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Don’t you hate it when you’re browsing the web, whether at school or at work, and you’re met with an “Access Denied” page? It simply means that an administrator decided that that particular website is “inappropriate viewing” while on that network.

This access denial is done using a content filter, also known as a content blocker or content control, and as frustrating as it might be on your end — especially when a website is blocked unjustly — such content filters exist for good reason.

In fact, if you aren’t using a content filter at home, you ought to reconsider. They might cause an inconvenience here and there, but the benefits are well worth it. In this post, we’ll explore how they work and why you should use one.

How Does a Content Filter Work?

Content filters are actually quite simple, conceptually speaking. They sit in the background of your system and scan all incoming data, matching all of that data against a set of rules, and if a match is found, preventing that data from going any further.

It sounds suspiciously similar to a totalitarian state, I know, which is why content filters are sometimes referred to as “censorware” and/or “nannyware”. The difference here, at least in this article, is that we’re talking about voluntarily setting up your own filters.

When setting up a personal content filter, you have five main options to explore. It’s up to you how many of them you decide to implement:

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  • Browser-based are built directly into certain web browsers. For example, Microsoft Edge has a feature called SmartScreen Filter A Quick and Dirty Guide to Every Setting in Microsoft Edge A Quick and Dirty Guide to Every Setting in Microsoft Edge If you decide to use Edge, the first thing you should do is set the browser up, which includes tweaking all of the settings according to your needs. Here's everything you need to know. Read More . The other major browsers don’t have such a feature as of this writing.
  • Extension-based are added into browsers through third-party extensions and there’s at least one good content filtering extension available for each major browser. ProCon Latte and WebFilter Pro are good examples.
  • Mobile-based are apps that can block web content once installed onto your phone or tablet. Some only work with certain browser apps while others can filter down at the OS-level.
  • Computer-based are programs that you can install on your PC that will block content no matter which browser you use. We have a few recommendations at the end of this post. K9 Web Protection and Qustodio are popular options.
  • Router-based involve pointing your router to a certain DNS server, which allows that DNS server to act as a content filter. The benefit here is that this blocker applies to all devices that connect to your router. I highly recommend OpenDNS Home.

Beyond these, you also have things like business-wide, ISP-wide, and nation-wide content filters. Those are closer to the censorship side of the spectrum, but that’s beyond the scope of this post.

4 Reasons to Use a Content Filter

By this point most people have one question on their minds: “Why bother?” Indeed, most people overestimate how well they can stay safe on the internet and underestimate just how easy it is to be caught off guard. Here’s how you can benefit from a content filter.

1. It can prevent you from visiting malware-ridden sites. All it takes is one bad link to lead you into a nightmare of popups, malware, and viruses — and it can happen whether you’re browsing the innocent or shady sides of the web, though the latter is more prone to such online security risks 5 Ways Visiting Adult Websites Is Bad for Your Security & Privacy 5 Ways Visiting Adult Websites Is Bad for Your Security & Privacy While pornography is often discussed in the context of morality, there's a huge security-and-privacy angle that is often overlooked. If you know what to look out for, the safer you'll be. Read More

The truth is that nobody is perfect and you’re bound to visit a malware-ridden site The 7 Worst Places for Downloading Windows Software The 7 Worst Places for Downloading Windows Software Software can be packed with bloatware and worse, malware. You can catch malware, if you download your tools from the wrong source. These are the sites you should avoid... Read More at some point or another. When that happens, a content filter can detect and prevent you from visiting such sites at all. (You should still use a security suite as well 5 Best Free Internet Security Suites for Windows 5 Best Free Internet Security Suites for Windows Which security suite do you trust the most? We look at five of the best free security suites for Windows, all of which offer anti-virus, anti-malware, and real-time protection features. Read More !)

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2. It can block offensive or unpleasant material. Do you remember the “screamer sites” that were oh-so-popular back in the 1990s and 2000s? You were asked to concentrate on a dot or solve a hard maze and after a while a deathly image popped up and gave you a heart attack.

Such sites still exist today, though things have progressed towards other forms of “shocking” content, like sex, gore, death, and more. A good content filter will prevent all of that, which is especially valuable when you have kids browsing the web 7 Family Safety Tools To Keep Your Kids Safe Online 7 Family Safety Tools To Keep Your Kids Safe Online Like the real world, the internet can sometimes be a scary place for your kids. There are some great apps and tools to keep them safe; here are some we think are the best. Read More .

3. It can protect you from legal liabilities. Simply put, a content filter can add a layer of prevention between your computer and certain forms of illegal activity, like file sharing and online gambling.

Seeing as how some people have been sued or fined for things like that 3 Software-Related Legal Issues You Might Face One Day 3 Software-Related Legal Issues You Might Face One Day Simple software-related mistakes could land you with fines, lawsuits, or even jail time. Are you aware of these potential legal issues? Read More , you may want to keep your distance as much as possible.

If you ever come across a torrenting site or online gambling site and your content filter doesn’t block it, it’s often trivially easy to add your own rules for blocking those sites as you encounter them.

