A 10-year-old is busy doing his homework online and, curious, decides to check out a naughty site his friends have told him about. It turns out to be pretty graphic and distressing. Nowadays, a child can go from a safe online place to a scary one with just a few clicks. 

This is the kind of dilemma Switch on Safety, N4L’s online safety filter for parents, addresses – without their having to become helicopter parents. The problem became acute in lockdown when suddenly students had to study full-time online at home. N4L’s answer was to adapt one of its network filters for parents to install it on their children’s devices. 

N4L developed the easy-to-use home filter with the help from its technology partner, global online security company Akamai. It is based on the Akamai filter that operates on N4L’s schools network.   The filter stops students going to bad places or accessing unsuitable sites. N4L developed it at pace after parents appealed for help in guarding their children from online dangers while studying at home. It proved so valuable it is still being used and N4L has made it free for the next two years.  

It doesn’t provide absolute protection but it does keep children safe from many of the internet’s dangers by blocking the worst of the web – including porn, drug and self-harm sites, as well as fake scam websites.

Supporter Sose Annandale, principal of Porirua’s Russell School, describes the filter as protecting kids from “unsavoury websites and stopping them going to places where bad apps lurk that can cause them harm.”

The filter isn’t about parents not trusting their children though. “The internet opens up your access to the whole world and there are people in the world who mean harm to young people,” says Netsafe’s chief executive, Martin Crocker. Netsafe, along with the Ministry of Education, is backing the Switch on Safety filter. The filter proved its worth in its first month – it blocked 1.4 million inappropriate websites. In addition, 333,000 online security threats were also seen off by the 17,000 households using it. 

And Northland’s Bream Bay College principal, Wayne Buckland, adds that “parents still need to talk to their children about what is appropriate. They shouldn’t be worried about the nasties, but they should still be keeping an eye on what their kids are doing online.” His school was an early user of the home filter. 

The filter works quite simply – if a student clicks on a blocked site it just won’t open. And, with Akamai’s help, N4L can also block new unsuitable sites as they pop up quickly and efficiently. The Switch on Safety filter was built for devices that children use most for learning, and works on Chromebooks, Windows PCs, MacBooks, iPads and iPhones. 

However, N4L’s CEO, Larrie Moore, says while the filter blocks “all the bad stuff we’re aware of, it’s not a silver bullet. It needs to be applied with some good online stewardship and behaviour.”