Can Disney’s Circle really deliver a porn-free Internet?


Enlarge / Can the Mouse keep your house safe from the sketchy parts of the Internet? (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty)

Filtering out the bits of human knowledge you don’t like and leaving all the bits you do is a deceptively difficult task; it’s one of the classic “I may not know art, but I know what I (don’t) like” problems. If you have a family with small children and absolutely any adult member of that family is not a complete libertine, though, it’s a problem you’ll need to address. The latest edition of the Disney-backed Circle filtering platform aims to help, via either a standalone IoT gadget ($35) or a service embedded in higher-end Netgear routers and mesh kits, such as Orbi RBK50 ($300) or Nighthawk R7000P ($160).

Twenty years ago, the problem was trying to keep an up-to-date database of everything on the Internet and whether it was naughty or not. In 2019, we’ve got the Big Data chops for that, but a larger problem has cropped up—end-to-end encryption. The HTTPS standard treats everything in between the website itself and the device you’re viewing it on as potentially hostile. It keeps those potential hostiles from seeing or altering what you’re doing. So while your router (or any other device in the middle) might be able to tell—or at least effectively guess—what website you’re visiting, it has no idea what you’re actually doing there.

That means filtering based on the actual content you’re looking at isn’t possible, and family filtering is a semi-blind guessing game. Many companies and devices claim to do it, but Circle is the first one I’ve seen that does it even tolerably well.

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