This post is for parents and teachers with kids old enough to use the Web. Below is an email I received from a concerned parent along with my response beneath. Have a safe Christmas.

Concerned parent:

How do uninstall this stupid app? He went around it anyways and just went to the browser and typed in where he wanted to go. It did not stop anything, except for me trying to get in to what I blocked. HELP Melissa

My response on behalf of MetaCert

“Hi Melissa,

I’m sorry you’re having trouble with our app. It sounds like it’s not enabled or your son wouldn’t be able to launch another browser. Can you please log in to make sure it’s enabled. And if you want to delete it, you can do so from the menu inside the app.

Even if you delete our app I’d be delighted to hear from you should you need to ask for advice about Internet Safety. Unfortunately on Android, parental controls aren’t as good as they are on other platforms. Our iPad browser for example, doesn’t have to put up with all the restrictions imposed by Google on Android.

You are doing everything you can – by checking to see what your son is doing you can educate him in what’s safe and appropriate while explaining that what he will see on XXX sites is not reality – just like violent movies on TV. Your son if he’s smart, will access adult content from somewhere, so knowing what he’s doing and talking to him about it, is much better than blocking 100% of everything and not knowing what he’s trying to do.

I hope that makes sense and as I said, feel free to email me anytime. And again, I’m sorry for the unpleasant experience with our app – we’ll try to do better next time.”

The moral of the story is that technology makes our lives easier but education is key to keeping children safe online.

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When using Twitter, do you ever wish some of your friends wouldn’t talk so much about a specific subject? For me, I dislike reading lots of tweets about football and everything related to the subject. So this afternoon I set a challenge for one of our junior engineers (Colm Hally who deserves full credit) to build a Chrome extension that automatically removes tweets that contain certain keywords without having to unfollow friends. And he did it.

This is v0.1. It’s our first build. It’s actually pre-alpha. The design is poor, but it works and it will not break anything. We will upload it to the Chrome Store after we have redesigned the settings and conducted some more testing.

To install the extension:

  1. Save the file to your hard drive
  2. Go to Chrome > Preferences > Extensions
  3. Go to the folder where you saved the extension and drag it onto the Extensions page in Chrome

To setup the filter

  1. Click on the MetaCert shield on the top right side of the toolbar
  2. Select “Edit this list”
  3. Add a keyword or phrase

That’s it. Now go to Twitter and refresh the page to see tweets containing your keywords/phrases vanish from your timeline.

Download TweetCert (working name) now.

 

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According to a new study commissioned by Common Sense Media, 38% of kids under age 2 are using tablets or smartphones before they can even string together a sentence. This is up from 10 percent in 2011. They found that children are using media devices like tablets five times more than they were just two years ago. Smartphone use has jumped from 52 percent to 75 percent. Full article here.

Let’s hope that household brands like Tesco and Argos who manufacture their own tablets, implement Internet Safety parental controls in future releases of their operating systems. As reported by the Daily Mail, Tesco and Argos have yet to provide any parental controls on their recently launched tablets.

When reading the comments on the Daily Mail’s article I found that the highest rated comment came from someone who asserted that the version of Android on the Tesco Hudl comes with parental controls built in. Unfortunately this is untrue. NO version of Android on any device on the planet comes with any Internet Safety. And given that more than 350 people gave this comment a thumbs up, it proves that more education is needed so parents are made aware of what they need to do to make these devices safer for their kids.

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A little girl was found in Greece today with her abductors arrested for kidnapping. Authorities have no idea where she comes from or who her parents are.

If there was a global centralized database of missing children law enforcement agencies could use a technology called PhotoDNA to cross reference this girl’s picture with all the pictures contained in the central database. PhotoDNA is a technology used by some Internet stake holders like Facebook, Microsoft and MetaCert to help combat online child exploitation. We do this by limiting access and distribution of images of children being abused, by blocking them in our search engines and browsers.

As CEO of MetaCert one of my goals is to encourage the creation a centralized database of missing women and children and use our unique crawler and classification system to cross reference images of missing people with the 700+ pages  of pornography held in our database.  This would help us find people who have been abducted and forced into the online sex trade – some of the women on pornography websites however small in numbers, are likely to have been forced into the trade.  We have limited resources and we need to remain focused on building products that help parents and teachers provide better online protection for their children. But with some additional funding (no more than $100K) we could easily help tackle this problem.

