A veteran of the internet filtering game will today launch a new push into the controversial market space with the public launch of his company, Content Advisor Inc and its eponymous content filtering tools and services. Steve Shannon, president of Somerville, Massachusetts-based Content Advisor was one of the people charged with the development of one […]
A veteran of the internet filtering game will today launch a new push into the controversial market space with the public launch of his company, Content Advisor Inc and its eponymous content filtering tools and services. Steve Shannon, president of Somerville, Massachusetts-based Content Advisor was one of the people charged with the development of one of the first attempts to control internet content following the passing into law of the Communications Decency Act in early 1996. That act was subsequently overturned by the Supreme Court in a famous decision just under a year ago, but the market for internet filtering was already well under way. From April 1996 through May 1997, Shannon was project manager for the Recreational Software Advisory Council, better known by its acronym, RSACi. It is a non-profit organization that aims, through a voluntary content-based ratings system, to provide a blocking mechanism through browsers based on categories of sex, nudity, language and violence. It is up to the web site owners to rate themselves using RSACi. Companies including Microsoft Corp, CompuServe Corp and PointCast Inc all gave money to develop and manage the RSACi system, but Shannon and others became disillusioned with the system. It seemed really great at first, says Shannon, it was a great attempt at self-regulation. But it soon became apparent that it was being deemed a purely western ratings system and too Christian-based, says Shannon. With that experience under his belt, Shannon has established Content Advisor, which – rather than rely on voluntary ratings – uses a patent-pending web-walker engine that trawls the web 24 hours a day, compiling a database of URLs, which as of Friday contained 1.73 million web sites. Those sites are then manually categorized by the company’s team of four to six full-time editors. That might seem like a lot of work for that many people, but Shannon says they get through about 300,000 URLs a month. The product works in conjunction with a firewall or proxy server, and from today it is available as an add-on to Check Point Software Technologies Ltd’s Firewall-1 product. Shannon is talking to other firewall and proxy server vendors about integration deals. Content Advisor is aimed squarely at the corporate market and is not a tool for use by parents aiming to protect their children. The Content Advisor database is split into 29 categories, which Shannon believes provides an objective assessment of the URL’s content. He claims it is the only content categorizing system that gives a publicly-available snapshot of its database at all times (it’s at http://www.contentadvisor.com/db.cfm). After a free month’s trial, the service costs $1,800 per year, per 250 employees, so it is clearly aimed at medium to large-sized companies. Shannon is confident that his technology does not conflict with Lycos Inc’s recently patented search technology, but it could be used to provide other sources of revenue for Content Advisor. For instance, it could be used to create subject-specific search engines, such as a sports search engine, using the sports category broken down into individual sports, so only information on that kind of sport is returned. As well as web sites, Content Advisor can also block specific games servers, so a company could prevent its employers getting access to Quake servers, for instance, or also block access to chat servers. The granularity of the categorization and the fact that it categorizes URLs, rather than entire web sites means that an article about a politician in a magazine such as Playboy could be accessed if the exact URL was accessed. But access to the content that made Playboy famous could still be blocked.