Censorware is a type of web-filtering software used to limit or block a user’s access to certain Internet content. It’s viewed in a negative light, because it inadvertently implies that content is being censored and not merely filtered. Content-control software, as it’s also known, is applied throughout the world in local, national and international situations. There are five types of consumer-level censorware: client-side filters, content-limited filters, server-side filters, and search-engine filters.
Client-side filters are a form of censorware used by families and educational institutions to limit children's access to specific websites with questionable content such as pornography. Such filters must be manually installed on a computer, after which the parent or teacher can use parental controls to configure what websites can and cannot be accessed. They’re especially popular in public libraries.
Content-limited filters are offered by Internet service providers (ISPs) that specialize in carefully limiting and monitoring content for the protection of both children and adults alike. They have strict guidelines that must be adhered to by all users who sign up for their service. In addition, their coverage applies to everything, including websites, chatrooms, and forums.
Server-side filters are a type of censorware used to establish a network-wide Internet safety protocol that filters content on all connected devices, including desktops, notebooks, tablets, and smartphones. They are especially popular in educational facilities, because all of the school’s computers are affected. They come with a default configuration, but the network administrator can customize it, if necessary.
Search-engine filters are employed by search engines to allow users to filter inappropriate content. It’s an optional service that can be turned on or off at will. It is primarily used as a secondary way to keep children away from offensive content.
Censorware can also be applied on a much more broad scale, such as when a country bans its citizens from accessing material deemed unpatriotic. In such an instance of Internet censorship, the government can pre-install censorware on all retail computers. This was attempted by China in 2009.
Content-control software can almost always be bypassed. The Internet offers articles on how to disable commonly used censorware. One such site is specifically designed for teenagers, saying its owners strongly believe teens should have freedom of speech."
Along with the pros, there are cons to censorware. A highly effective filter can inadvertently block acceptable content, such as medical diagrams or other health-related materials. On the other hand, an outdated filter that hasn't been updated might miss questionable material. Using such filters takes away a person's opportunity to make his own decision about where to go online. In addition, though censorware installed on a home computer can protect a child, it won't protect the child if he gains access to a computer that isn't protected.