There is already great cross-border cooperation between law enforcement agencies and organizations like The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) and CEOP, but they’re only as good as the technology they use and the manpower at their disposal. We have a partnership with NCMEC but I fear our work as an Industry is reactive. We need to be more proactive within the Internet Industry. And I look forward to the day when we embark on this part of our journey.

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According to a survey by TNS Poland for Orange Poland, in cooperation with the Nobody’s Children Foundation every sixth child aged 10 to 15 views websites forbidden by their parents, with 75 percent of them finding such sites by chance, and 22 percent of these including pornographic content.

Full article here.

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When magazines like PC Pro publish product reviews to help consumers make informed choices, you expect them to conduct in-depth evaluations of each product. You also expect each product to have similar offerings so you can compare like for like, enabling you to make better informed choices about which products best suits your needs and budget.

Companies that receive favourable reviews benefit by attracting more consumers and enterprise customers to use their products and services. In fact, the difference between a 4 star, 4.5 star and a 5 star rating of a product has a very significant impact on the number of downloads. Likewise, when a company receives bad reviews, they attract fewer customers.

While bad press about their products won’t hit huge companies like Norton too hard, it does have an impact on young startups like MetaCert. We are new to the market, looking to knock the multi-billion dollar companies off the podium with superior products and services for consumers and enterprise customers. I accept good and bad press. As a founder, I can’t expect our company or our products to come out on top all of the time, even if when its deserved. But on this occasion I feel it’s imperative to point out that PC Pro’s terrible mistakes on their product review of parental controls runs very deep. This is actually the very first time we have received a bad review for any of our products.

Take a look at the review below. It’s negative because someone gave our iPad browser a 1 star review. But if you look closely you’ll notice that it’s a kid who’s unhappy with the fact that our product works so well. We could get upset by this as it impacts our overall rating or we could laugh and consider the fact that we’re doing something right – without worrying too much about product reviews. Naturally we laughed as we found it funny. I’m providing this as an example to demonstrate that we are capable of taking criticism even when it’s not deserved.

Unfortunately for parents and for MetaCert, PC Pro’s “comprehensive test” of the 15 most popular web filters is flawed, leaving consumers with the wrong impression about which parental controls are likely to meet their needs.

I sincerely hope that Barry Collins, editor of PC Pro and Victoria Woollaston from the Daily Mail, who covered the evaluation, read this post. Perhaps in the future they can compare each of our products with competitors’ products that offer similar services to consumers and enterprise customers.

There are three reasons why MetaCert should not have been included in this particular product evaluation:

PC Pro testers did not test products that offer similar services. DNS services should not be compared with desktop parental controls unless they claim to offer similar services. All DNS services are limited in what they can do. They block domains. They don’t block pages and they don’t block images.

Norton amongst other companies on the list provides DNS services. Why didn’t PC Pro test Norton’s DNS service for the evaluation? Why did they compare Norton’s software with our DNS service? Why didn’t they test MetaCert’s Chrome extension or iPad browser during their evaluation? Those products block more pages across more websites than any other product on the market as we are the first company in the world to classify folders and URIs across sites with user generated content. That is why our method of labeling content is the W3C Standard for content labeling. To mark MetaCert down for these shortfalls is grossly unfair and misrepresents our company.

Our DNS service only does one thing and we only advertise that one thing; it blocks pornography. Putting it in a table to state that we fail to block other forms of unsafe content grossly misrepresents our company. We don’t claim to do anything other than provide protection against pornography with our DNS service. Our Chrome extension is the first of our products to include 20 additional categories but that’s not the point.

If you put the unfairness of MetaCert being in the list aside, I would like to highlight why PC Pro’s tests are flawed from a product evaluation perspective.

Even if every product on the list was identical, offering exactly the same service, the test results are flawed. At MetaCert, we compare our DNS with our main competitors in the DNS space every few months – to make sure we remain ahead of the competition. To conduct proper tests, we test each service with data ranging between 50,000 – 500,000 domains. Anything less than 50,000 will produce sub-standard results.

