Entrepreneur labels 561m pages of sexually explicit content

10 Jan 2012

An Irish tech start-up with offices in Ireland and San Francisco has labelled more than 561m web pages in a single data set, in an effort to protect young web users online. The company has been chosen by ICM registry to provide a labelling solution to every .xxx domain owner.

Open standards expert Paul Walsh of MetaCert claims the dataset is the first ever free solution to the problem of children being exposed to sexually explicit adult content on the internet.

He says it is a simple browser tool which flags – and blocks, if desired – web pages featuring adult content, including from within social networking sites, such as Facebook.

Crucially, the software is able to distinguish between a web page containing sexually explicit adult content and a site with important information about breast cancer, for example.

.XXX breakthrough

Enterprise Ireland-supported MetaCert has spent six years researching and developing the technology.

The company has been contracted by ICM Registry to provide every .xxx domain website owner with a labelling solution to help protect children from adult content. The .xxx domain was launched last month.

MetaSurf, its family safety tool, works by automatically ‘labelling’ adult pages and the sites to which they link, enabling them to be flagged once the tool is activated. An optional pass code allows carers to restrict access to children or vulnerable adults attempting – either accidentally or deliberately – to progress to a ‘flagged’ site.

There is no way to access a labelled site. MetaSurf is effective not only for sites listed in search results but also for those ‘linked to’ within websites. It also blocks access when the URL is typed manually into the browser.  

To date, MetaCert has labelled more than 561m web pages containing adult content, none of which can be viewed in browsers where MetaSurf has been enabled.

Walsh says the technology can be used by parents, carers and schools without hampering their own browsing experiences.

“Until now, anyone wishing to use the internet educationally to talk to their child or teenager about nudity, adult sexuality or a whole range of other issues would have no choice but to open up the floodgates to everything.  

“The vast majority of broadband providers and browsers don’t currently offer a way of accessing age-appropriate pages without risking exposure to sexually explicit adult material – they force parents, carers and schools to uniformly block everything.

“MetaSurf affords them the flexibility – completely for free – to only restrict the content which the vast majority of parents wouldn’t want their children to see.

“In addition, some adults actually want to be able to view sexually explicit material themselves but do not want to risk exposing their children to the same web pages. By using the pass code on MetaSurf, they are able to make an informed choice – as adults – which allows them to do this while still protecting others in the household.  

“Importantly, MetaCert’s system does not block or manipulate content and does not affect search result ranking. All it does is to let users know that individual search results point to adult content. Whether a user follows such links remains entirely a matter of personal choice, but it’s an informed choice.”

“We decided to offer MetaSurf for free because I don’t believe that parents or schools should have to pay anything to protect children from adult content. So far, we have developed MetaSurf ‘plug-ins’ for use with both Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox and others are on the way,” Walsh says.

The company is also in the process of building an iPhone/iPad browser, he adds. 

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years