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Do Internet filters work?

Last Updated: October 26, 2020

Ron DeHaas

Ron DeHaas is the president and co-founder of Covenant Eyes. Ron has a BS and an MS in Geology from The Ohio State University and attended the University of Michigan as a Ph.D. candidate. Ron pioneered the concept of Accountability Software and founded Covenant Eyes in the spring of 2000. Today, nearly half a million subscribers enjoy the Screen Accountability that Covenant Eyes provides. Ron also founded Nehemiah Ministries, a 160-acre retreat and counseling center in south-central Michigan for pastors and missionaries.

Surprising data* from a nationwide study suggest that Internet filters might actually promote pornography use, while accountability software reduces the use of porn.

Of adults in the general population, 29% “seek out” pornography at least monthly. However, for those who use a filter to block pornography, 39% seek it out at least monthly.

More alarming, 54% of the general population say they “never” seek out porn, while 0% of filter users say they “never” seek out porn.  All filter users say they seek out porn!

An unknown factor may explain part of the difference, but not all of it. People define “porn” in different ways, so the filter users likely have a stricter definition of porn than the general population.  However, for 0% of the filter users to say they never seek out porn, there must be something deeper.

Specifically, I have heard from many filter users who say they are actually more tempted just to “get around” the filter.  And once they find a way around the filter (and there are ways around every filter), they get trapped by a predatory porn culture.  And nobody knows… there is zero accountability. The filters give zero motivation to “never” look at porn.

The Barna study also asked the same question of those who are trying to stop using porn. The results were much the same: 0% of filter users said they “never” seek out porn.

In both cases, accountable families–who have used Covenant Eyes for more than five years–seek out pornography less often than either of the other groups, even though the accountable families have a stricter view of what porn is.

Over and over again, studies show that “accountable families who take the spiritual formation of their families seriously are successful in passing their values on to the next generation.” 

Guess what… good parenting works!

*All data in this article are from “The Porn Phenomenon” study by the Barna Group, 2016.

  • Comments on: Do Internet filters work?
    1. Joe on

      I have told my two accountability partners to ask me point blank about Youtube, Kindle reader and Amazon. I resigned from Facebook and cancelled Amazon Prime through which I had Amazon Fire videos and tv. Not good for an old dude living alone. My evil heart can think up ways to search Facebook pages and Youtube sites that filters won’t flag. So I have tried to be proactive in my journey. And by the way, age has nothing to do with temptation and lust. I am getting close to 80 years old and find I need to do all in my power, with God’s help, to live pure in mind and heart. I surely sleep better when I do. Thanks for Covenant Eyes. It’s been a blessing.

      Reply
    2. Steve on

      Ton, thanks for the data! Only going cold turkey was the best for me and I went to Christian and secular 12 step groups where I could be totally honest about my “secrets”. I used to try to bypass the filter and then have to ask my wife to forgive me because she knew from “history” on line where I went. It took many years for me to figure out that I had to stop any thought, word or deed that was sexual outside of my marriage. The thoughts can’t be stopped from entering but I can’t linger on them. Really, even for my children and grand children I am trying to tell them that at some point they will have to decide what to do when they see those porn images. Everyone using technology today will be seeing porn at some point. The obsessive and compulsive nature of porn and constant feeding of the prurient interests became the addiction and with it self deception and enemy deception. We need each other as brothers in Christ to open and honest and support each other not condemn. And, the ladies need each other the same way. Steve

      Reply
    3. wren on

      Most computers have the function where you can have a log on & password that only one person can have, thus that person is the only one who can unlock the computer when another in the household wants to use it. This works.

      Reply
      • Annelise Hoshal on

        Hi Wren,

        You’re absolutely right! A password to lock out all other user’s from accessing the computer without the log in credentials can work really well! However, what happens after that password is signed in? Does the password keeper hover over the user’s shoulder while they browse on the computer or walk away? Also, what about mobile devices? An increasing number of porn searches are done through smart devices, like phones and tablets. This is why Accountability services like Covenant Eyes are so beneficial! Not only does it inform the Accountability Partner about the user’s activity and allows for an open dialogue, but it encourages good internet habits. The software also covers multiple devices, so the computer and the smart devices are covered. A computer password can protect someone by keeping them locked out, but once it’s unlocked what’s protecting their eyes, heart and mind?

