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, S ,
USER 1 PROFILE I
GENERATE TEXT CHECKS AND PIXEL SIGNATURES
FOR NEWLY ADDED URLS; UPDATE USER PROFILE
SEND NOTIFICATIONS TO WEB SITE AUTHORIZATION
SERVER 150 AND RECEIVE UPDATES THEREFROM
SYSTEM AND METHOD FOR
AUTHORIZING ACCESS TO DATA ON
CONTENT SERVERS IN A DISTRIBUTED
TECHNICAL FIELD OF THE INVENTION
The present invention is directed, in general, to an application for viewing selected content on a wide area network accessible to the general public and, more specifically, to a client/server browser system for preventing children from 10 accessing inappropriate web sites on the Internet.
BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION The Internet is a wide area network that links together
many thousands of smaller sub-networks. These subnetworks are owned by different businesses, government entities, universities, and other organizations. The information, or content, on these sub-networks is accessible to outside parties by means of the World Wide Web (or "W3" or "Web"). The Web comprises software, standardized 20 protocols, and other widely-accepted conventions that enable a computer user (or client) to browse (or navigate) through the vast amounts of data content distributed among the host computer(s) (or server(s)) in each of the subnetworks.
The content on the Web is organized into web sites. Each web site is a collection of text data files, graphical data files, and multimedia (e.g., audio/video) data files belonging to, and controlled by, a single business, governmental body, 3Q university, non-profit organization, etc. A web site comprises one or more web pages that contain the text, graphics and multimedia content that a computer user reads, views, and/or hears. The primary web page of each web site is referred to as a "home page" and each web page is identified by a 3J Uniform Resource Locator (or "URL"). A URL is the electronic equivalent of an Internet address.
There are a number of browser applications available that enable a computer user to browse (or "surf) the Web. These browsers may run on a variety of computer platforms. 40 However, the most popular platforms are personal computers (PCs) that use WINDOWSTM or MACINTOSHTM operating systems. Two of the better-known browser applications are NETSCAPETM and MICROSOFT INTERNET EXPLORERTM. Browser applications use simple mouse and 45 keyboard controls to make it easy to locate and to move between web sites and to view and to download content stored at web sites. A PC user may access a web site by typing the URL of the web site into a special window on the browser screen. A PC user also may jump from a first web 50 site to a second web site by selecting (or "clicking") a link on a web page in the first web site. The link automatically accesses the URL of the second web site without requiring the user to type the URL into a dedicated window. A user also may access web sites by means of searching software 55 (or "search engine") that locates web sites that match search criteria selected by the user.
The features of the Web and the advanced capabilities of browsers combine to make surfing the Web a relatively user friendly experience. As a result, there has been an explosion 60 in the number of persons that access the Web. There has been a correspondingly large increase in the number and variety of web sites on the Internet.
While ease of use and variety of content are two of the primary attractions of the World Wide Web, these advan- 65 tages also are accompanied by drawbacks. Since Web sites are separately owned and controlled by independent entities,
the content that may be readily accessed from each web site is determined almost entirely by the owner of the web site. Many web sites contain content that many people find offensive, including text and images that may be obscene, pornographic, racist, graphically violent, or the like. A PC user may inadvertently access offensive material by carelessly selecting a URL link for an unfamiliar web site while browsing on another, inoffensive web site. The PC user may also accidently access an offensive web site that is found by a search engine.
This problem is even more acute when the PC user is a child. Many parents are unwilling to allow their children to browse the Web without supervision because of the unknown content of many web sites. But the problem is by no means limited to children. Many businesses attempt to limit access to web sites that may be deemed offensive to employees and/or customers. One goal of employer restrictions is to prevent sexual harassment lawsuits based in whole or in part on claims of a hostile work environment caused by one or more employees browsing through pornographic web sites in full view of other offended employees. Another goal of these restrictions is to prevent employees from wasting valuable work time browsing on non-work related web sites, whether or not the non-work related web sites contain offensive materials. Other organizations, such as public libraries, also attempt to limit access to offensive web sites for a variety of reasons.
A number of solutions have been offered to filter (i.e., censor) offensive web sites. Filtering software products, such as SurfWatch, Cyberpatrol, Cybersitter, and NetNanny, use one or more techniques to prevent a child from accessing offensive materials. Some filters look for key words on a targeted web site, such as "sex," "nude," "porn," "erotica," "death," "dead," "bloody," "cocaine," "crack," "drug(s)," and the like, and block access to the web site. Unfortunately, these filters frequently block access to inoffensive web sites in which a key word is used in a harmless manner (e.g., "Don't use drugs") or is embedded in an otherwise innocuous word (e.g., "Essex" or "Animal Crackers").
Some filters include a database of forbidden web sites that operates in conjunction with a browser. The filter prevents the browser from accessing any site found in the database. The filter usually can be updated on-line to stay current with offensive data bases. Unfortunately, it is exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, to create and to maintain a comprehensive data base of offensive sites, especially when many web sites frequently and deliberately change their URLs in order to avoid being blocked by the filtering software. Additionally, filtering software places the decision regarding which web sites are inappropriate for a child in the hands of someone other than the child's parents. What may be inoffensive to the designer of the filtering software may still be offensive to some parents, and vice versa.
There is therefore a need in the art for improved systems and methods for allowing a child to browse the World Wide Web or a similar WAN network without supervision. In particular, there is a need for a browser system that gives a parent complete control in selecting the web sites and individual web pages that the child may access. More particularly, there is a need for a browser system that prevents a child from accessing any web site that the parent has not approved. There is a still further need for an improved browser system that places the parental or supervisory controls directly in the desktop home personal computer.
SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
To address the above-discussed deficiencies of the prior art, it is a primary object of the present invention to provide