When I read on the front cover of the magazine “The UK’s most comprehensive test of parental controls” I naturally assumed they conducted “comprehensive” tests. They didn’t. Their test data is so tiny that it renders their test results worthless. It’s impossible to rank each product by testing 10 websites for a particular category.  Product A could block 10 websites and miss millions of others – while a competing product may miss one or two from the 10, but block many millions more than Product A.

K9 Web Protection is likely to have the worst track record in false positives so they’re obviously going to score high on blocking if they block almost everything. The AVG browser for iOS blocks 100% of the Internet when you search for “sex health” – 100%! So how does testing a small handful of sites help to justify giving them a favourable review?

By their own admission, they evaluated 68 pornography websites and approximately 10 websites for other categories. It is technically impossible to derive anything meaningful by testing fewer than 1,000 domains, let alone 68.

False positives are the biggest problem in content filtering of any kind. So to test each product for false positives was a step in the right direction. However, they only checked 18 websites, of which, 1 belonged to the BBC, 1 on Wikipedia and 4 were on NHS. I’d be extremely surprised to hear that the worst parental control software on the market blocked any of them. So that leaves only 12 domains.

A consumer magazine as influential as PC Pro should employ better selection criteria for products and better testing techniques once the right products to compare have been chosen. Otherwise consumers make the wrong choices.

I wouldn’t expect testers at PC Pro to be as technical as our engineers, or as thorough as our own testers. And I wouldn’t expect them to test many thousands of sites manually. But to test between 10 – 68 sites stunned me to the point that I can’t believe they actually published the list here. This is a very poor effort to rate the best parental controls / web filters on the market.

Not that it matters, but we our logs indicate that we classified all but one domain that contained pornography so I’m not sure how they concluded we blocked only 88% of pornography websites. Given the tiny number of sites in the test, it wouldn’t be difficult for a company to score 100% – just like it wouldn’t be difficult to have a low score.

Clearly, PC Pro’s final results aren’t balanced. Their rating chart does nothing to help consumers pick the most appropriate web filters for their needs.

PC Pro did have something positive to say about our DNS service – it was “flawless” when it came to false positives. Obviously that’s wrong too because no system is perfect, including ours. Our false positive rate by our own tests is approximately 0.3%.

To put some of my numbers into perspective, OpenDNS is one of the most respected Safe DNS services in the world – used by two thirds of schools in the US and many companies, churches and homes worldwide. They have indexed 1.6 million domains across 50 categories. MetaCert’s DNS blocks over 7 million domains for pornography alone.

So, what product should you use?

I recommend installing DNS Angel which allows you to switch between Norton, MetaCert and OpenDNS – all DNS services. Install our Chrome extension to work in conjunction with the DNS service. Be beware, none of these desktop solutions are perfect and smart kids can get around them.

Our iPad browser is the only solution that’s 100% in the sense that you can disable Safari and enforce our browser as the default. If you use Android, you can install our parental controls app. Everything is free because we generate revenue from big companies that implement new and improved family safety solutions.

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We haven’t updated our website with details about our parental controls app for Android yet, so here are some highlights for MetaCert SafeGuards, the #1 rated Android Parental Controls on the Android market.

MetaCert’s Android parental controls has time limits, a child lock and Internet Safety. While other apps are only suitable for toddlers, MetaCert parental controls are suitable for toddlers, teens and adults. And it’s the #1 Rated Parental Control application on the Android market.

You can restrict individual apps, stores and settings to ensure kids have access only to the apps that have been approved for them. Restricting access to the AppStores stops the download and purchase of new apps.

You can also set time schedules to automatically block individual apps and and individual websites during specific times of the day. No other parental control for Android can set automated time limits on apps or websites.

The Android Parental Controls automatically restarts when the device is turned off/on. This guarantees that the parental controls are always enabled. You can also protect your privacy by locking apps like email before sharing your device with friends or family.

Download MetaCert SafeGuards for Android. The #1 Parental Controls for Android – CLICK HERE.

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Here’s AVG Family Safe Browser below. It’s so safe it blocks 100% of the web when you search for sex health.

