Internet Search Engines Add Filters! but Do the Work? These Search Engines for Kids Limit the Listing of Inappropriate Sites by Performing Their Search on a Smaller

Article excerpt

by Larry Buchanan, Technology Coordinator

Poudre School District

Fort Collins, Colorado

Recently I received a phone call from a media specialist in one of our schools who was very concerned about a recent research project at her school. In this case, some teachers were having students do research on various kinds of wildlife. A couple of students decided to research the beaver, and when they entered the word "beaver" into several of the online search engines, the results were somewhat horrifying to the teacher. (Unless you have been hiding under a rock somewhere, you probably realize that the word "beaver" has some meanings other than those lovable creatures that build dams, or the nickname of a cute little boy in a television show and movie.) The good news was that nearly all of the inappropriate sites returned by the search were blocked by our district proxy server filter. The bad news was that the search engines actually returned inappropriate sites in the first place, and some of the abstracts shown by the search engines displayed inappropriate language for students.

Some filtering software available commercially claims to prevent much of the problems with search engines by filtering the search query before it is sent to the search engine. As you can imagine, this works in many cases, but it is far from foolproof and can present significant limitations when performing some legitimate searches. Another popular approach by educators is to have students use search engines designed for kids, such as Yahooligans! or Planet K-12. These search engines for kids limit the listing of inappropriate sites by performing their search on a smaller, better reviewed set of sites. This also is not foolproof, as you will see. But up until recently, if you wanted to have students use one of the popular, large search engines, you ran significant risk of having kids see a listing of inappropriate sites as the result of a search. Two of the makers of these large search engines have obviously been listening to the concerns of parents and educators and have done something about it. Alta Vista and InfoSeek now offer the option of a filtered search. And, by the time you read this, there may be others.

A Closer Look

On AltaVista, the filter is called the "AV Family Filter." It is activated by clicking the AV Family Filter link on the main searching page (Figure 1) at http://www.altavista.com/. You will be taken to a page where you can activate the filter. You can also review a FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) section about the AV Family Filter and learn that it was developed by AltaVista in conjunction with SurfWatch, one of the most well-known companies marketing Internet filters. You also have the option to set a password for activation and de-activation of the filter, a great feature to keep kids from simply turning off the filter. The settings you make regarding filtering are stored on your computer as a "cookie."

A cookie is a generic file that can be created by a Web browser, in response to a request from a Web page that you're visiting. This cookie file is stored on your computer. The cookie can store any kind of information, but is typically a way that Web site designers can store information about what the user did when they last visited the site. Using cookies, a Web site can be designed so that it "recognizes" the user on future visits and perhaps allows them to pick up a session where they left off. In the AV Family Filter, the cookie stores information about whether the filter is turned on or off and whether a password is required to activate or deactivate the filter. This means that if the teacher turns the filter on and sets a password, these settings will remain in effect in for future search sessions.

GOguardian is the name that InfoSeek (http://infoseek.go.com) gives to its filter. It is activated by clicking on the link entitled "Search with GOguardian" (Figure 2). …