Promise Keepers Seek to Purify Cyberspace
- Michael Betsch Editorial Assistant
- 2001 12 Jul
Promise Keepers said the service, called pkFamily.com, is "for any person or family who is concerned about filtering out negative content and allowing only positive resources of the Internet through."
Inspired by the organization's Third Promise, which says "a Promise Keeper is committed to practicing spiritual, moral, ethical, and sexual purity," pkFamily.com will automatically filter out websites containing pornography, hate speech, violence, and other content that presents an obstacle to the fulfillment of this promise.
"There have been hundreds of companies over the last five years that have created filtered Internet services, but hardly any of them have been able to stay in business because they haven't been able to get enough customers. And so one-by-one, they go out of business," said Ted Padwe, a senior systems analyst and webmaster for Promise Keepers.
"We started pkFamily.com as something that was trustworthy, fast and doesn't have busy numbers when you try to dial-up, all of the downsides that regular ISPs as well as filtered ISPs have."
Padwe said the Promise Keepers' full-service ISP is just like any other ISP provider, except that the filter always stays on. "You can't turn it off," he said. This makes it different from optional filtering programs that many computer users install on their own.
Filtering out the Impurities
Providing the "most advanced filtering technology available," pkFamily.com has partnered with ISPBrand.com, a service of 711.NET, Inc., which is described as an "industry leading provider of pre-screened, pro-family services."
"They have the right combination of the technology, the equipment and the heart to do this job," Padwe said.
711.NET, "is dedicated to providing products and services that allow for the Internet to become a useful and practical communications tool that is free of destructive content such as pornography, hate speech, crime, violence, and other dangerous content which clearly present potential danger to both individuals and families," according to ISPBrand.com's homepage.
PkFamily.com advertises that it provides subscribers and their families " peace of mind."
The website promises to block inappropriate material, based on the following criteria: "If the site contains at least one of the following, it will be placed on pkFamily's blocked-site list: pornography, depictions of sexual acts, violence, criminal acts, drug use, excretory acts, graphic medical images without medical context, discrimination, profanity, and adult humor. In addition, pkFamily blocks access to all unmonitored chat, newsgroups and discussion groups."
"If a person doesn't want to look at lingerie, swimsuits, female models, anything that's going to have a lot of bare skin, they can click a box and it will filter that out too," said Padwe. "Victoria's Secret probably is blocked, but there are other lesser known lingerie sites that haven't risen to the stature of being well-known and may be blocked if you check the box."
Asked whether websites such as the one operated by the National Rifle Association would be filtered, Padwe responded, "The NRA would be a recognized website, probably that people should be able to get to. I think you'd make a lot of people upset if they couldn't get to that website."
Padwe explained that there is a fine line to walk when it comes to content filtering. "If you filter too much, you upset some people because things they think they should see, they can't see. And if you don't filter enough, you have another problem."
Trying to avoid any imbalance, pkFamily.com aims to stay within "mainstream Christian values." But, said Padwe, "There are things that are out there that nobody's seen or evaluated before. The computer, on its own and through the programming that's been put into it, will decide whether there's enough suspect content on that page to block it."
He said up to several thousand sites a day are reviewed and either blocked or unblocked, according to the appropriateness of the sites."
In the Face of Competition
While Promise Keepers offers its own dial-up "full-service filtered Internet" for a minimum fee of $15.95 per month, its $5.95-per-month "filter-only" software is not compatible with dial-up providers AOL, Prodigy, or CompuServe.
"If you have AOL, Prodigy or CompuServe, they use their own proxies and so forth that we can't get in there and filter it. That's by design. They don't want anyone else in there," said Padwe. "If a person has AOL, Prodigy or CompuServe, they would have to change over to another service or change to our full dial-up service. We're not worried about that. We think some people will migrate off of them."
Citing the benefits of pkFamily.com over other ISPs, Padwe said, "AOL has gone up to $23.90 a month and we're $15.95 a month. The question is, "How many people like the e-mail style and all of the things AOL throws at you all the time? We're providing a very good service at a better price and the filtering. So, we think that there'll be a number of people migrating from AOL and the other services over to our service."
The Promise Keepers website takes Internet filtering to a new level, beyond what AOL offers. According to Padwe, "If a person had AOL on their computer, then that allows them to get unfiltered Internet. We're trying to provide assurances, especially to families that have children and teenagers, [that] when you have our service, there's not going to be any way that they can accidentally fall into pornography, the big thing that parents are mainly concerned about."
Dial-up Subscribers Beware
"When this service is installed, it's going to disable the ability of using AOL. The reason is that a kid can go on (AOL) and install something free like NetZero or Juno and he can then, with a free service, get access to inappropriate materials. pkFamily.com being present will prevent those other services from working," Padwe said.
Although AOL refused comment to CNSNews, it did not appear that the company views pkFamily.com as a serious threat.
"Again," Padwe said, "it's the people that are providing the filter who know that if they block too much, they'll upset a lot of people and if they don't block enough they'll upset a lot of people. They're operating at that balance point. The community standard of the people who are using this service are determining where the line is drawn. It's going to be the consensus of that community that determines what gets through."
"There is no such thing as a perfect filter," Padwe said. He described pkFamily.com's service as, "You want some fresh air in your house, but you don't want to leave the door wide open because maybe there's some mosquitoes. So, you have a screen door. And, the screen door would stop the mosquitoes and let the fresh air in. The only problem is that nobody can build a perfect screen door. Up in the corner there are a couple of holes, so every now and then a mosquito may still get in."
Although subscriptions to any of pkFamily.com's services is voluntary, Larry Ottingger, a senior staff attorney for People For the American Way said, "There's no question there's a danger that people are getting a very limited universe. The danger is that they'll be sold a false bill of goods, that they don't realize [there is] material that's being filtered out that they may want to look at. I think it's something they need to watch out for."
"Ultimately," Ottinger said, "if people are provided full information and they're making a decision that, 'Hey, all I want is whatever this Promise Keeper person tells me I can see,' -- that's their decision."