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Internet porn-blocking software neednt block health information, study finds

ANN ARBOR, MI A comprehensive new study of Internet filtering software finds that libraries, schools and parents can bar access to pornographic Internet sites without necessarily blocking important access to health information.

But, the study also finds, setting Internet filters to their most restrictive levels will indeed keep computer users from seeing many health sites and will only give marginally better protection against porn than the least restrictive setting tested.

The findings, published in the Dec. 11 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, come from a scientifically designed study of six filtering packages that was performed for the Kaiser Family Foundation by a University of Michigan team.

The researchers tested which health and pornography sites the different filters blocked or allowed depending on how software controls were set. It compared the filters' performance in Internet searches based on 24 health search terms, and in allowing access to 586 pre-selected "recommended" health sites for teens.

Believed to be the most rigorous comparative study of its kind, the project holds important implications for libraries, schools and families in the ongoing debate over how to strike a balance between access to the Internet's wealth of information, and the desire to protect children and teens from exposure to electronic pornography.

The topic was made even hotter by the U.S. Supreme Court's Nov. 12 decision to hear a case challenging a federal law requiring libraries to install computer filters.

"In general, we found that filters were remarkably good at distinguishing between health information and pornography, when set at the least restrictive setting. But at highly restrictive settings, almost a quarter of health sites were blocked, though there was little improvement in porn blocking over the least restrictive settings," says lead author Caroline R. Richardson, M.D., a lecturer in the
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Contact: Kara Gavin
kegavin@umich.edu
734-764-2220
University of Michigan Health System
10-Dec-2002


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