Feeds

Web filters block health sites

The infinite subtlety of censorware

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

New hybrid storage solutions

A study from the US has shown that Internet filters designed to screen out pornography can end up blocking access to health information Web sites.

The study, carried out by the Kaiser Family Foundation and published on Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, showed that when Internet filters were set at their most restrictive level, they blocked nearly a quarter of health information sites and half of all sites with advice about safe sex.

The problem is a serious one, says the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), because many schools and libraries tend to set Internet filters at their most restrictive level.

American schools receiving federal funds are required by law to have filters on all their computers, although the application of the same law in US libraries was overturned by a federal circuit court earlier this year and is shortly to be reviewed by the US Supreme Court.

Striking a balance between blocking most pornography sites and still accessing health information and safe sex Web pages will depend on the exact set-up of the Internet filtering software, the report said. If not configured carefully, the filters could present a "serious obstacle, especially on issues such as pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and birth control," said Kaiser Family Foundation Vice President Vicky Rideout.

Earlier research has confirmed that the Internet has become a widely used source of information for health information for teenagers, including sexual health. "The Internet has the potential to revolutionise access to health care information and services," said study co-author Dr. Caroline Richardson of the University of Michigan Medical School. "It's important to ensure that filters don't interfere with that potential."

The study, "See No Evil: How Internet Filters Affect the Search for Online Health Information," tested the six most commonly used filters at the "least," "intermediate," and "most" restrictive settings.

The researchers tested the search engines Yahoo, Google, AOL, MSN, Ask Jeeves and Alta Vista. The 3,000 health and 500 pornography sites that came up during these searches were then systematically tested against the six filters most widely used in schools and libraries: 8e6, CyberPatrol, N2H2, SmartFilter, Symantec, and Websense.

The Kaiser study found that running the filters at their highest configuration results in blocking a large percentage of legitimate health sites, while only marginally increasing the amount of pornographic content blocked by the software.

At the least restrictive level, the filters incorrectly block an average of just 1.4 percent of health sites. However, when set at the most restrictive level, filters block 24 percent of health sites. Blocking of sites on sexual health issues such as condoms and safe sex was higher at all levels: from 9 percent at the least restrictive setting to as much as 50 percent of all sites at the most restrictive setting.

The amount of pornographic content blocked was found to increase only marginally, from 87 percent at the least restrictive configuration to 91 percent at the most restrictive level. Significant amounts of information on homosexuality, pregnancy and birth control were also blocked when the filters were set higher. © ENN

Related stories

Internet filtering software 'damages educational opportunities'

Security for virtualized datacentres

More from The Register

next story
Phones 4u slips into administration after EE cuts ties with Brit mobe retailer
More than 5,500 jobs could be axed if rescue mission fails
Driving with an Apple Watch could land you with a £100 FINE
Bad news for tech-addicted fanbois behind the wheel
Phones 4u website DIES as wounded mobe retailer struggles to stay above water
Founder blames 'ruthless network partners' for implosion
Sony says year's losses will be FOUR TIMES DEEPER than thought
Losses of more than $2 BILLION loom over troubled Japanese corp
Radio hams can encrypt, in emergencies, says Ofcom
Consultation promises new spectrum and hints at relaxed licence conditions
Why Oracle CEO Larry Ellison had to go ... Except he hasn't
Silicon Valley's veteran seadog in piratical Putin impression
Big Content Australia just blew a big hole in its credibility
AHEDA's research on average content prices did not expose methodology, so appears less than rigourous
Bono: Apple will sort out monetising music where the labels failed
Remastered so hard it would be difficult or impossible to master it again
prev story

Whitepapers

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
The next step in data security
With recent increased privacy concerns and computers becoming more powerful, the chance of hackers being able to crack smaller-sized RSA keys increases.