    4. Ben on

      So the obvious question here is whether or not subscribing to CE filters is 1) Worth the money, or 2) more detrimental in fighting off the urge to look for porn then if there were no filter? This is assuming a person is already in an accountable relationship complete with internet reports.. ect.

      Reply
      • Chris McKenna on

        Hi Ben, I think you’re on the right path. The blog is posing the idea that filters alone typically don’t work. I can speak from experience here, where every filter simply became another challenge for me to overcome. It wasn’t until I incorporated both filtering and accountability that I was able to break free. The balance between filtering and accountability is also dependent on age. For young children, a filter is a must because there are many things you just don’t want a 6-year old to see at all. But, the strategy should shift with age to help a young internet user understand the value of Biblical accountability in the life of a believer. Then, as you state, there will be a time when the sheer power of Biblical accountability and sanctification are enough where the filter can be dropped.

        Peace, Chris
        -Covenant Eyes

    5. wren on

      Annelise,
      Why would the addict who states he’s in “recovery” need to have a “smart device, phone w/internet, tablets” as you mentioned? I’m not sure why your post is sarcastic. If it works for your household, great. Some addict’s will find a way around yes even Covenant Eyes if they want to view Porn. If there are children in the household then they may have to use the computer for school. However, the addict (we’ll say husband here although women can be addict’s) if serious about their recovery the computer would be the LAST thing he would want or need to access when @ home. He can get a cheap burner phone which works just fine!! A lot of households are experiencing severe financial losses & can’t afford CE even if they wanted. My suggestion gives the wife a boundary she can enforce to ensure the home is once again a safe place. If she chooses. The addict in real recovery would welcome not having access to the computer, no smart “devices” & for that matter cancel the cable& satellite TV. Our world is saturated w/sexual images & our gender which often lacks modesty but that doesn’t mean the addict can’t take as many pro-active steps that are sensible & more importantly show a heart that has undergone true Repentance with actions not just words.

      Reply
    6. Heather on

      Is CE its own separate internet browser? Does it track the activity in Google Chrome or Firefox or Safari?

      Reply
      • Annelise Hoshal on

        Hello Heather,

        Great questions! On Windows computers, Mac computers, Android tablets and phones, and Kindles Covenant Eyes runs in the background and you can continue to use the browser that is already on the device, whether it be Chrome, Silk, Firefox or Safari. It is ONLY on the Apple iPhones, iPads, and iPods that Covenant Eyes becomes a separate Internet browser. On those Apple mobile devices we do suggest disabling Safari so that Covenant Eyes is the only browser available.

        If you have any further question please feel free to call our Customer Service at 877.479.1119.

        Best regards,
        Annelise

    7. Robert on

      I’ve been off and on about this question for a long time, and I’ve used CE for several years now. they’re the best, but there’s one aspect not discussed here: the deception a filter allows. Filters direct you to make good choices online, so your wife or accountability partner won’t find out what you’ve been pondering in your heart. Once you find a way around the filter, “porn” becomes not only an instant obsession for a time, it becomes VERY DECEPTIVE for your wife/accountability partner to receive clean reports despite having searched out “porn.” I say “porn” because the addiction and sin doesn’t depend upon clothing coverage in the content searched out, though it always leads to less and less of it. The game seems never-ending and transparency is so important even if you have a filter. So, what is a filter good for if I need to confess anyway, that I’ve bypassed the filter? None, except to keep you from going free-reign deep, deep into porn. It keeps you a bit more alert, but possibly not the right kind of alert: alertness not to get caught rather than, “I’m going on the internet now, like every day. It’s time to do only what I need to do and not linger here.”

      Thanks CE for the service you provide. The evil desires and relationship-ruining obsessions of my heart have been given less room because of it. It’s time to go the rest of the way with God’s help.

      Robert

      Reply

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