Where is the off switch when Internet use is out of control? Have you ever asked this question? Maybe you're concerned about a family member's online use. Perhaps you find yourself on a site or using an app that you said, "I’ll never go there again!" only to find yourself there again. This is a common problem for all who use the Internet. One question we hear regularly at Pure Desire is, "How can I lock down my devices?" It would be great if this was a simple question to answer; unfortunately, the problem is anything but simple.
These days, just about every device that uses electricity is online. Recently, my wife and I were at the big box store in search of a replacement for our ailing refrigerator, when we came across a WiFi enabled model. Apparently, through a set of cameras and a built-in computer, the refrigerator will manage the expiration date of foods, create a shopping list, and for those really on-the-go folks, it will order groceries to be delivered to your front door. Wow, what amazing convenience! WiFi appliances aside, device connectivity is a real issue; almost every new game console, TV, and DVD player connects to the Internet, and most of these devices have minimal, if any, filtering capability.
In addition to managing devices, Internet access in most cities is highly available and free. Most major retailers (coffee shops, hotels, big box stores, etc.) offer free unfiltered Internet access. Furthermore, thanks to groups like the American Library Association (ALA), there is a decent chance your local library or educational institution has been lobbied into removing filters from their Internet connection. According the ALA, "The negative effects of content filters on Internet access in public libraries and schools are demonstrable and documented." I wonder if the ALA has studied the negative “demonstrable and documented” effects of Internet pornography on the human brain? The Internet is currently available to over half the world's population. To put this into perspective, only 14 percent of the world's population has access to a car. It is nearly impossible to go somewhere in North America where there are people who don't have access to the Internet.
Most people see the Internet as a consumer device; a tool that exists to serve us. It is where we get our information, news, music, books, movies and more. It's where we manage our banking, track our health goals, share our photos, and connect with friends through social networks. Although all of these services are how most of us connect online, the Internet exists for an entirely different reason.
Internet companies leverage all of the apps and websites we love to use to mine data about us, so that they can target specific ads to each and every user. This is why services like Gmail, Google search, Facebook, Instagram, twitter, and thousands of others are free.
If you are not paying for it, you're not the customer; you're the product being sold.Andrew Lewis
Internet companies are all collecting information to market products and services to us in uniquely relevant ways. So what does all this have to do with responsible Internet use? Online targeted marketing is the most lucrative market space. Some studies measure that nearly 40 percent of all online purchases are impulse purchases; the user had not planned to buy something of interest to them until the product was presented. Internet companies know this and, as a result, will tend to solicit the most impulsive version of ourselves. It's extremely important to understand that everything you look at online—videos, posts, or searches—is uniquely placed there for the purpose of selling you something.
When you take a highly connected society that is consistently, combined with persistent impulse-driven marketing, it's not surprising that we find ourselves in places we don't want to be.
So, how can we gain all of the amazing benefits of the Internet without exposing ourselves and those in our care to the negative effects? Here are a couple practices that my family and I find exceptionally valuable.
An Internet filter is a software app or piece of hardware that blocks sites known to have unwanted content. Most filters are free and relatively easy to setup. Nearly every mainstream app or service has the ability to restrict explicit content; some examples are Google Safe Search, Safe Search for Kids and Restricted Mode for YouTube. It's a good idea to make it a practice to evaluate the apps and sites you use. If you are likely to encounter inappropriate content, do some research to see if the site or app offers filtering. If they don't, consider the value of the content and if you can go without the service.
Perhaps there's another comparable service you could use instead. In addition to making sure the apps and sites you commonly use are filtered, having a filter on your router is very important. Adding a filter to your router is as simple as changing your router's DNS settings. OpenDNS and WebTitan are great, easy-to-setup filters for your router. Both services will walk you through the setup process. For the not so tech savvy user, changing settings on your router may be a bit overwhelming. Fortunately, you can purchase routers that are preconfigured for filtering. Circle and CleanRouter are two options I highly recommend.
An accountability app is a program that runs in the background on a device (smartphone, computer, tablet), which monitors and reports the users activity on that device. Accountable2you or Covenant Eyes are two accountability apps I would recommend. Regardless of the app you choose, it’s important that they meet the following criteria:
Everyone that uses an accountability app should have at least two trusted people in their lives that reviews their reports. If you are in a Pure Desire group, your group members make great accountability partners. A good accountability partner should always read the reports, which usually arrives in an email. When reviewing a report, ask about any items marked questionable. I would also recommend scrolling through the list of sites and apps for anything that is odd or a site that is unfamiliar. Don't visit the site; just ask the person whose report you're reviewing to tell you about the site. This will build a practice of vulnerability and the expectation that what we do online will be know by people who care about us. Most reports identify volume of device usage. If there is a significant change since the last report, this is also a great item to ask about, to the person whose report you're reviewing.
Filters and accountability apps are two great devices to put in place when developing healthy Internet use. Remember, there's no way to "lock down" the Internet. Filters and accountability apps are only beneficial when used. The simplest way to bypass them is to use a different computer or connection.
Accountability is a choice and a responsibility.
While the internet provides incredible convenience and connection in our daily lives, it is important to make healthy choices when using the Internet. Filters and accountability apps are two great devices to put into place when developing healthy Internet use. Remember, there's no way to "lock down" the Internet; it is always there, on every device, waiting for you to get online.
For more information and ideas on how to help you and your family develop healthy Internet practices, check out this resource:
What is a digital native? Simply put: a person who does not know the world without the influence of the Internet. How do we parent this generation where anything and everything is accessible at their fingertips?
Bryan Roberts and Heather Kolb dive into this conversation head first. With personal stories and experiences, Bryan and Heather look at how to effectively parent in our digital age.
Bryan is the Operations Director for Pure Desire Ministries. He has been involved with Pure Desire from it's creation. He was the Executive Director of Pure Desire from 2009-2016. Bryan is the author of Digital Natives: Raising an Online Generation.