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Configuring Parental Controls (part 2) - Defining Web Restrictions

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3/30/2011 7:00:10 PM

Defining Web Restrictions

Web restrictions settings enable parents to define which types of content are accessible to children who are using the computer. To access these settings, first enable Parental Controls for the child’s user account. Then, click the Windows Vista Web Filter link in the User Controls dialog box for the child’s account to access the available options. Figure 4 shows the default settings for Web restrictions.

Figure 4. Configuring Web restrictions for a user account

The first option, Block Some Websites Or Content, is the master setting that determines whether Web filtering is active. When it is active, parents can specify a wide array of options to manage which content is accessible.

Allowing and Blocking Web Sites

In some cases, parents might want to determine actively which Web sites are available to their children. These settings can be managed by clicking the Edit The Allow And Block List link in the Web Restrictions dialog box (see Figure 5).

Figure 5. Defining the list of allowed and blocked Web sites

The Allow Or Block Webpages dialog box contains two columns: one for a list of allowed Web sites, and another for a list of blocked Web sites. The Website Address text box enables users to specify a complete Uniform Resource Locator (URL) to a particular site. One easy way to obtain the URL if it is not known is for a parent to open Internet Explorer, navigate to the site, and then copy and paste the URL. The Allow and Block buttons determine how the Web site is managed.

There are two main approaches to managing which sites are accessible. The first is to define a list of allowed Web sites and to prevent children from accessing any other sites. The other approach is to block access specifically to a list of Web sites. In general, blocking access to specific Web sites might be easier to configure (especially when considering the other options that you’ll learn about in this lesson). Defining a list of allowed Web sites can be tedious and time-consuming, but it can offer the best protection against access to unwanted content.

The Only Allow Websites Which Are On The Allow List check box specifies which approach is used. When the check box is selected, the list of blocked Web sites is effectively unused because all sites are blocked unless they appear on the Allowed Websites list. Parents can remove an entry from either list by selecting it and clicking Remove.

Managing lists of Web sites can be a time-consuming process. When parents need to configure these settings on multiple computers, it is often difficult to type in each site address manually on every computer. The Import and Export buttons enable parents to save the current collection of settings to a file that they can import to other computers or allow other accounts to use on the same computer.

Blocking Sites Based on Content

When configuring Web restrictions, it is practically impossible to define specific Web site exceptions for every site on the Internet. The primary goal for parents is to ensure that inappropriate content is not available to children. Because site contents often change, it is important to be able to filter the content dynamically. Many Web site operators are just as concerned as parents about the suitability of their content. Because they often do not want children to visit their sites, they can choose to rate their own content voluntarily. This information is sent to the Web browser automatically with each page request. Although the system does not prevent potentially malicious Web site operators from misstating these details purposely, it does provide a reasonable level of protection.

To ease the task of filtering Web content, the Web Restrictions dialog box contains a section titled Block Web Content Automatically (see Figure 6). This feature works by analyzing the content of a particular Web page or Web site automatically and then testing it based on a variety of built-in algorithms. There are four main settings for the Web restriction level, as follows:

  • High This setting blocks all sites except those that specifically include information that they are approved for children. Therefore, this is the most secure option, but it is also the most restrictive.

  • Medium This setting automatically blocks content that does not contain rating details and analyzes the page for a variety of unsuitable content.

  • None This setting effectively disables automatic filtering. Settings on the Allow and Block lists are still respected, however.

  • Custom This setting enables parents to specify which types of material should be blocked.

Figure 6. Selecting the Custom option for automatic Web filtering

Regardless of the option chosen, it is important to note that the Web filtering algorithms are not perfect and cannot always block all of a certain type of content. The Web Restrictions dialog box also enables parents to block file downloads for their children. This is often appropriate for security and privacy reasons because it prevents them from installing potential malware or unwanted programs.

Providing Site Reviews

Categorizing, rating, and filtering Web site content is a particularly difficult process. Because the definition of appropriate content is a subjective measure, site administrators, parents, and third parties (such as Microsoft and content rating companies) can disagree on whether certain content should be filtered. If parents or site administrators believe that content has been improperly classified, they can click the Go To The Site Review Website To Give Feedback On Website Categorization link. Figure 7 shows the Web site.

Figure 7. Accessing the Windows Site Review Web site

The site enables users to provide information about a particular URL and to specify why they feel that the content was improperly categorized. Microsoft staff members can then review reports and decide whether the content should be reclassified. Although the process is not immediate, it is a good way for concerned parents to help filter unwanted content for their children.

Attempting to Access Blocked Web Sites

When Web restrictions are enabled for a user account, all Web content that is accessed through a Web browser is automatically analyzed. When the content of a Web site is found to be inappropriate based on the Allow and Block lists or based on automatic filtering settings, children see the notice shown in Figure 8.

Figure 8. A message informing the user that certain content has been blocked

Parents can instruct their children to notify them to review blocked content. If the site is appropriate, then parents can use an Administrator account and make the appropriate changes to the settings. Although it is likely that adjustments will be needed periodically, the Web restrictions feature can help ensure the safety of children’s online experience.

Using Internet Explorer Content Advisor

In addition to the standard Web restrictions settings that are available in Parental Controls, Internet Explorer includes a feature for advising users based on the type of content that is being accessed. Figure 9 shows an example of the available settings.

Figure 9. Configuring settings for Internet Explorer Content Advisor

Each setting pertains to various types of content that can be detected through details reported by Web sites. It is important to keep in mind that the rating levels are often voluntary and might not agree with parents’ filtering requirements. Internet Explorer also includes options for determining whether sites that do not include rating information can be viewed (see Figure 10). Further, it is possible to include additional ratings systems for use by Internet Explorer.

Figure 10. Configuring general Content Advisor settings

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