“I have made a covenant with my eyes.” – Job 31:1
Inventing Internet Accountability
In the year 2000, Covenant Eyes founder Ron DeHaas recognized the dangers and possibilities of the internet. Although the digital landscape was primitive compared to today’s online metropolis, Ron understood the implications for the future. He asked the same questions many ask today:
- “How can I teach my children to use the internet with integrity?”
- “How do I guard my own heart and remain pure online?”
- “How do I serve as an example to my family and church?”
He knew what he wanted—a report that would keep track of internet usage and encourage conversations about healthy browsing habits—but it didn’t exist. There were only content blockers.
So Ron invented Internet Accountability.
At the time, Ron had employed a young man named Collin Rose to do yard work and maintenance. Collin’s passion was technology, so when Ron asked him if he could report his internet history, Collin leaped at the opportunity.
“What he created formed the basis for our accountability service for the next 19 years,” said Ron.
Building Covenant Eyes
The concept of Internet Accountability was simple: it tracked the URLs of all the websites visited on the computer and put them in a report.
But Ron and Collin realized that Internet Accountability had the potential to help more than just parents. With all the temptations of the internet, everyone could benefit from being accountable.
For that to work effectively, however, they needed a way for someone’s allies to view the reports, even if they didn’t have direct access to the computer being monitored. So, Collin built a remote server where the reports would be uploaded. He contracted a software developer to build an application that would run in the background on the computer and communicate with the server.
Despite the simplicity of the concept, this required both software development and extensive network infrastructure to support the reporting system.
This was all very expensive. Ron invested all his financial resources into building the technological backbone of the Accountability Service and setting up shop in the back of an insurance office in Corunna, Michigan.
Covenant Eyes 1.0 for Windows was released in June of 2000. Ron created a proprietary scoring algorithm to analyze and rate websites. Over the next 18 years, this algorithm would continue to be refined and enhanced to accurately categorize hundreds of millions of websites.
Early Challenges and Growth
But there was a bigger challenge at the beginning of Covenant Eyes: confronting the shame and secrecy that surrounded the issue of pornography. In the early 2000s, few Christians broached the subject of pornography. At the same time, pornography use was becoming increasingly common. How could Covenant Eyes help people if no one wanted to talk about it?
Covenant Eyes began networking with churches and other organizations to raise awareness about the issue of pornography, confront the shame around it, and spread the word about the freeing power of accountability.
During this time, Covenant Eyes developed important relationships with Promise Keepers, Focus on the Family, and many other organizations. In 2003, Covenant Eyes outgrew its original location and began renting additional office space. On November 4, 2003, the first patent was filed—it was approved 9 years later, along with other patents.
In 2004, Covenant Eyes was serving 10,000 members. The following year, that number had doubled to 20,000 members spread across 67 different countries. Covenant Eyes was also testing a new content filter and software for Mac computers. Covenant Eyes was now a 14-person team. But by the year 2006, the number of employees would double.
Even so, the early years were tough. Despite the growing membership, the costs to get Covenant Eyes off the ground were enormous. What revenue Covenant Eyes did generate went straight back into developing the service. It was only by using their network infrastructure to launch a local internet provider that Covenant Eyes was able to remain in business. Ron recalls, “I didn’t have money to go to McDonalds to buy a cup of coffee.”
Finally, in 2006, Covenant Eyes became self-sustaining. By 2007, Covenant Eyes members using Windows and Mac software had reached 40,000. The Covenant Eyes team was continuing to expand as well, with 34 employees, all working locally in Michigan. Ron DeHaas told the local newspaper, “Right now we have offices on three separate blocks in Corunna, and our staff is separated physically.” It was time to move. Covenant Eyes leadership identified a vacant factory at 1525 King St. in nearby Owosso. The property was purchased early in 2007, and Covenant Eyes celebrated the grand opening of its new world headquarters on August 3, 2007.
Covenant Eyes membership was growing, along with its technical capabilities. Covenant Eyes representatives were now speaking with thousands of people across America regularly—parents, individuals, pastors, and ministry leaders. The message of freedom from pornography and the practical help of Internet Accountability were resonating.