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4. It can help curb certain addictions. You’d be surprised how many people have at least one form of digital tech addiction 5 Ways Technology Might Be Feeding Your Depression 5 Ways Technology Might Be Feeding Your Depression Technology can worsen depression. With tech enveloping our lives, we should be more aware of technology's potential impact on us. There are some things you can do to lessen the burden. Read More . On the softer side, you have things like internet addiction Take A Break From the Internet - You’ll Thank Yourself Later [Opinion] Take A Break From the Internet - You’ll Thank Yourself Later [Opinion] Oh, the Internet. One of the most world-changing inventions of the past century, perhaps even in all of human history. Never before has everything been so available in so little effort for so low a... Read More and gaming addiction Video Game Addiction In Teens - What Is Too Much and How to Curb the Problem Video Game Addiction In Teens - What Is Too Much and How to Curb the Problem Video game addiction is a serious issue. I know this because I am an ex-video game addict. Read More .

Harder addictions include pornography addiction Pornography Addiction: The Hidden Struggle & How to Break Free [Feature] Pornography Addiction: The Hidden Struggle & How to Break Free [Feature] Anon22 discovered Internet porn when he was just 12 years old. For around 10 years, Anon22 has enjoyed pornography using his computer once or twice a day, a compulsion that he claims ruined his social... Read More and gambling addiction From The Web To Jail: 6 Types of Computer Crimes You Can Get Arrested For From The Web To Jail: 6 Types of Computer Crimes You Can Get Arrested For Governments across the world have tried to tame the Internet as a tempest of new technology threatens everything from strict government censorship and control over the media to entrenched media conglomerates and old concepts of... Read More .

Content filters won’t cure you of your addictions, but they can act as effective hedges that may deter you from indulging when a particular urge strikes. Tech addiction can be tough How to Recognize and Overcome Your Tech Addiction How to Recognize and Overcome Your Tech Addiction Overcoming tech addiction doesn't mean ending your use of that technology, it just means using technology to improve the quality of your life. This guide shows you how to manage your online cravings. Read More and it seems like the future may be even tougher 5 Future Technologies That May Cause New Addictions 5 Future Technologies That May Cause New Addictions In an overstimulating, constantly distracting modern world, phenomenona like videogame and even Internet addiction have become serious issues. How will the landscape shift in another ten, fifty, or hundred years? Read More .

Other potential benefits to using a content filter include boosts to your productivity (if you block distracting sites) and reduced data usage (if you block data-draining sites like YouTube).

Safety Is Important on the Web

While content filters are an important element in staying safe online, they’re just one piece of a grander puzzle. If you want to maximize your safety — and your family’s safety — on the web, you’ll need a few other expert security tips 8 Tips for Online Safety Used by Security Experts 8 Tips for Online Safety Used by Security Experts Want to stay safe online? Then forget everything you think you know about passwords, antivirus and online security because it's time to be retrained. Here's what the experts actually do. Read More .

First, make sure you aren’t making these common password mistakes 7 Password Mistakes That Will Likely Get You Hacked 7 Password Mistakes That Will Likely Get You Hacked The worst passwords of 2015 have been released, and they're quite worrying. But they show that it's absolutely critical to strengthen your weak passwords, with just a few simple tweaks. Read More . Second, configure your router using the best and proper security settings How to Configure Your Router to Make Your Home Network Really Secure How to Configure Your Router to Make Your Home Network Really Secure Default router settings put your network at risk, allowing freeloading strangers to squeeze nadwidth and potentially commit crimes. Use our summary to configure your standard router settings to prevent unauthorized access to your network. Read More . Third, start using a reputable VPN service (but don’t fall for these common VPN myths 5 Common VPN Myths and Why You Shouldn't Believe Them 5 Common VPN Myths and Why You Shouldn't Believe Them Planning to use a VPN? Not sure where to start, or confused about what they do? Let's take a look at the top five myths about VPNs and why they're simply not true. Read More ).

How do you feel about content filters? Do you have one set up in your home? If not, why not? Share your thoughts with us in a comment down below!

Image Credits: Malware Alert by CyberHades via Flickr, Betting by Jim Makos via Flickr

  1. Kelsey Tidwell
    October 2, 2016 at 3:36 am

    Even though your choice of browser doesn't have the SmartScreen Filter like Edge, you can get the same experience by changing your search engine to StartPage. It is a privacy-centered search engine which routes Google search results to you through StartPage's servers (incidentally given you anonymity), and comes preset with filter settings en force.

    A hamburger menu in the upper right area of the page allows you to turn off filtering if you so desire.

    I use Chrome, Opera and Firefox on various devices, and I have StartPage set as my default search on all of them. Works great!

  2. Read and Share
    August 26, 2016 at 4:05 am

    No one else has access to my laptop. With that, my conscience is my primary content filter. Fear and guilt are my backup's.

    • Joel Lee
      August 29, 2016 at 9:18 pm

      Well in that case... :)

  3. Jaden Peterson
    August 25, 2016 at 10:53 pm

    Personally, I don't like internet censorship. I am very up to date on the latest vulnerabilities. Although antiviruses and Linux aren't perfect, I use both. I rarely install something unless it comes from a repository. I also use Tor, and a custom VPN running at home when I am at my school.

    • Joel Lee
      August 29, 2016 at 9:18 pm

      It sounds like you know what you're doing, in which case, good luck!

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