Control or Not? – A Comparative Analysis of Kids Control in the Internet

Gonçalo Jorge Morais da Costa


The Internet has become impossible to ignore, because it became a social phenomenon that has changed the lives of 25 million users in accordance to the latest estimates. Today, people use the Internet for email, instant messaging, online dating and blogging, among other things. Most of these activities are interactive and much different from the previous mass media. Never before has this freedom and scope of interaction been available, and there is no question that people and the way in which they interact have been changed by the use of the Internet.

The drama enhances when children are exploring this world of possibilities attempting to expand their horizons. During that process they can be exposed to a considerable number of dangers as literature suggests. In that sense, some questions arise: can we claim that control is different when compared to television? How we parents may or should control that access? Are the existent software’s effective? Answer to such questions is to acknowledge the aim of this paper.

Regarding the first question, is easily to perceive if your kids still engage their amusements unrelated to television. If they seem more interested in TV rather their lives or family members, if they are endlessly urging you to buy things they have seen on television, etc., then perhaps the need to engage control is real.

Similarly, the time displacement theory considers that time spent on the Internet must necessarily come from time previously allocated to other activities (Kwan, 2003; Nie and Hillygus, 2002; Robinson et al., 2000; 2002). Television viewing is frequently quoted as an activity that is displaced by Internet use, whether respondents are personally asked about their viewing habits (Dryburgh, 2001; Williams, 2001; Nie and Erbring, 2000) or whether the findings result from longitudinal analysis of users, or one-time diary studies (Robinson et al., 2002). Others state that Internet users watch less television than non-users, but conclude that much of the difference is explained by demographic differences between the two groups (Cole and Robinson, 2002; Neustadtl and Robinson, 2002). Other studies find that sleep is another activity displaced in part by Internet use (Fu, Wang and Qiu, 2002; Robinson et al., 2002).

But, control or not to control is the most important question… However, before address such issue it is interesting to analyze the etymology of such concept, given the fact that can provide us some interesting thoughts regarding the scope of this paper. Control can be seen as the “power” that directly determines a situation; a relation of constraint of one entity (thing or person or group) by another, or, the state that exists when one person or group has power over another. In that sense, two questions seem bounded to such concept:

which is the limit for an effective control (the trade-off)?;
and, which are the ethical limits of control?

To answer the first sub-question- the software effectiveness- I will make a comparative analysis for some existent software’s regarding kid’s internet control, such as: WatchDog, WebScout, ChatBlocker, Block Website Buddy, Safe Eyes, Control Kids, Pure Sight, Parental Control Tool, Access Control, Children Control and Spector Pro. I should referrer that, such analysis will be performed having in consideration the criteria that literature imposes (see for example: Frankl and Weyuker, 2000; Boehm and Basili, 2001; Chen, Lyu, and Wong, 2001). The analysis criteria will compare the software effectiveness and reliability with the enabled functions purposed by the producing software companies.

And finally, to answer the second sub-question it is possible to acknowledge my personal view on such subject. A fact is that people may use excessive words or comments online; moreover, we may claim from the previous analysis that such software’s effectiveness is limited, which sets a limit for control the Internet use by our children. But, which are the ethical limits of control?

It is not hard to understand why society in general wants to filter this kind of information, like I plead into my previous works (Costa, 2005; Costa and Silva, 2007). Such filtering has two dominant perspectives:

  • human filtering;
  • machine filtering.

The difference between these two perspectives can be explained through a metaphor: the first one can be seen as a person hiring a warehouse full of marginalise people and then, set them to work looking at every web-page on the Internet, asking them to accurately rank each page based on whether it is “adult” or “offensive” or “religious” or “irreligious” or “political” or you name it; the second one consists on hire a warehouse full of programmers and set them to work constructing lists of keywords and phrases that determine whether a document is “adult”, “offensive”, and etc. The result it is an imaginable list…

Both of these work about as you might expect: they block innumerable legitimate pages (one recent study found that one-third of the top search results for key concepts for the US common curriculum are blocked by mandatory library censorware) and let offensive, rough and light-hearted pages slip through.

However, the aim of this paper is not to debate such societal measures regarding Internet filtering and its ethics, but do determine the existence of ethical limits concerning parental control. It is ethical to control our kids? If yes, which are the limits and consequences of such control?


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