KidShield Reviews -- Internet Service Providers

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Family-Friendly Internet Service Providers

When it comes to family-friendly features, not all Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are created equal. Some even advertise the fact that they do not "censor" any pornography. The following reviews cover major nationwide providers. If you select one of the hundreds of ISPs not mentioned here, use these reviews as a guideline of what to look for -- and what to avoid. From those having absolutely no family-friendly features to those with many such features, ISPs have taken widely divergent approaches to child safety.

While no ISP offers protection substantially better than filtering software, there are two reasons that your ISP choice still matters. First, some ISPs really are concerned with the issue of parenting online. They offer guidelines for parents, provide clear help in setting up parental control features, provide kids-only areas, block child pornography from their newsgroup servers, help find interesting kid sites on the Internet and respond quickly to reports of online abuse. Others leave all of these issues up to parents to figure out on their own. The second reason your selection of an ISP matters is that the list price of filtering software can run as much as $70 per year – and this is in addition to the roughly $240 average annual cost for Internet access. By using an ISP that bundles filtering software into its service package, usually Cyber Patrol or SurfWatch, you avoid unnecessary costs.

An entirely different approach is taken by some smaller ISPs -- they attempt to filter the Internet before it reaches your computer. Because the filtering technology used by most of these "clean" ISPs is not 100% effective, we recommend that you still use filtering software if you decide to use their service. If a clean ISP offers service in your area, consider using them rather than the major nationwide ISPs listed below. Click here to see a list of clean ISPs.

Overview of Top Nationwide Internet Service Providers

Note that while some ISPs have been given the same family-friendly rating (America Online and Prodigy both are rated 4, for example) these ratings may represent different combinations of features. America Online rates high in most categories but does not offer time management features. Prodigy, on the other hand, offers time management but also carries child pornography on its newsgroup server. Read "SafetyNet: Guiding and Guarding Your Children on the Internet" for more detailed descriptions.

 

Overall Family-Friendly Rating and Contact Information for Major Internet Service Providers

ISP (Click on the Following Names to Go Directly to ISP Web Sites)

Overall Family-Friendly Rating

To Place an Order Call:

AOL
4
(888) 265-8001
AT&T
0
(800) 400-1447
MSN
1
(800) 373-3676
Netcom
3
(800) 638-2661
Prodigy
4
(800) 213-0992

Family-friendly ratings are calculated on a scale of 0-5 (5 is best).

 

Family-Friendly Features of Major Internet Service Providers

ISP

Free Filterware

Kid Content (rated 0-5)

Number of Email Addresses per Account

Newsgroup Policy for Child Pornography

AOL

AOL/Cyber Patrol

3

5

No newsgroups devoted to child pornography are allowed.
AT&T

None

0

1

Carries child pornography
CompuServe

Cyber Patrol

2

1

Blocks some child pornography newsgroups
MCI

None

0

1

Carries child pornography
MSN

None

3

1

Carries child pornography
Netcom

SurfWatch at reduced price

0

1 (multiple email addresses can be had for an additional $5 per month)

Caries child pornography.
Prodigy

Cyber Patrol

0

6

Carries child pornography

Comparison of family-friendly features. For detailed descriptions of filtering software, please see SafetyNet or KidShield's review of Parental Control Software.

Description of Family-Friendly Features

Filterware

With the partial exception of AOL, no ISP uses its own filterware to protect its users. Instead, they either ignore the issue or bundle another company's software with their service. It is highly preferable to use an ISP that provides free filterware for free given the expense of purchasing it at normal retail prices..

Kid Content

Blocked from chat rooms, newsgroups and other Internet areas, kids need an alternative place to interact online. As of now, no ISP has developed a completely safe place for kids to converse (it is difficult to verify that those chatting with children online are really children themselves). However, some ISPs are attempting to meet this need. Also, young children need guidance when online. It is hard enough for parents to find interesting sites when surfing, for young children it can be bewildering. An index of interesting sites makes a big difference. Of course, other sites, such as KidShield, provide can provide lists of child-friendly links.

Multiple Email Addresses

Many ISPs only offer one email address per account. Mom and dad share the same email address as the kids. However, some ISPs allow families to have a separate email address for everyone in the family. This is a great feature for older children who want to establish their own identity, not to mention that it keeps the family mailbox from getting to cluttered. This has an additional benefit: you can setup one email name to be the "public" address. I personally use one such address for anytime I post to a newsgroup so that if any mass emailer or flamer gets my address it will not clog up my real email address. If my "public" email address starts to get unwanted correspondence, I just drop the name and create a new one. Some web sites also require an email address in order for you to visit them. They may then start to send you unwanted email pitching different products. You can circumvent this problem by giving them your public address -- if it starts to get a lot of junk you just create a new one.

Child Pornography Newsgroup Policy

The vast majority of ISPs make no effort to weed out newsgroups devoted to illegal material such as child pornography or bestiality. Hopefully this is for philosophical reasons (no "censorship") rather than for profit motives. When a user accesses a web site, the actual site where a computer is storing the web pages can be anywhere in the world. However, newsgroups are different in that ISPs store them on their own computers. Thus, if an ISP carries alt.sex.pedophile it is breaking the law by storing child pornography. It is quite easy technically for an ISP to block these sites, but few do so. Even if law enforcement agencies do nothing about this, ISPs may change their policies if sufficient numbers of consumers switch to ISPs that do not carry obscene material.

Note that even the best ISP does not block all pedophilia on its newsgroups. This is because some deviants get a kick out of posting child porn on newsgroups devoted to other topics. It would be difficult for ISPs to comb through every newsgroup and verify the content of each individual message. However, blocking the newsgroups devoted to these topics is still a giant step in the right direction.

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