But Covenant Eyes leadership recognized the need for more public conversation about pornography in the Christian community. More Christians were admitting they had a problem, but there were few places to turn for help. To help address this problem, in 2007, Covenant Eyes created a blog. The blog allowed Covenant Eyes to speak candidly about pornography from a Christian perspective. It featured helpful advice from former porn addicts, former porn stars, wives of porn addicts, and concerned parents.
At this time, Covenant Eyes also began collecting statistics and research data on pornography. Covenant Eyes released its first Porn Stats compilation in 2009. Since then, Covenant Eyes Porn Stats has been featured in The Washington Times, The Detroit News, Life Site News, and many other notable organizations, and is used by tens of thousands of people each year for pornography research.
More people in the Christian community were talking about the issue of pornography now, but there was still a desperate need for resources. What could someone do who discovered their spouse’s addiction? How could parents initiate healthy conversations with their teens? What sorts of questions should an ally ask someone who’s trying to overcome pornography? Covenant Eyes began publishing ebooks and other educational resources. In the coming years, education would increasingly be a focus of Covenant Eyes, eventually branching out into email challenges, app-based content, and video teaching courses.
In 2009, Covenant Eyes also released an accountability browser app for iPhone®, iPod touch®, and iPad.® While it would be some time before they could provide comprehensive reporting for these devices, the browser apps provided a solution to the growing demand for mobile accountability.
Becoming a Family-Friendly Corporation
This was also an important transitional time for Covenant Eyes as an organization. The company had grown dramatically during its first decade. It was no longer a small business, but a growing, medium-size corporation. It was still a challenging time for the national economy, especially in Michigan. Ron wanted to do something to improve morale and encourage a family-friendly work environment. So he introduced Marmot Day to Covenant Eyes. Ron and a friend had invented Marmot Day: a silly holiday to lighten the mood by commemorating all things marmot—woodchucks, groundhogs, and the like. Over the years, Covenant Eyes would continue to celebrate Marmot Day, inviting friends, families, and eventually the whole city of Owosso to participate.
At this time, Covenant Eyes was also taking some bold steps to reorganize its internal structure to better accomplish the company mission. It paid off. From 2012-2021, Covenant Eyes was recognized by Inc 5000 as one of America’s most dynamic companies. In 2012, Covenant Eyes released an Android mobile app. That year also marked Microsoft’s release of Windows 8, which dramatically changed the operating system features that Covenant Eyes had utilized for the past 12 years. Covenant Eyes software developers built a new version of Covenant Eyes that allowed members to transition seamlessly to the new platform.
The following year brought content filtering to the Mac, iPhone®, iPod touch®, and iPad® platforms. Covenant Eyes was now able to provide a wide range of features on the most popular platforms.
By 2015, Covenant Eyes had grown to 130 employees. More room was needed, so Covenant Eyes opened a second office location to house part of the Member Care team.
Leading a Global Conversation
In 2013-2014, the Covenant Eyes blog gathered momentum. By the end of 2014, the blog attracted over 10,000 visitors per day. In 2015, Covenant Eyes began working with Catholic apologist Matt Fradd and other key Catholic leaders, further expanding its reach. Covenant Eyes was becoming a household name in the Christian community. In 2016, Covenant Eyes collaborated with other leading Christian organizations to raise awareness on the issue of pornography. They hosted the Set Free Global Summit, which was attended by more than 850 Christian leaders from around the world.
Continuing its tradition of partnering with like-minded organizations, in February 2017, Covenant Eyes helped sponsor the 25th Annual Movieguide Awards. This pointed to a progression in the mission of Covenant Eyes. Covenant Eyes had begun humbly with a mission to help individuals and families. That mission hadn’t changed, but it had evolved and matured. Covenant Eyes was now embracing a larger objective: to transform culture itself.
In 2018, Covenant Eyes partnered with the Archdiocese of New Orleans to launch the first-ever Safe Haven Sunday. Safe Haven Sunday is designed to help address the problem of pornography.
Facing Technical Changes
In 2017, Covenant Eyes accomplished a long-time goal: finding a way to monitor iPhone®, iPad®, and iPod touch® devices outside the Covenant Eyes browser app. Covenant Eyes software developers invented a new method of utilizing the VPN function on these devices to monitor web domains. This new technology also allowed Covenant Eyes filter users to enforce safe search and YouTube’s restricted mode on these devices.