I’d never write a negative word about a startup that competes with MetaCert – it’s not cool and it’s not good for business.

Generally speaking in the blog world, you’re supposed to write nice things about competitors of all sizes as it demonstrates a CEO’s unbiased opinion. Over time, readers will eventually trust the CEO’s opinion and eventually fall in love with their products. People are smarter than that these days, I hope.

Unfortunately I have absolutely nothing good to say about our competitors when it comes to Internet Safety for families and schools – especially their products for tablets and smartphones. They lack in design, they block innocent sites on mass scale, they provide little to no protection on sites like Facebook and they use old keyword blocking techniques which haven’t been improved since I worked at AOL in 1996. And the extremely bad ones still use an old Internet Standard called PICS, which has fewer than 15,000 adult sites labeled and it was replaced by MetaCert’s method of labeling content as the new Internet Standard.

I love AVG. Love. Love. Love. When I was a PC user AVG was my first port of call for free anti virus software products. Their anti virus software rocks. They are a very well established company and I’m the CEO of a young startup, so I don’t mind taking a shot across the bow. When it comes to Family Safety for iPad, iPhone or Android, AVG sucks. And I mean sucks big time. It has the weakest technology and uses the oldest blocking techniques that are, well, terrible.

I believe in speaking to as many customers as possible – that’s why I give my cell number out in support emails. So I encourage the team to do the same. One of our interns spoke to a teacher who is rolling out MetaCert across all the iPads in their school (and there’s a lot). It’s not a done deal as they still have to test our browser properly. They are assuming to use MetaCert but have AVG Family Safe Browser loaded just in case something goes wrong with MetaCert. I didn’t mind that they had a fallback but my heart sunk when I heard it was AVG.

This insight tells me that teachers don’t care about browser design or if a browser has very limited features like AVG. This is probably because until now, they haven’t had any choice. But what they should learn is that the AVG browser technology is amongst the weakest on the AppStore. Take a look at the screen shot above, AVG browsers block 100% of the web when you search for “sex health” as it’s “classified as pornography”.

Blocking “sex” is bad enough, but it’s not even intelligent enough to know that the word “health” is in the keyword. Whilst it blocks the entire web for many innocent keywords, it allows access to porn related keywords that are widely used by people looking for sexually explicit content. So if they’re going to use outdated keyword blocking they should at least have access to the basic keywords.

I repeat, I love AVG and I would never say a bad word about a competitive startup. But AVG is big and bold.  I think they should either drop its family safety products which are very likely to give parents as false sense of security and stick to anti virus software, or dedicate a team of engineers to building backend classification technology and browser products over the next 18 months.

AVG Management, if you read this, I heart you :)

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Since publishing our stats recently on where pornography is hosted in the world, we have seen widespread coverage on news sites and print publications around the world. As a result, I’m asked more and more every day, what we define as pornography.  When asked by a journalist in the Netherlands this morning, I realized that we no longer have a link to our definition on our site. We’re currently overhauling the design of the site so we’ll add the definition shortly. Until then, you can find our definition below.

MetaCert’s definition of pornography

The concept of ‘pornography’ or ‘sexually explicit content’ varies according to one’s viewpoint, cultural background, experience and the legal framework in which one operates. Therefore MetaCert does not seek to define content as being pornographic or sexually explicit for any purpose other than its own.

Pornography depicts actual, not simulated, sex acts including oral, vaginal and anal penetration. Typical depictions include the visual exposure of the erect penis, or vulva, and surrounding pubic hair, and sexual intercourse in clear view. Such depictions may be shown as filmed live action, cartoons, audio descriptions, textual descriptions or other media. Importantly, pornography is intended to cause sexual arousal and erotic satisfaction.

It is the perceived intention to elicit sexual arousal rather than the objective facts that determine whether other content, such as nudity and dramatized or implied sexual conduct, can sometimes be considered sexually explicit.

For videos, “focal point” is determined by factors including the length of time an image appears in the video (fleeting vs. prolonged exposure) especially relative to the overall length of the video, the camera angle and focus, the relative clarity of the images in the video, the lighting, and the video thumbnail (content that appears in a thumbnail is also considered to be its focal point).

