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Second take on Net content control

Livingston Enterprises comes up with a new way to keep "good" Web sites in, "bad" sites out.

Livingston Enterprises is taking a new look at ways to control access to the Internet with a system that aims not to keep offensive sites out but to keep only lists of approved sites in.

The company's ChoiceNet technology announced today uses a server-based approach to controlling Internet access so that parents and employers can determine which and how many sites are acceptable for viewing.

ChoiceNet lets whoever administers the server set up lists of "preferred sites" that users can then subscribe to. Anything not on the list is blocked. In contrast, site-filtering or parental control software like SurfWatch runs on the an individual's desktop to let the user program certain triggers, such as the word "sex." The software blocks access to any material that sets off the triggers but needs constant updating to account for new sites.

Livingston says its solution is better because it is easier to customize. For example, a list could be set up to include sex education sites but not playboy.com.

Filtering software also lets access to potentially offensive new sites sneak in between software updates, whereas ChoiceNet blocks everything but those already approved. Lastly, Livingston says ChoiceNet is more immune to employees or precocious child hackers who want to get around the controls.

Livingston is bundling ChoiceNet with its existing Unix communications servers and Web server equipment and giving it away to some 1,600 Internet service providers that are already on its customer list. It's up to those ISPs to offer the service directly to users so that they can subscribe to pre-determined lists of preferred sites.

Companies who invested in Livingston's PortMaster Office Routers or IRX Firewall Router could also use ChoiceNet to determine their own lists to exclude all but productive, work-related sites, Livingston representatives said.

No ISP expressed support for the mechanism today, but some content providers think they might. Yahoo's Yahooligans site for children, for example, is working to come up with a list of some 2,000 URLs that it considers appropriate for children. If an ISP implemented the ChoiceNet technology, then users could subscribe to that list or any other.

"We will take the sites and build a list that will be put on the server which will be the only sites accessible to children," said Marty Likier, senior product marketing manager at Livingston. He added that he expects users to start seeing the service in about six months.

ChoiceNet will be a standard feature in Livingston servers and routers beginning in May.

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