Death to Porn


23 Mar 2008

The faint, far-off results of those energies which God’s creative rapture implanted in matter when He made the worlds are what we now call physical pleasures; and even thus filtered, they are too much for our present management. -C.S. Lewis, from The Weight of Glory

For this is the will of God, your sanctification… -1 Thess 4:3

Lewis’s quote is so true, but without downplaying these lifelong, colossal struggles, aren’t “addictions” often just sinful habits? We do things not only because we’re inclined to do them, but because we are used to doing them. If it’s too easy to wander on the internet, make it harder to seek after “strange women” (Prov 22:14) by using Covenant Eyes. It lets you go where you please on the internet, but all activity is logged and can be viewed later by an accountability partner (wife, parent, friend) in a tidy report. Covenant Eyes also offers filtering software that blocks porn sites. We just use the accountability software, and it has never caused any compatibility problems on our machine. A little “CE” icon minds its own business on our taskbar.

Since I last wrote about Covenant Eyes, they’ve revised the look of their accountability report and upgraded the scoring system. There’s good news and bad news here. The bad news is that the overall score provided by the new scoring system is useless. The good news is that the accountability report is much easier to read. The report lists the sites that have the highest scores, then further down it will show you the specific pages in those sites that score highly. The system isn’t perfect. Sometimes the report catches stuff on sites like cnn.com that are inoffensive and yet get moderately high scores. However, when you see cnn.com you know that there’s nothing of concern there other than their usual political bias. Really, Covenant Eyes does a great job at a daunting task. You should be able to sweep through the report in a few minutes a week once you know what to look for.

Comments are open. I’d be curious to hear reviews from users of Covenant Eyes filtering.

28 Feb 2008

This blog was once hosted by IPower. My 2+ year experience with them matched these reviews. There were the day-long periods of downtime that were not fixed until I called, downtimes that belied the touted 24/7 monitoring. There were the endless and often fruitless waits for customer service. There was the site upgrade they did last year that knocked email out for a week. The final straw was experiencing long site load times that went on for days and days without explanation. I don’t know if they ever straightened that one out, because a few weeks ago it was time to say “adios, IPower.”

Jack’s Pipe is now hosted by Hostmonster. So far, so good with them. They had a 2h outage the other day, but I could see via their tools that they knew there was an outage. It’s been the only outage I’ve noticed. The site has been loading quickly and without incident. Hostmonster, unlike providers like Lunarpages and Hostgator that profit off men’s lusts, doesn’t host porn sites.

The migration to Hostmonster was easy, but I recently noticed that some older posts had goofy characters in them that were apparently introduced by the database move. These garbage characters were mostly showing up instead of apostrophes and quotes. So… I reviewed and corrected every post where I noticed errors. Feel free to drop me a line if you see others. Apologies for any inconvenience.

16 Oct 2006

She sits at the door of her house; she takes a seat on the highest places of the town, calling to those who pass by, who are going straight on their way, Whoever is simple, let him turn in here! And to him who lacks sense she says, Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant. But he does not know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of Sheol [the grave]. -Proverbs 9:14-18

The safest road to Hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts. – C.S. Lewis

If every Christian family in the country put Covenant Eyes on their home computers, I bet that the majority of mothers would be shocked at what the logs show. Allowing a teen, or perhaps even ol’ dad, to use a high-speed connection privately in the home, without quality logging/filtering software, is asking for trouble. In the case of a teen, you might as well let a whore live in the house.

“Well, my Billy wouldn’t do that.” Don’t be so sure. Kids involved with this stuff know the game, and they know you don’t. Many are getting good practice at deception as they play in the shadows, sowing the seeds of their own destruction.

The story isn’t out yet on what a massive problem this is. What crop will arise from the seed sown in this culture? What fruit will the porn-enslaved internet generation bring forth? Lord, help us.

In the meantime, do you want to help your child avoid the way that leads to enslavement, and to seek instead the far superior joys of holiness in Christ’s kingdom? Here are a few ideas:

  • Pray that your kids will not pierce themselves with many sorrows in this area.
  • Dad (or single mom), put accountability / filtering software on your computers. Pay the money.
  • Mom, learn about the sites your kids are using. (I say “Mom” because Dad probably should avoid the possibility of visual temptation). Check the Covenant Eyes report or your filter logs and visit some of the sites that show higher scores and find out what is being visited. Take the time. You’ll get used to it and it’ll only take a few minutes a week. You’re preparing your kids for the day when they will be on their own; hopefully they will want to remain accountable then. High-speed internet isn’t going away.
  • Spread the word to the parents of your kid’s friends. If you protect your kids, you don’t want some other kid’s parents to leave the sewer hole open.
  • Refer to internet resources like Focus on the Family, American Family Association, and other anti-porn groups. These groups are more “up” on the latest stuff than, well, this aging Gen-Xer for one.

