Family.net aims to block the bad stuff

An Auckland ISP, family.net, has become the first in New Zealand to offer a filtering service for 'inappropriate sites'. MD Peter Mancer says the service will go national next month.

An Auckland ISP has become the first in New Zealand to offer a filtering service for "inappropriate sites".

Peter Mancer, managing director of family.net, says he "saw a niche in the market and moved into it. I wanted to get there first as New Zealand is a small market."

Mancer , who has an IT background, saw the need for a blocked Internet service, but it wasn't until the end of last year that he felt the "technology was good enough to provide this service".

Beating the big names in the ISP arena, Mancer trialled the service in July and launched it as a commercial service last month. Next month the service goes national.

"Up until now we haven't made a big noise in the media, but we now have a cross-section of users and there is a lot of interest," he says.

After researching the concept for nearly a year, Mancer only launched the ISP when he felt satisfied that his criteria had been met. These included: performance — he did not want to offer an inferior ISP; effective operating systems; regular updates to the ISP; and blocking legitimate sites effectively.

Although there are many blocking packages available, Mancer felt the "only way to do effective blocking is to do it using an ISP".

"A big disadvantage to using packages is that people may lack the technical knowledge necessary for successful applications. Also, often the children know more about the computer than the parents, which defeats the object of having a family filtering device."

Mancer feels using the ISP as an filtering service ensures better ease of use.

The main technology family.net uses is direct address blocking. It only blocks the direct URL of a particular site that is regarded as unsuitable. Although the majority of these sites are pornographic sites other sites are targeted, such as the criminal or hacking sites. The service also uses keyword blocking on search engines, identifying four-letter words and profanities.

However, "that is the only part of our product based on keywords. We do not use it on Web sites as obviously keyword technology has its limitations."

Mancer cites using the word "sex" as an example. "It isn't always used for inappropriate means, so you may be presented with a page of sites if you look for the word, but if any of the sites have been identified by us as inappropriate then you will be unable to access them."

However, users are able to email family.net if they attempt to access a site that does not contain inappropriate information. Family.net will then investigate and act accordingly.

"We don't want to be perceived as a prudish site — we don't believe in limiting access to appropriate sites," he says.

To ensure the site is both easy and quick to access Mancer has formed a partnership with another ISP, Onthenet.

"I'm unique in that I'm working in conjunction with another ISP and the reason for this is that he's a business ISP, he has bandwidth available in the evening so it's a good commercial relationship. He has high-speed connections, which is why I am able to offer a lot of services straight away as I'm using part of his technology but am not competing with his business. I'm offering schools, community groups, churches etc the service — which is our focus area," says Mancer.

This partnership has put Mancer's mind at ease as one of his main concerns was being over-subscribed. "I have more port and more bandwidth than I need, to start off with. I don't want to go for mass-market, and then subscribers saying they can't get in."

The US manufacturer of the equipment they use — which Mancer cannot name for commercial reasons — assists significantly in ensuring the database is updated on a daily basis.

However, when family.net initially subscribed to the US service there were a number of US sites and not many New Zealand sites. Thus, Mancer sought out local sites until he felt the local library comprehensive enough to launch here.

Currently employing three part-time staff Mancer has several projects in the pipeline. Once the company has received updates on its software within the next month the service is going to filter news groups. An email filter has also been promised, although it hasn't been decided whether this will be an optional/across the board service.

"We're also moving into radio technology, spread-spectrum technology, which is exciting — I didn't want to be an ISP that says 'Oh well, we'll catch up one day'. We're looking at really investing in the technology."

Although the initial aim of the venture was to protect children, family.net has had a good response from a broad spectrum of groups.

"We are doing our marketing differently as we're not a cash-rich company and are working with churches and community groups and schools. We have a number of services in the schools and we support the schools."

The company is also signing "quite a nice differential arrangement with a community group that has a big national presence in this area".

He has also been contacted by counsellors involved in marriage and/or addiction counselling, who welcomed the service. "Internet porn is a major problem in marriages, so we can just block this out — take away the temptation," says Mancer.

However, as the company expands Mancer is keen to move into the corporate world. Businesspeople have approached Mancer as they are concerned about the "unproductive use of the Internet — car, travel sites etc".

Mancer, optimistic about these future projects, says: "We are obviously concerned about competition, but now we're on our feet, going national soon, so we'll start making a bit of noise."

The company's Website is at www.family.net.nz.

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