Tuesday, 10 January 2012



Over 561million webpages catalogued and labelled as containing sexually explicit adult content

A solution to the problem of children being exposed to sexually explicit adult content on the internet has seemed elusive to date, with parents and schools compelled to invest in expensive filtering software or to subscribe to indiscriminate, uniform blocking with their broadband provider.

However, Wexford-born Paul Walsh – a well-known figure in the open standards world - has come up with the first-ever free solution: a simple browser tool which flags up - and blocks, if desired - webpages featuring adult content, including from within social networking sites such as Facebook.

Crucially, the software is able to distinguish between a webpage containing sexually explicit adult content and a site with important information about breast cancer, for example.

Paul and his colleagues at MetaCert – an Enterprise Ireland client - spent six years researching and developing the pioneering technology behind MetaSurf, its online family safety tool. The company was then contracted by ICM Registry to provide every .xxx domain website owner with a labelling solution to help protect children from adult content.

The .xxx domain was launched last month.

MetaSurf works by automatically ‘labelling’ adult pages and the sites to which they link, enabling them to be flagged up once the tool is activated. An optional pass code allows carers to restrict access to children or vulnerable adults attempting - either accidentally or deliberately - to progress to a ‘flagged’ site.

There is no way to access a labelled site. MetaSurf is effective not only for sites listed in search results but also for those ‘linked to’ within websites. It also blocks access when the URL is typed manually into the browser.  

To date, MetaCert, which has offices in Dublin and San Francisco, has labelled over 561 million webpages containing adult content, none of which can be viewed in browsers where MetaSurf has been enabled.

Paul Walsh, CEO of MetaCert, believes that MetaSurf offers unprecedented flexibility to parents, carers and schools without hampering their own browsing experience:

“Until now, anyone wishing to use the internet educationally to talk to their child or teenager about nudity, adult sexuality or a whole range of other issues would have no choice but to open up the floodgates to everything.  The vast majority of broadband providers and browsers don’t currently offer a way of accessing age-appropriate pages without risking exposure to sexually explicit adult material – they force parents, carers and schools to uniformly block everything. MetaSurf affords them the flexibility - completely for free - to only restrict the content which the vast majority of parents wouldn’t want their children to see.

“In addition, some adults actually want to be able to view sexually explicit material themselves but do not want to risk exposing their children to the same webpages. By using the pass code on MetaSurf, they are able to make an informed choice - as adults - which allows them to do this while still protecting others in the household.

“Importantly, MetaCert's system does not block or manipulate content and does not affect search result ranking. All it does is to let users know that individual search results point to adult content. Whether a user follows such links remains entirely a matter of personal choice, but it's an informed choice.”

“We decided to offer MetaSurf for free because I don’t believe that parents or schools should have to pay anything to protect children from adult content. So far, we have developed MetaSurf ‘plug-ins’ for use with both Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox and others are on the way.

“The most exciting thing about the software is the opportunity it offers to big industry players to protect children however they choose to access the web: by updating their systems to make use of our data set, which is based on open standards and therefore seamless to adopt, children could be protected on mobile devices, desktop browsers and games consoles. We are launching these products as an interim solution until this happens. We are also building an iPhone/iPad browser.”