Playing Big Brother with Prudence

Media reports warn parents almost daily about the dire consequences of exposing their children to the lewd or terroristic content of the Internet. While governments wrestle with censorship issues and the virtually impossible (but vote-winning) task of sheltering children from a range of online horrors, products such as CYBERSitter and NetNanny have assumed the role of electronic guardian, by blocking "objectionable" sites.

Products like these are not without drawbacks. For one thing, the reliability of their content-filtering is questionable. Web sites appear and vanish so rapidly that filtering databases struggle to keep up and never quite make it. Also, filtering is an inexact science: stories abound of how blocking software can prevent access to thoroughly innocuous sites.

Enter Prudence -- a monitoring tool that takes an altogether different approach. Prudence doesn't block access to specific sites. In fact, it doesn't block access at all. It simply maintains a record of sites visited and content downloaded. These details are stored in an encrypted folder accessible only to the parent, who can examine his or her child's browsing history and decide whether a stern word is necessary. Prudence can even be configured to e-mail browsing reports to a parent, which sounds like great fun -- for the parent at least.

Children, naturally, will loathe Prudence. What will it be next, they will probably wonder -- a security camera in the bedroom? A tap on the phone? Many parents will be uneasy playing the role of Big Brother and will favour less intrusive methods of keeping youngsters on the cyber straight and narrow. And of course, with software like Prudence, there's always the possibility that your children will start spying on you...

Prudence costs $US49.95 and can be downloaded from http://www.bluewolfnet.com. It runs on Windows 95 and NT.

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Neville Clarkson

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