Porn blockers — not just for kids

Adults beg Web-filtering companies to protect them from themselves, giving new meaning to "parental controls"

Topics: Pornography, Sex, Love and Sex, internet-filtering programs, porn blockers,

Dave Matthews, founder of PageClean, an Internet-filtering program for mobile devices, knew there was a market for blocking children from seeing porn. But after getting into the business, he began to see an unexpected phenomenon. “I started getting customers asking me to lock their phones and not send them the password,” he tells me. These fully grown adults were asking his company to protect them from themselves.

PageClean isn’t alone. Famed porn-blocker Net Nanny polled its customers last year to find the median age of the person the software is used to “protect.” Thirteen, you might guess? Nuh-uh. Try 24.

“There are many adults who wish to protect themselves from pornography,” says Russ Warner, president and CEO of Net Nanny. “And we have requests almost weekly from adults who want our customer service reps to manage their password” — in other words, to keep their password from them so they can’t circumvent the software. “We also know that many of our customers are women who wish to filter out porn for their husbands and boyfriends,” he tells me.

Welcome to the new age of porn-blockers. It’s not just for kids anymore. Gives a whole new meaning to “parental control software,” doesn’t it?

Matthews sees it as the fault of technology more so than pornography. “Having an iPhone makes it really hard to quit porn,” says Matthews. “Imagine trying to quit smoking if you were carrying a pack of cigarettes in your pocket all the time.” He adds, “Essentially, people are looking for help to remove that temptation, because you can’t leave your phone at home.”

A post on the blog for Web filter Optenet reads, “We discovered that many adults were buying parental controls to install on their own computers. But then those adults realized that if they installed the web filter software themselves, they would know the password and every time they felt tempted, they could simply use the password to turn the filter off.” So they developed a way for users to generate a random and easily forgettable password and then use a company staff member as an “accountability partner.”

Porn Blocker focuses on parental fears about pornography but also highlights quotes from customers who got the software for themselves, or their spouse. Dave Cace from New Jersey testifies, “I’m a happily married 29 year old man … but I recently found myself browsing online pornography several hours a day at times. I was worried I was [sic] becomming an addict.” Sandra Z. from Florida says that when her husband developed a porn problem, “I purchased your software and told him I installed it … and he actually thanked me for doing so.”

It isn’t just mainstream companies that are serving customers who want someone to look over their virtual shoulder. There’s been an explosion in recent years of faith-based filtering programs meant to keep adults on the straight and narrow. X3watch, a program developed by the anti-porn nonprofit XXX Church, allows users to block adult sites as well as have their Web surfing monitored and “activity reports” to be sent to “accountability partners.” Covenant Eyes offers Web blocking as well as activity reports that are sent to “someone you trust.” As the website explains, “This makes it easy to talk about the temptations you face online.” While the company certainly offers services meant to keep kids from seeing adult content, it’s largely directed at adults. For example, the website features a story about a customer named Josh whose marriage was allegedly saved by the software.

And in the United Kingdom, government officials have gone so far as to pressure Internet service providers to make porn filtering a default setting in all homes. By 2014 it’s expected that all ISPs in the U.K. will do just that. It kind of makes you wonder: Was it ever really the kids that we were worried about?

Tracy Clark-Flory

Tracy Clark-Flory is a staff writer at Salon. Follow @tracyclarkflory on Twitter and Facebook.

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