By the way, I think this is one of the most useful areas where a Christian mother can learn the ropes and serve other families in the church as we press forward in our sanctification. Knowledge in this area is sorely lacking.

29 Jun 2006

It’s a little expensive at $75/year, but Covenant Eyes is — by far — the best software I’ve seen in the vital area of helping people avoid internet temptation. It’s outstanding at separating wheat (tame sites) from chaff, much better than its main accountability competitor, X3Watch, and leagues better than client-based filtering software like Cybersitter. It’s been running great on my machines for many months.

Covenant Eyes has yet to release its filtering software, but it will use the same host technology as their accountability software. So what’s the difference, you ask, between filtering and accountability software?

Filtering software blocks access to sites that it deems bad. It’s especially useful when dealing with small kids who may not know where they are going. There is a password-protected area in the software where you can control the filtering preferences.

Accountability software lets you go wherever you please. However, it periodically emails a report to an accountability partner of your choosing (the partner can also review reports online). The email report is ranked so that any sites that Covenant Eyes deems offensive will show up at the top. The report for Covenant Eyes is concise and clear, easy for your accountability partner to scan in a few minutes.

The Covenant Eyes accountability software is all most adults will need, but those wanting an extra level of protection (e.g. avoiding an inadvertent visit to a fishy site) should consider using both once the filter is available.

1/6/08 UPDATE: The filtering software is now available.

01 May 2006

I finally have removed Integrity Online Shield and X3Watch from my main machine. The impetus was some ongoing, occasional situations in Firefox where pages would not load properly; I’m not sure if either package caused it, but it has not happened since they were removed. Covenant Eyes, which has been on my laptop for many months, is now installed on my desktop machine. I still like this accountability software and its quality, readable logs. It is the best solution out there for adults for the reasons mentioned in previous posts. Try it out.

The Covenant Eyes filtering software is done but they are installing more server bandwidth to support it. It is supposed to be out in another month or so.

22 Feb 2006

Covenant Eyes has not released its filtering software yet. As noted awhile back, I plan to switch both of my machines to Covenant Eyes unless this forthcoming software is a huge disappointment. Given that their technology is very accurate, I don’t expect that to happen unless the software is unstable (you know, a 1.0 version). By the way, for the ten of you using Macs out there (just kidding!), Covenant Eyes just launched a Mac version.

Although Integrity Online Shield will likely lose out to Covenant Eyes, I remain impressed with it. In 2 1/2 months, there have only been two times I can recall where it would not allow access to a valid site. The software has been completely trouble-free on my machine. Integrity Online Shield used with X3Watch accountability software is a far better solution than Cybersitter. X3Church’s logging is much less tidy than Covenant Eyes (in fact, it regularly nabs Jack’s Pipe!), but it’s still better than Cybersitter. And Integrity Online Shield’s filtering is the major leagues; Cybersitter is Tee Ball.

15 Dec 2005

Men: I have stated before that most of you should consider using filtering and/or accountability software. Better safe than sorry. However, I have seen few decent evaluations on the web, and some emails expressed interest in the topic, so this post is part of an ongoing evaluation.

After two weeks of evaluating candidates to replace Cybersitter on our machines, one thing is clear: Both candidates blow Cybersitter out of the water.

Candidate #1 is a combination of Integrity Online Shield filtering software and X3Watch accountability (aka. logging) software. These are installed on my desktop machine. Integrity Online Shield does a very good job of nailing bad sites, and it is outstanding at not mistaking legit sites for bad ones (aka. false positives). I have accessed hundreds of sites and it has registered one false positive so far, which was then easily added to its Acceptable Sites list. That is about as invisible as you can get! Integrity Online Shield lacks logging, which is why it recommends the complementary use of (free) X3Watch accountability software. X3Watch is installed and running, but I am not yet ready to comment on it. I expect it to be inferior to Covenant Eyes for the reasons mentioned on the Covenant Eyes site. Plus, note item 13 on that link, because this would really put a crimp in X3Watch’s usefulness (“Ground control to Integrity Online…”).

Candidate #2 is Covenant Eyes, which is only accountability software at this time (they are releasing filtering software early next year). It is installed on my laptop. Covenant Eyes generates nifty, accurate reports that are sorted for easy review by an accountability partner of your choosing (it should take this person no more than a few minutes every few weeks to scan the log). I’ve seen few false positives, despite accessing legitimate articles on topics that always confuse Cybersitter, and it does a great job of catching/logging the questionable and bad stuff. Although its FAQ indicates otherwise, Covenant Eyes does log nntp/newsgroups and file sharing (the latter, however, with just a single entry).

