Filtering company SurfControl gets patent

The filtering developer says it has been granted a U.S. patent for software that allows companies to block Web sites, despite the ire of online activists against such restrictions.

SurfControl, which produces Web and e-mail filters, said Thursday that it has been granted a U.S. patent for software that allows companies to block Web sites, despite the ire of online activists against such restrictions.

SurfControl spokeswoman Heather Cook said companies use the software to keep employees from personal Web surfing, which can help them manage bandwidth capacity and provide legal protections.

Many consumers and businesses use filters to prevent children and employees from accessing certain sites, such as those with sexual content. Yet some Internet users do not see filters--and patents for such technology--as positive developments and regard the movement toward Web regulation with skepticism.

"It's a silly superstition that you can be harmed by bare breasts and four-letter words," said Bennett Haselton, a Webmaster at Peacefire.org, an organization against censorship on the Web.

Companies such as Internet security company Symantec have received patents for similar technology. SurfControl owns a second patent for similar software that it gained through the acquisition of SurfWatch, first announced in September 1999.

SurfControl won a patent for its "pass by" technology, which works from a standalone computer and "sniffs" Internet data before it hits a server. Cook said the company targets the corporate market with this technology, competing with rival Websense. It also provides "pass through" technology, which operates within an organization's server, that schools and parents use to keep children from reaching certain Web sites.

Despite objections to the software from privacy advocates, business is booming. SurfControl announced that third-quarter revenue grew to $27.3 million from $9.1 million last year.

Haselton said he believes people are unnecessarily concerned about content online, "but as long as people believe (they need filters), they will keep buying the software."

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