Mises Daily Articles
The Web's Red Light District
Based on correspondence from this piece on kids and the web, the number-one issue that makes parents reluctant about the web is its red-light district. Well, let me cut to the chase: K9webprotection is a free program that solves the problem, and better than any of the others I've tried.
A household with computers and kids has no excuse not to download this right now. In fact, anyone with a computer who has no interest in visiting you-know-what kind of sites needs this program right now.
It's a free program and quick download. It does not slow down browsing speed. It does not muck up the computer's operation. It does not attempt to sell you anything. It is not an internet service provider. It is server based, so it doesn't even run on your hard drive.
In its operation, it is simplicity itself. It blocks what you want to block but let's through what should be let through. Because people disagree on what that is, it offers 5 general settings from severe to liberal, based on web content. (The default is probably too strict; moderate is plenty.) To administer the program requires a parent-created password. Unless the kid knows the password, he or she cannot change it or disable it.
Oh, there is probably a workaround somehow, like running a Linux live CD as a separate operating system, but the truth is that nearly all the problem of objectionable material on the web is not its accessibility as such but its ease of accessibility. This program addresses that problem. It permits parents to relax and not worry when their kids are on the computer.
Nor is it overbearing. You really don't want a program that doesn't allow liberal navigation through the main sites a kid is looking at, whether gaming sites, Wikipedia, or whatever. Something that has a limited white list of permitted sites will constantly bump up against this. The parent administrator will grow tired of permissioning one site after another, and the kid will grow weary of this constant hectoring and coddling, and try to find a hack.
This is one of many problems that have doomed solutions in the past, of which there are hundreds and hundreds available. Some of them use old code, but they are selling well, and so there is no incentive to reinvent the software in light of new software trends. Some slow down the computer, to a crawl. Most cost money. Some well-intended but technologically naïve consumers (let's call them suckers) have even shelled out for dial-up ISPs that promise a squeaky clean web experience.
K9 avoids all these problems. Its main product — a server-based filter — is marketed to a savvy and competitive industry, so it works to stay on top of the game. Its profits come from these sales. It offers this home-based solution for free, probably because someone at the company figured out that parents are also the people making decisions about server-side solutions at work. When people see how well this works at home, they will start to make inquiries at the office.
The staff is aggressive and focused. As an example of how quick they are, I looked up Mises.org in their site-rating database. It was listed as arts, entertainment, and politics — not quite right. So I wrote and pointed out that we best fit into the category of education. Within the hour, I received a note back that the designation had been change to education — and this was on a Saturday!
One thing: K9 does not do email. To me, that's fine. Many products in the past have tried to do too much — web, email, external software — and not succeeded. And while it's true that spam floods are torrential — hey, recall how the US Congress made spam illegal? — the programs to deal with it are also better and better. Gmail rarely lets spam through. Thunderbird has a great filter. Outlook 2003 is outstanding for this purpose. In any case, red-light email is on the decline.
Even given all the products available out there, many people still call for censorship on the web. Let's leave the rights question aside and address effectiveness. Markets will always and forever outwit government planners and censors. The only way to deal with objectionable market-based material is through a market-based solution that is capable of changing with the times.
That's how it is that spam solutions, content filtering, and spyware solutions are getting better all the time. The companies that produce these live in a competitive environment in which products improve or die. Meanwhile, nothing has changed in government-style wars for many decades. Anti-drug enforcement is the same today as it was 40 years ago. Same with the war on tobacco, liquor, foreign bad guys, and all the rest. Government knows only how to coerce and bribe, and when those don't work, it is out of ideas.
Markets, however, are responsive, compassionate, consumer-informed, and constantly progressing. If there is a demand for a service — and parents certainly demand a clean surfing environment — enterprise is there to serve.
The day the government bans the red-light district on the web is the day it will become more ubiquitous and fashionable than ever. So, please folks, if you fear web content and its corrupting effects on the young (and you should), don't turn to government. Let markets do their work.
K9 might not be the final answer. The company might fall behind. Even next week, something better might come along. But as of this writing, it appears to be the best out there. As for the demagogues who are trying to whip up a frenzy against web content, let them take a few minutes to see what markets can do, if we just give them a chance.