Easily obtainable smartphones and tech-savvy kids can be a scary combination for religious families who live by strict ethical standards. These standards coupled with free and open access to information anywhere at anytime have forced religious communities to become active participants in a world they often avoid, or shun altogether.
Founded by Orthodox Jews, Israel-based NetSpark is a mobile app for ethical browsing solutions for Jewish communities around the world. The company is now looking to launch operations in the US where a large portion of the world’s Orthodox Jews reside.
With over 300k users from ultra-orthodox communities, NetSpark has shown that its concept works. The company’s Rimon ISP is the only Internet service provider (ISP) in Israel to offer dynamically filtered Internet content.
“Our ISP solution helps parents fulfill their their function as educators,” said Moshe Weiss, Netspark’s founder and CEO.
While many household names in the industry, such as Symantec and Norton Antivirus block an entire URL after spotting offensive content, NetSpark’s algorithm is developed to make sense of entire context, removing only the offensive material and allowing users to access the rest of the data on a given page.
“Mixed content websites such as CNN are often blocked because they have a few pages with nudity,” said Zvika Ilan, business development manager at NetSpark.
The company’s algorithm carries out 99 percent of the content filtering, but to make sure the one percent is covered, NetSpark employs a team in Ukraine to determine the classification of a given piece of content, through human eyes.
According to Ilan, content filtration apps are often abandoned due to overzealous blocking algorithm.
“Research shows that overblocking issues are the main reason why people abandon filtration apps. Parents don’t have the time or the interest to continuously monitor their kids’ viewing habits. This means that apps must be malleable, which simply means smarter algorithms that do not block big news sites such as CNN.”
“We simply want to create an atmosphere of consumer awareness that corresponds to the values and morals of their lifestyle,” Weiss added.
A safer net
Regardless of the obvious religious inclinations of the people behind NetSpark, the company wants its product to be used widely by responsible parents everywhere.
“I want every parent, regardless of his or her particular conviction, to use our product. We have absolutely no interest in proselytizing, but firmly believe that parents, regardless of creed or color would want to protect their children from the dangers of unfiltered browsing,” Ilan stated.
The company wants communities and parents around the world to enjoy the wonders of the Internet and its endless wealth of information, without compromising their ethical standards. These ethical standards include safeguarding and maintaining the privacy of users.
“We do not know who is seeing what and browsing is completely anonymous. We don’t even save users logs, in order to protect the privacy of our users,” said Ilan.
Another content filtering app with a religious tilt is Accountable2you whose founder, Ben Lawrence professes an unusual marketing message,
“My heart’s desire is that all who use Accountable2You will become a Christian. True salvation cannot come from man. It is a supernatural act of God,” Lawrence writes on his company’s website.
In addition to his plea to turn users into devout Christians, the app provides instant text alerts for questionable activity with alerts report generated hourly and ability for users to adjust rating systems per device.
CovenantEyes, a Michigan based filtering app, provides protection for parents who want their children to use the Internet with integrity. The service comes with a promise to guard one’s soul and remain pure while surfing the web. In 2013, Covenant Eyes was recognized by Inc. magazine as one America’s fastest growing companies, a sign of growing demand for ethically and morally oriented services.
The company offers a free eBook tailored for parents to understand how the brain, and specifically children react to watching porn. The rather unsubtly titled book, Your Brain on Porn, authored by Luke Gilkerson, details the physiological and psychological effects porn has on the human brain. The book does not rely on subtle messaging or hide behind ecumenical platitudes.
“Porn use is contributing to divorce rates. All of these are true; however, it is important for Christians—and for human beings in general—to understand the cardinal problem with pornography,” Gilkerson writes.
Whether porn or violence, we are seeing a rise of apps that give parents and educators better control of their children’s online behavior, even though most children tend to be more tech-savvy than their parents and can therefore find ways to bypass restrictions. However, only time will tell if the apps will become a mainstream parenting tool.
We are witnessing a worldwide trend in conservative communities to seek better protection against the more pernicious elements online. Interestingly, the rise of content filtering apps for religious Jews and Christians is a sign that the practitioners of these faiths are not necessarily trapped in an anachronistic setting.
Indeed, the correlation between the unstoppable march of technology and the increase in efforts to filter content is strong, forcing even the most pious among us to conclude: if you can’t beat them, join them.