of domain name. For instance, anything ending with .edu (educational) and .org (organisation) would be okay, but all .com, .co.uk sites etc, would be off limits.  

Setting up Netscape is a little more involved since it uses both RASCi and SafeSurf, moreover the initial settings and changes are made on-line. Start by clicking on NetWatch on the Help menu, Navigator should automatically dial-up the Netscape web site and download various files and present you with a fairly long list of menus and options, after which you will be asked to choose a password. When you’ve finished click the Save button and log off, the settings will be stored when you exit Navigator and applied the next time it is used.

Both systems work reasonably well, though obviously only on web sites that carry the appropriate ratings. Next week we’ll look at some other methods but remember the most effective parental control is you!

Next week - Web filters and search engines

 

JARGON FILTER

BROWSER

An Internet access program, such as Microsoft Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator/Communicator

DOMAIN

The unique name or address given to a server computer connected to the Internet, i.e. www.telegraph.co.uk

WILDCARD

A wildcard is an asterisk ‘*’ which in PC language means literally anything. In this context a wildcard in place of the first part of an Internet address – i.e. *.com – signifies all addresses ending in .com

 

TOP TIP

Here are two more good reasons to install our favourite Windows customising tool, Tweak UI. You can use it to stop the Windows 'splash screen' appearing every time you start your PC and if your machine has been playing up, there's an option to display the 'Safe Mode' start-up menu for a preset time, before going on to load Windows. Both items can be found in the 'Boot' section of Tweak UI, and it's on both Windows 95 and 98 versions.

If you haven't already got Tweak UI you'll find it on the Windows 98 CD-Rom (version 1 only) in Tools/Reskit/Powertoys. It was omitted from version 2 of Windows 98 for some reason but the v1 release works fine on all of our PCs, so you'll have to get chummy with someone who's using V1. The Windows 95 version can be downloaded from the Microsoft website.

In both cases please make sure you read and understand the download or installation instructions!

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