I recommend using a solution that offers both filtering software and accountability software. They really do complement one another. However, filtering software is the most important piece for machines used by children. Accountability software is especially useful for machines used by teens and adults, and it could be the only palatable option for singles who do not want password-protected filtering software on their machine. The thought of one’s wife, friend, or Aunt Gertrude reviewing usage logs should help most adults walk the line.

Both candidates above are installed and running without incident, so that is a wash. However, I am leaning toward the Covenant Eyes solution due to the excellent logging. Their upcoming filtering software tips the scales further. It will reportedly feature real-time content filtering, time controls, user-specific sensitivity controls, and content filtering/blocking for http, secure http, newsgroups, file sharing*, and FTP. (*File sharing is a gross violation of the 8th Commandment as used by most people… reason enough to avoid it).

I will have a final recommendation once the Covenant Eyes filtering software is released in January.

01 Dec 2005

Based on the response to the earlier post, there is general interest in internet filtering, so please excuse another detour to talk software…

After extensive review of many sites (examples: here and here), two candidates are now vying to replace Cybersitter on our computers:

  • Covenant Eyes. This $6.99/month product does no filtering (it allows you to go where you please), but it sends activity logs to an accountability partner of your choice on a regular basis. Covenant Eyes has an impressive web site and it gets high marks from reviewers. It claims to be superior to its free accountability competitor, X3Watch . Another positive: Covenant Eyes is planning to release filtering software to complement their accountability service in January 2006.
  • Integrity Online Shield. This is stand-alone filtering software that costs $49/year and you can download the aforementioned X3Watch program from their site as a free accountability add-on. Integrity Online Shield is provided by Integrity Online, the largest filtering ISP. The intriguing thing about Integrity Online Shield is that it leverages a powerful artificial intelligence technology called Netsweeper that is usually only available to libraries, ISPs, etc. [Note that you can actually switch your ISP service to Integrity Online and the spam and web site filtering will be handled automagically for you by their network, but they want $48/month for a 600K DSL connection and $80/month (!) for a 1.5mb DSL connection].

Both products offer free trial periods.

Let the testing begin…

28 Nov 2005

Note: Going off the beaten path today to discuss software…

Every red-blooded male using the internet should strongly consider filtering software (it helps to fulfill the A in Piper’s ANTHEM). Men are led by their eyes, and it’s not hard to end up in seedy byways.

For years, we have used Cybersitter; my wife keeps the password. This software behaves itself by not interfering with other programs or slowing down the system. It logs activity for accountability and has a small memory footprint. It does a very good job at filtering bad sites, much better than other packages I tried a few years ago. It seems to use a blacklist combined with some sort of proprietary filtering.

However, Cybersitter lacks nuance. It’s like a repairman who uses a hammer to solve all problems: everything looks like a nail. It inexplicably filters outbound data, so if you type “underrated” on a blog form, it may show up as “unde”, while typing “Sex in Literature” (a Lewis essay) is apt to post as “in Literature”. And there is no option to separately disable this word-filtering feature. Worse, Cybersitter routinely blocks harmless sites. These will show up as a blank page or with half of an article missing. I have had to add dozens of regularly and irregularly visited sites such as sports pages and Christian blogs to its Acceptable Sites list, because sooner or later Cybersitter will block articles on them for some reason or other. Given our family arrangement, it’s problemmatic to add sites to the Acceptable Sites list when you don’t have the password (“O honey…”). And when it comes to researching certain topics such as abortion or homosexuality, be prepared for filter-city and a log filled with what amounts to false positives.

The Cybersitter makers have not eliminated these shortcomings in my many years of using it, and they do not seem interested in doing so. There’s no such thing as simply asking Cybersitter to block porno sites and images. It is basically intended for those supervising children.

Maybe someone someday will release filtering software for adults. Or maybe such software already exists. If you have found it, please send email. And if you have not, Cybersitter, with all its faults, remains as an option. In the spirit of Matthew 5:29, it is worthwhile despite the hassles.

Edit: Two readers of this post have suggested interesting solutions, Covenant Eyes and X3 Watch (hat tip: Ryan and Jim). Both programs do not use client filters, but instead log your internet activity and send them to an accountability partner on a regular basis. This eliminates the annoyance of harmless sites being blocked while still keeping you in bounds. At least one of the solutions claims to be nearly impossible to circumvent. Unfortunately I cannot evaluate these solutions further now because… yes, you guessed it, Cybersitter (aka. the Hammer) is blocking a lot of their content. However, I will research and test these solutions further over the coming weeks and post results.