Do you use content filtering on your home network? (This free PollEverywhere survey will permit 30 people to vote on this question.)

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I’ve written in the past about how draconian the content filters are in most of our Oklahoma public schools relative to countries with fewer legal freedoms for citizens like China. I am definitely an advocate for differentiated content filtering in our schools as well as reasonable content filtering, which recognizes that ultimately we want to help our students “become the filter” rather than attempting to block out most of the interactive web in the naive belief that authorities can “block all the bad and distracting stuff out.” In the United States content filtering is the law for schools and libraries receiving E-Rate funding, but the form and degree to which Internet content is filtered is left up to local authorities. I think a basic level of content filtering is not only a good and prudent idea for organizational networks (like schools) but also a very good idea for home networks. The proliferation of WiFi capable devices in our own home including laptops and iPods makes our need for “network level” content filtering which does not rely on software or settings specific to individual devices even more apparent.

Shelly, Sarah and Rachel at Nana's house for Thanksgiving

A year ago I discovered the free service OpenDNS which provides customizable content filtering at the router level of your network, which means ALL DEVICES connected to your network can be content filtered.

OpenDNS | Providing A Safer And Faster Internet

OpenDNS is relatively easy to circumvent, since a user can simply put alternative DNS addresses into their Internet device to bypass the filters, but this is not something many casual users are likely to do and I think the service can provide an excellent level of basic content filtering. It is also free and compatible with all routers, as far as I know, so I think it’s fairly easy to make the case for using this at home. I’ve written previously about OpenDNS in several past posts. Today, after using OpenDNS for a little over a year, I still have nothing but praise for the service and functionality it offers. As you might expect, I don’t have our home network ridiculously locked down, but I do have a basic level of content filtering in place. Since we just run Apple computers at our home, our potential risks from adware/malware are minimal, but I think it’s still a good idea to have that type of content filtering enabled as well as phishing protection. Nothing is a 100% guarantee of safety, of course, but these selections make sense to me.

OpenDNS Dashboard > Settings > Content Filtering

Having available checkboxes to block all website categories like “blogs” and “webmail” make me cringe, however. Sadly, many of our public school districts in Oklahoma DO (often through the filtering companies they utilize) block website categories like these. In a way, it is ridiculous to block an entire category of websites like “blogs.” That is like saying, “We’re not allowing any pencils to be used in our school, because sometimes students write inappropriate notes and we can’t stand for that possibility.” Certainly like any other tool, a blog can be used in a hurtful, destructive or inappropriate way. Blogs also can be used in wonderful and constructive ways as well, of course. Your reading and utilization of this blog post for your own continuing education is likely a case in point. Hopefully someday we’ll get beyond our current mindset (in some circles) that “all blogs should be blocked.” That is an ignorant perception which can significantly limit the potential for constructive learning on the part of others, IMHO.

Are there other reasonable, free solutions out there which are better than OpenDNS for home content filtering? I don’t think OpenDNS seems to have very good reporting features in terms of its statistics when it comes to blocked domain requests, but at this point that is not a real big deal for me. Still, it would be nice to have in the future. As I’ve written previously, common sense approaches to Internet Safety involve LOTS of regular dialog between family members about Internet use and activities. Technology can never be a substitute for conversations and good, open lines of communication. Technology can play reasonable roles in helping establish limits and boundaries, however, and that is an essential part of parenting.

What are you doing in terms of content filtering at home?

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4 Responses to Reflections on home content filtering and OpenDNS after a year of use

  1. aschmitz says:

    It should be noted that OpenDNS content filtering only works if you actually use their DNS servers. Individual network devices can use the DNS servers assigned by DHCP (which I’m assuming you’re using), or the ones they want, unless you silently redirect all DNS-style traffic to OpenDNS (which is, er, hard). So someone mischievous (or who, like me, doesn’t like some of the things that OpenDNS does, like not returning NXDOMAIN for domains that don’t exist) could easily set their DNS server to, say, 4.2.[redacted], a well-known, public DNS server operated by Verizon, rather helpfully.

    That’s not to say that OpenDNS doesn’t have some advantages to some people, but only that it doesn’t quite work for inline network filtering in all cases.

  2. Kevin says:

    I’ve never seen a need to filter web content for my son (now 12). He isn’t interested in the trash on the web, and has only occasionally played a computer game that I consider in questionable taste. Limiting screen hours is far more important than web filters, and that we have done (limit one hour a day, not counting homework time).

  3. Wesley Fryer says:

    @aschmitz – Right, your devices have to be using OpenDNS servers for it to work– and as I noted in the post it’s relatively easy to bypass if someone wants to. I think the provided instructions for configuring a home router with OpenDNS are pretty straightforward, however. If someone has changed the SSID or password on their home WiFi network, they should be able to follow these directions and change the DNS server numbers. This configuration makes all devices on your home network which use DHCP automatically get/use the OpenDNS addresses, so unless someone intentionally bypasses it then it’s in effect. I haven’t run into any problems like the NXDOMAIN issue you mention.

    I have found it work great for inline network filtering for the laptops, iPod Touch and iPhone that we use at home.

    @Kevin: I don’t know of a case of my kids intentionally seeking out objectionable content on the web either at this point, but I think it’s reasonable to have a basic level of filtering in effect on our network. I’m not under an illusion that this is a secure “lock” on web content of all types that might be inappropriate, but it is a basic level, and it’s free, so I think it’s worthwhile.

  4. Wesley Fryer says:

    Here are the voting results so far (16 votes cast as of this evening):

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