In December of 2017, Covenant Eyes again faced technological challenges. Google abruptly changed its app permissions policy, effectively breaking the Covenant Eyes reporting feature for Android devices. The Covenant Eyes development team responded quickly. Over the next several months, they completely rebuilt the Android app using a VPN technology similar to what was released for monitoring iPhone®, iPad® and iPod touch.® It was released in 2018, and Covenant Eyes was able to continue providing accountability for tens of thousands of Android users.
When Covenant Eyes began, most people were using dial-up connections, and smartphones were more than half a decade in the future. Google was still in its infancy, and YouTube would not exist until five years after Covenant Eyes began. Even MySpace hadn’t started yet. Throughout its existence, Covenant Eyes saw many seismic shifts in the technological landscape.
From its beginning, the tech team at Covenant Eyes embraced this turbulent environment. They recognized that a service like Covenant Eyes would quickly become obsolete if it didn’t keep pace with the digital world. While the core service offering of Covenant Eyes didn’t change for almost two decades, the technology required for that service was constantly evolving.
Reinventing Accountability Software
Covenant Eyes invented Internet Accountability, and it had helped over a million people on their journey away from porn. The tech team innovated new ways of reporting the browser history. Covenant Eyes faced an existential crisis.
But as time went on, it became harder and harder to keep pace. Website addresses revealed fewer and fewer details about the type of content being viewed. The old Internet Accountability reports still became less transparent and more confusing each year. Equally significant, internet browsing habits were changing. More people were using social media and browsing content feeds rather than navigating to different websites. Something drastic had to change.
Even in the early days, Covenant Eyes had imagined a kind of reporting service that saw the screen. Furthermore, what if a computer could be trained to identify pornography, so someone could be held accountable without needing to show the images? Covenant Eyes brought in experts in artificial intelligence and machine learning and began research and development for a brand-new kind of reporting technology. Covenant Eyes would no longer depend on text-based algorithms to evaluate the content of websites. Covenant Eyes would now watch the images on the screen. In 2019, Covenant Eyes launched Screen Accountability, once again reinventing digital accountability. This time, however, accountability was no longer limited to the internet.
Along with the release of Screen Accountability, Covenant Eyes partnered with Harmon Brothers to create a viral ad campaign featuring “Colossal Man.” The humorous superhero-themed commercials generated a buzz and were viewed millions of times. It brought the message of freedom from pornography through accountability to a whole new audience. That year, Covenant Eyes also unveiled a new logo that captured the essence of our history and mission.
2020 and New Ownership
March 2020 marked Covenant Eyes’ 20th anniversary. But even while celebrating two decades of helping the world overcome pornography, Covenant Eyes leadership was paying close attention to the events unfolding with the worldwide COVID pandemic. Anticipating the widescale shutdowns that were to follow, Covenant Eyes acted quickly to transition employees to work from home. Because of their foresight, business continued as usual with the entire Covenant Eyes team.
Sadly, the COVID-era marked a huge increase in demand for pornography. The Covenant Eyes team weathered the storm, providing a beacon of hope for thousands of people around the world desperately trying to break free.
The end of 2020 brought another landmark change to Covenant Eyes. For 20 years, Ron DeHaas had been not only the CEO but also the primary owner of the company, with a few other shareholders. Over the years, numerous investors had made offers for Covenant Eyes, but Ron didn’t want to sell it until he could safeguard the mission. What was the best way to ensure that Covenant Eyes kept influencing culture for the next 20 years and more?
Covenant Eyes leadership decided the company should belong to the people who cared most about its mission: its employees. In December 2020, Covenant Eyes became 100% employee-owned through an Employee Stock Ownership Program.
Since the launch of the blog, Covenant Eyes has remained committed to equipping families, individuals, and churches with educational resources. To that end, Covenant Eyes published more than 20 ebooks and thousands of blog posts. In 2021, Covenant Eyes relaunched Matt Fradd’s STRIVE: 21-Day Porn Detox as a free resource.
In 2022, Covenant Eyes released the Victory App. For the first time, Covenant Eyes shifted to an interactive in-app experience for members. It provided more insight into browsing habits with an activity feed for allies. Even more revolutionary, Victory introduced free Covenant Eyes accounts, providing people with a wealth of resources and tools for overcoming pornography at no charge.
In 2023, Covenant Eyes author and Educational Resources Director Sam Black published his book, The Healing Church: What Churches Get Wrong About Pornography And How To Fix It.