Peter Imes: Blocking inappropriate websites

August 5, 2010 10:46:00 AM

Peter Imes - [email protected]


Someone contacted me a few weeks ago with concerns that an employee''s web browser history listed several websites that were not work related. The organization had strict rules about looking at non-work related websites on the job. The employee claimed that the websites in question were there because of pop-up windows. The supervisor was curious whether pop-up windows actually appear in a browser''s history. 


For those of you who have no clue what I''m talking about, a browser is a computer program that allows you to view web pages. Internet Explorer, Firefox and Safari are common browsers. As you look at various web pages on the Internet, your browser tracks where you''ve been. This is meant as a reference so you can easily return to sites you''ve already visited, but it often gets people in trouble when they look at web pages they shouldn''t be looking at. A pop-up is an annoying method of advertising that automatically opens a new browser window and displays a web page other than the one you were trying to see. 


My response was that though it is possible that a pop-up window could appear in a browser''s history, most modern browsers are smart enough to ignore pop-ups. Even if the browser does track pop-ups, it is highly unlikely that any recognizable website would appear in a pop-up window. Facebook, Twitter and MySpace don''t just pop up as you are browsing the Internet -- you have to navigate to them. Websites that promote travel, online dating, online gambling, trivia and some computer software companies seem to use pop-ups frequently. If those websites appeared in the browser''s history there may have been some question about whether the employee intentionally visited them. 


I once had an employee who spent way too much time on Facebook. This is a common problem for business owners. A recent study in the UK suggests that Facebook usage alone costs employers $2.25 billion per year in lost productivity. That doesn''t even include Twitter, Foursquare, MySpace and the endless other ways to spend your time online! 


Even if you are not a computer engineer, you can block certain websites on a computer. Here''s a DIY method for blocking certain sites on Windows PCs. I''ve successfully used this method to keep employees off of distracting websites. 


1. Click the Start button and select Run. In the box that appears, type: 


notepad c:WINDOWSsystem32drivershosts 


2. A file with a bunch of technical information will appear. Don''t panic. Just scroll down to the end of that file and, on a new line, type the following: 


You can add as many of these lines as you want. Whatever domain names you enter will be blocked on that computer. 


3. Go up to the File menu and click Save. Then exit Notepad. 


This method works for both concerned parents and employers. Again, this is a limited method of blocking websites. A simple Google search will give the employee/child the information they need to un-block the sites. An Internet filter program or firewall is a more effective method of blocking inappropriate sites. Companies should contact a competent IT person to set up one of these advanced solutions. Parents should look at software solutions like Cyber Patrol and Net Nanny to limit the amount of inappropriate content available to children online.

Peter Imes is publisher of The Dispatch. You can email him at [email protected]