Sexual Health

Content that offers information on sexual health in a manner that is devoid of any intention to cause sexual arousal is not considered pornographic even if it includes depictions of real sexual acts. Domains, ULRs and pages that contain sex health are classified as “Sex Health”.

Lingerie

Depictions of lingerie, such as in an online catalog, are not considered pornographic. However, if the article of lingerie is overtly designed to elicit sexual arousal, then it may be considered sexually explicit. Domains, ULRs and pages that contain Lingerie are classified as “Lingerie”.

Sex toys and Other Sexual Articles

Products such as sex toys and fetish wear that are designed to be used as part of sexual activity are not considered pornographic even when shown in isolation, such as in a catalog. Domains, ULRs and pages that contain sexy toys and other sexual articles are classified as “Sex”.

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Parental Controls for Chrome

To get straight to the point, the above screen shot was taken while using Chrome, with Google SafeSearch enabled and using Google Translator.

I’m lucky to have so many friends who notify me as soon as a story breaks about a big company making improvements to family safety controls across their products. Lats night, Jeremy who works at Amazon, brought my attention to Google’s intent on releasing new parental controls for Chrome.

According to John Russell from The Next Web

Google has plans to introduce ‘supervised accounts’ to its Google Web browser, in a move to help parents and teachers control how children access and use the Internet.

You can read their version of the story here.

This means that different members of the family can have their own browsing preferences, allowing parents to restrict access to sexually explicit content for their kids, without impacting their own browsing preferences. Brilliant! Well, the ability to have user accounts brilliant. What’s not brilliant is Google SafeSearch. It’s… “OK”.

Why Parental Controls for Chrome is a good first step in the right direction

Google SafeSearch is “OK” for very young kids who don’t know their way around software applications because it’s like a sledge hammer to crack a nut when it comes to content filtering.

As I demonstrated on BBC Newsnight recently, SafeSearch over blocks on mass scale.  It’s not very good at blocking pornography when it’s supposed to and it’s method of keyword blocking is as old as the Greek Coliseums, with holes the size of the Grand Canyon.

It gets worse

Google Translator completely breaks all parental controls.

As you can see from the screen shot above, every porn site on the Web is fully accessible via Google Translator even when Google SafeSearch is turned on. So, it won’t matter about the Chrome parental controls unless they fix this massive flaw.

Go to Google Translator > type in any porn domain > translate it into any language. And hey presto, you have full access to any XXX site you want – with Google SafeSearch enabled. If MetaCert can address this challenge, so too can Google.

You can use any online translation service to get around parental controls, not just Google’s. And, it’s not just Chrome parental controls that will allow kids to see adult content. We haven’t come across any parental control software that blocks online translation services that act like proxies.

At MetaCert we are awaiting the approval of our latest iPad browser update. It too had the same issue but it’s now fixed.

Here’s where Chrome accounts will work

Did I write this post to promote our chrome extension? Yes. But it’s free. So I don’t feel like I’m pitching. And I don’t want to see parents and teachers be pulled into a false sense of security. No technology should be used without parental guidance. While no technology is perfect I really hope Google spend some time to make improvements to their family safety efforts.

MetaCert’s latest Chrome extension has awesome built-in parental controls. It’s rated the #1 Safe Browser with Parental Controls on the Chrome store. And it’s completely FREE. It blocks pornography, malware and spyware. It’s suitable for young kids who don’t know their way around extensions, and adults who wish to avoid pornography. While our pornography blocking is the best in the world, we have 20 additional categories that are as good as our competitors – so vast improvements will be made to these in the coming weeks and months.

There is also a setting in our Chrome extension called “Just for Kids”. With this setting turned on, you can restrict kids to a walled garden of safe websites that have been handpicked by MetaCert – suitable for very young kids. Parents can then add their own websites to the white list.

The new user accounts in Chrome will create a perfect environment for our safe browser extension as it will make it impossible for kids to uninstall or disable the parental controls. They can of course use another browser – so there are other measures to be taken. Thank you Google for helping us to educate the market, and for providing us with a great solution to help make our extension even more meaningful to parents.

Install MetaCert Parental Controls for Chrome.

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Protecting children from adult content

Webpages labeled for Family Safety