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Software Nips Smut in the Bud

December 1, 1996
Related Topics: Technology and the Law, Featured Article, Technology
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With the explosion of the World Wide Web, parents and teachers had been the No. 1 customers of filtering software. Yes, they wanted their children and students to merrily skip along the Super Information Highway. But not without censoring CyberNOTs, such as violence, nudity, hatred, Satanic cultism, drug culture and other questionable text and graphics, according to Framingham, Massachusetts-based Microsystems Software Inc. Thus, its founders, Debra and Richard Gorgens, created Cyber Patrol to allow parents like themselves to control how much time their kids are online.

But now, HR managers are butting in line at the smut-busting counter, says Jay Friedland, sales manager of Surf Watch Software, a Los Altos, California-based division of Spy Glass Inc. "More orders today are driven by HR. About 15 percent to 20 percent of our company's sales are now to businesses. As companies provide Internet access, they face a potential risk around sexual harassment issues," he says. For example, employers are liable if an employee claims he or she is working in a hostile environment because co-workers are downloading sexually explicit graphics.

Indeed, Surf Watch estimates that 1 percent of the Web—or approximately 10,000 sites—contain sexually explicit material. With more than 50 percent of Fortune 500 companies providing Internet access, HR managers have reasons for concern. In April, Nielsen Media Research and Internet Profiles Corp. reported that employees at IBM, Apple, AT&T, NASA and Hewlett-Packard were among the most frequent visitors to http://www.penthousemag.com on the Internet, which registered 54 million "hits" in a one-month period. (A hit is the single access of a file once a computer user visits a site.)

But rest assured, cybercops are on the alert. Software programs not only allow computer systems to block unwanted sites, but the entire Internet-except for sites approved by the company. Some can also track who's visiting what sites, when and for how long. "Our software also has the ability to block searches," says Friedland. "Words like sex, erotica, Pamela Anderson and Brad Pitt."

Personnel Journal, December 1996, Vol. 75, No. 12, p. 59.

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