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Firefox add-on Glubble too clunky and restrictive as a children's Internet filter

By Tina Gasperson on July 21, 2008 (2:00:00 PM)

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Glubble is a free proprietary Firefox add-on from Glaxstar that limits the activity your child can perform online by blocking access to Web sites and filtering Google search results. For parents, a tool like Glubble can seem like the perfect answer to the problem of protecting kids from the unsavory elements of the Internet. But as I discovered through my use of Glubble, the questions surrounding the idea of Internet filtering don't come with easy answers.

Extension series

Obtaining Glubble and getting it installed is easy. Download the Firefox add-on from Glubble.com and click Install. Create a Glubble account for yourself, and one for each child that will use the service. Glubble starts running right away, on top of the Firefox browser, setting up an initial "walled garden" consisting of a few dozen well-known sites for elementary-age children, and a more relaxed account for you, the parent. From there you can add or delete sites as you wish, with different configurations for each child, and each gets his or her own "secret homepage," as Glubble calls it. Children access their account by clicking on a tab at the top of the browser, which restarts Firefox (to disable any other running add-ons) and creates a secure environment tailored specifically for each child. The parental account can see and monitor what each child does, and children can customize their homepages with thumbnail pictures, or request that certain sites be added to the walled garden.

Glubble does a fairly good job of finding fun kids sites and allowing access to them. Glaxstar has its own editorial department that hand-picks the sites on the default access list. However, I found that many of the games and animations on these sites don't work in the Glubble interface, though they work just fine in Glubble-less Firefox. What happens when you turn a young child loose on a site like Barbie.com and she tries to play the games but they don't work? She clicks on the pretty banner ads, and ends up on an ecommerce site (strangely unfiltered by Glubble) trying to input her name and mailing address. Forget about blocking ads in Glubble, since, as I mentioned earlier, it disables all other extensions whenever a child logs into their account.

Technically speaking, Glubble does what it is supposed to do: it sets up a very strict, across-the-board filtering system that locks a user into some rigid constraints with no way out of those constraints without the master password. Theoretically, a parent could set her small child in front of Glubble with a few basic instructions, walk away, and not worry about the child stumbling on something they shouldn't.

But as the mother of five children who are very familiar with the Internet, I have found that it is not the children in Glubble's target audience (elementary school age) who need protection from the dangers of the Internet the most. Really young children usually cannot type URLs without assistance, and haven't learned how (or why) to access search engines, the really "dangerous" part of the Internet. The real danger begins later, when a child is old enough to figure out that you can type "bad words" into Google or YouTube and come up with some interesting results. Glubble basically squashes the effectiveness of the young child's Internet experience, not through its site filtering, but through a clunky interface that leaves kids scratching their heads and getting up from the computer, or calling on Mom over and over again for help. And isn't that exactly what Glubble is supposed to prevent -- the need for direct parental supervision? Maybe there's no good substitute for parental involvement.

Unfortunately as well, the middle-school-aged children who need protection the most, but also have greater online needs, such as performing research on a homework project, are underserved by a product like Glubble. Sure, it blocks any suggestion of adult material, but it also blocks just about everything else at the same time. I have never been comfortable with the idea of some editorial board deciding what my kids should and should not see. Sometimes it is in context and quite desirable for them to see information about mature topics, but Internet filters, including Glubble, do not allow for context.

Since my 12-year-old son is not interested in NickJr.com or much of anything else that Glubble lets through the gates from go, in order to make Glubble work for him I have to spend an inordinate amount of time customizing it. Say he needs to do research on the American Revolution. He types "revolution" into the Google search bar on his super cool secret homepage -- and gets zero results. OK, then he tries "war." Zero. And he's calling for Mom. Once again, the need for direct parental involvement in my children's Internet activities becomes evident. That's no surprise to me; I just thought maybe I'd try one more time.

Glubble seems cool on the surface, but once you've spent more than 30 minutes with it, it becomes obvious that Glubble is at best clunky and at worst completely useless.

Every Monday we highlight a different extension, plugin, or add-on. Write an article of less than 1,000 words telling us about one that you use and how it makes your work easier, along with tips for getting the most out of it. If we publish it, we'll pay you $100. (Send us a query first to be sure we haven't already published a story on your chosen topic recently or have one in hand.)

Tina Gasperson writes about business and technology from an open source perspective.

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Comments

on Firefox add-on Glubble too clunky and restrictive as a children's Internet filter

Note: Comments are owned by the poster. We are not responsible for their content.

Two alternatives

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 75.163.130.9] on July 21, 2008 02:17 PM
Use OpenDNS and/or Dansguardian. Either does a decent job of filtering content by category. OpenDNS is easy to setup and to administer. However, no system is perfect (except maybe a whitelist-only), so there is no substitute for good parenting.

BTW, who says filtering is just for kids? Many adults don't want to access phishing sites, adware, or accidently view smut.

Andrew

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Re: Two alternatives

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 194.63.116.72] on July 21, 2008 03:29 PM
Agrree.
Use both products and both work fine. Recommended.

