There are lots of Internet filtering products on the market that enable parents to block certain types of websites such as pornography, hate sites, or sites that promote alcohol or drug use. Most of these products run on PCs or Macs by sitting between the operating system and the browser and checking any requested sites to make sure they're not blocked. The products generally do a good job blocking requests from protected PCs, but most don't work with game consoles, Wi-Fi-equipped iPhones or iPod Touches, or any other device that isn't running the software.
Netgear is about to ship routers designed to simplify the process by allowing parents to block content on any device using the home's wired or wireless network.
The new routers, which will be available in early September, will be equipped with firmware that configures them to use OpenDNS' domain name server to look up the actual IP address of any site someone tries to visit. If that site isn't on the blocked list, it will be displayed. But if a parent has blocked that site, the user will instead be sent to a page that informs them that the site they tried to access is blocked.
Some existing Netgear routers can be upgraded with the new OpenDNS-compatible firmware starting August 10th.
Because the filtering takes place at the router level, it works with any device in the household that uses that router including Web-enabled game consoles and Wi-Fi mobile devices. It won't, however, work with devices that don't use the home network such as an iPhone set up to use the 3G cellular network.
Like other filtering products, parents have control over the type of content blocked and have the ability to turn it off so that it doesn't prevent mom or dad from visiting any sites. There is also a "white list" feature that allows parents to exclude any site from the blocked list. Because the blocking lists are "in the cloud," parents can configure the filter from anywhere.
Before employing any parental control system, I urge parents to think about how they will or won't fit in with your family. Consider the age of the child, the child's Web surfing habits, the types of risk your child takes, and what you plan to say to your children about the filtering product. Parents should tell their kids that they're using filters and explain why they think they're necessary. Also, parents should never rely on filters as the only way to protect children--parental involvement is still important. If you decide to use a filter, consider weaning kids from them as they enter their teenage years. Eventually, your kids will be on their own and part of a parent's job is to help a child make their own good decisions. You can't rely on filters forever.
For details about the service, I spoke with OpenDNS founder & CTO David Ulevitch.