Last week I dropped by OpenDNS HQ in San Francisco and while I was there I had a meeting with the founder and CEO of the company, David Ulevitch. During our meeting, one of the topics that came up was parental controls. Normally, I wouldn’t be so interested in such a topic, being that I’m not a parent, but something David said intrigued me.

Basically, what it came down to was this: if you ask any parent whether they want parental controls available to them, they would say yes, however, most of the time when parental controls are accessible parents don’t use them. And why is that? Typically, it’s because one of two reasons: they either don’t want to spend the time to configure them or they themselves don’t want to be bothered by them while using the computer.

And for some reason this really bugged me. Can we not build technology that solves this problem? Is it even possible for parental controls software to replace a parent keeping an eye on a child? After all, parental controls are such a subjective thing, what one parent may allow, another may not leaving current software solutions inadequate.

I think what really needs to be built is parental controls software that is personalized to the parents parenting. While I’m not really sure where to start with that, perhaps artificial intelligence is the answer? It’s an interesting technical problem.

Nonetheless, until the computer is smart enough to know when a child is using it and to understand what a parent would or wouldn’t allow, I don’t think anything can currently replace putting a computer in a public space within the house and having supervised computer time.

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What do you think? Are you a parent? How do you keep your child safe on the Internet?

  • How about a discussion about whether parental controls are ethical in the first place? I spent my childhood blissfully free of them, and as a result, I had a vast and open internet to explore. I was shaped tremendously as a result, learning to value not just the love of knowledge but the unbounded freedom to access it.

    Rather than parental controls, we should perhaps consider the control of parents — controlling them from impinging on the right of the child to internet freedom. If we are to teach the right of self-determination, we must teach it from a young age. Enshrining the parent in the role of authoritarian censor does little to make the life of the child better — nor the life of the web itself.

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