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Firefox add-on Glubble too clunky and restrictive as a children's Internet filter

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 80.126.12.41] on July 21, 2008 03:36 PM
You have to wonder why Google (or any other search engine) isn't catering for this world-wide need. They have the means to do it and it would they could or should have a commercial interest in attracting this demographic.

If you could simply block traffic to most search engines, but allow kids.google.com, you'd be all set if Google were to provide a 'safe search'. Ofcourse, Google already offers some filtering, but it's nowhere near what parents of very young children want.

Perhaps I'm just missing the good sites though, perhaps there already are search engines for kids (or comprehensive online whitelists?)

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Firefox add-on Glubble too clunky and restrictive as a children's Internet filter

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 69.219.149.225] on July 21, 2008 03:49 PM
Try out the ProCon Latte add-on. It's a pretty nice way to control content filtering on an individual machine.

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Firefox add-on Glubble too clunky and restrictive as a children's Internet filter

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 159.238.13.56] on July 21, 2008 04:52 PM
I use Glubble for my kids, but not so much for safety. It is nice, because it helps preschoolers find what they want more easily. Specifically, Starfall and Lego Star Wars.

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Firefox add-on Glubble too clunky and restrictive as a children's Internet filter

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 72.237.174.94] on July 21, 2008 10:24 PM
"Really young children usually cannot type URLs without assistance, and haven't learned how (or why) to access search engines, the really "dangerous" part of the Internet."

I don't know about the reviewer's kids, but my six-year old can and does search Google and YouTube, and I agree that "safe search" is wholly inadequate. And you don't need to type in "bad words" to get "interesting results". I use a combination of adblock and Dansguardian to keep him on good sites, but even then I need to keep regular tabs on where he ends up.

Seems fishy to me that a filtering plugin designed for kids wouldn't block ecommerce sites. Aren't you supposed to be an adult to use them anyway?

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Firefox add-on Glubble too clunky and restrictive as a children's Internet filter

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 76.26.86.213] on July 21, 2008 11:51 PM
The best way to for these kinds of services to work is to tap into the wisdom of crowds using learning algorithms. Just as Gmail's spam filter went from allowing 20-30% of spam through to below 1% (because people "taught" it what constituted spam by pressing the Spam button), these services could have a function that allowed parents to RATE web sites using various categories, for example, 0-3 years, 3-6, 6-10, 10-14, 14-17. You could then set the age level at which you wanted content filtered. It would do poorly at first, but get very good over time.

In the best scenario, it wouldn't just take the average scores for certain domains or web pages, but implement a natural language algorithm that parsed sentences and "understood" context (like the one PowerSet is developing -- in fact, I see a business opportunity for them there), which could then be applied to web sites that are not in the database. However, this last option may be too advanced for the technology we have right now.

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A 13 year old should get the real deal

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 76.10.154.128] on July 22, 2008 04:57 PM
At 12, you're kid isn't a child anymore, he's a teenager. He is in high school or will be soon and will see most of the things you're trying to hide from him (most probably sex). .. And he should probably be trusted to go on the real Internet. I know that step can be very scary for a mom (the part where you realize that he's old enough and doesn't need protection anymore), but its part of life. I was on the real internet at his age (parental controls hadn't been invented yet) and I turned out just fine.

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Re: A 13 year old should get the real deal

Posted by: tina gasperson on July 23, 2008 01:50 PM
He does get the real deal, but he gets it with me close by. Parental involvement is where it's at. And if you think that they don't see the sex and drugs until high school, well, it's probably been a long time since you were in school. I'm just sayin...

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Firefox add-on Glubble too clunky and restrictive as a children's Internet filter

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 208.57.139.45] on July 22, 2008 06:54 PM
"And isn't that exactly what Glubble is supposed to prevent -- the need for direct parental supervision?"

Nope. It's to help secure the computer until direct parental supervision is available. It's an important distinction.

The problem is that if you get 10 parents together in a room, you'll end up with 20 parenting styles. There's no software in the world that can be configured to precisely match your parenting requirements. And worse, the closer a program might get, the more horrified the parent will be when--not if--it fails to guess your wishes.

The fail-safe condition is exactly the condition you describe--leaving all parenting decisions up to you. Honestly, you don't want it any other way anyway.

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Firefox add-on Glubble too clunky and restrictive as a children's Internet filter

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 24.248.89.66] on July 22, 2008 07:04 PM
"Maybe there's no good substitute for parental involvement."

Maybe indeed...

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Firefox add-on Glubble too clunky and restrictive as a children's Internet filter

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 66.240.11.2] on July 23, 2008 07:01 PM
> "Maybe there's no good substitute for parental involvement."
There isn't.
I recommend a white list perimeter consisting of a firewall (default deny) and whitelist squid setup. This *does* prevent all the ads. You can't get around adding sites for them though. Escaping parental involvement is impossible if you are serious about not allowing harmful content. The only way for this to be really possible is using default deny which is the only way you can be guaranteed to know what your kids are doing...

-Viz

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