Play it safe by blocking porno

Believe it or not, your company is liable for material downloaded onto its computers, pornographic, even racist content found on your company property makes you legally accountable.

Believe it or not, your company is liable for material downloaded onto its computers, pornographic, even racist content found on your company property makes you legally accountable

A new firewall content filtering platform that employs both automated image and text analysis has been jointly developed by Biodata Information Technology and Cobion AG to help businesses better control Internet use by employees.

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Called I-Watch, this filtering platform combines Cobion's visual detection technology with Biodata's firewall products - Biodata BIG Application, a firewall security product for company networks, and Biodata SPHINX PC Firewall, a new software for home PCs - to block sexually explicit, offensive and other inappropriate images. Text-based filtering techniques are also employed.

Biodata claims that this Internet filtering platform at the firewall and network security level is an industry first.

"This is the first-in-the-world firewall content filtering technology that identifies images and symbols, so that Web pages that contain nudity or subversive symbols are immediately recognized and filtered," a Biodata spokesperson said.

Current Internet filters use key word detection backed by manually prepared lists of offensive sites.

According to Biodata, I-Watch identifies both still images and moving pictures such as streaming videos. The Web filter is updated daily and its range is individually configurable by the user.

When questioned if such a filter will cause a potential conflict between an employee's desire for privacy and a company's obligation to provide a workplace absent of inappropriate content, Heiko Scholz, Biodata's director of public relations, said that I-Watch only equips employers with the firewall technology to block Web sites of offensive content. It does not help the employer keep track of its employees' Web site access records.

Scholz added that since businesses are legally accountable for what their employees download from the Internet, it is imperative for companies to protect themselves with filtering technologies.

The conflicts between a worker's want for privacy and the employer's control over him, Scholz said, is a broader issue.

"The whole political or even philosophical debate about this is not what 'I-Watch' sets out to address, nor bring new conflicts to. This would be a debate about the nature of freedom in general. Philosophers like Kant have argued that there is no freedom when one commits crimes against others. Downloading child pornography or racist material is a crime and will be prosecuted in all major nations around the world," Scholz commented.

I-Watch also protects children against offensive material such as pornography, violence and illegal content, on the Internet. This 'Family Filter' can be adjusted for individual persons, according to age, for example.

According to Scholz, the next generation of Biodata's PC Firewall will be equipped with a mechanism where Biodata SPHINX takes the 'Get Web site' request of any browser on a PC, and first checks with one of the Cobion-Biodata database servers, if the Web site is 'safe'.

"These servers are strategically positioned around the world and simply give a 'green' or 'red' light. This communication process takes place within seconds. As a private customer I determine what is safe and what is not by adjusting the family filter accordingly. So, private customers always have full control," Scholz said.

Pricing and availability
Biodata SPHINX PC Firewall, which is retailing at US$49, is not available in retail stores in Asia right now. The availability date in Singapore has not yet been determined. Users, however, can download the Internet e-commerce version at www.pcfirewall.com.

I-Watch will also be unveiled at CeBIT 2001 in Hannover, Germany, in March.