X-Detect 1.0

Reviewed by: Howard Carson, send e-mail
Published by: Finer Technologies, go to the web site
Requires: Windows 95, 98, 98SE, NT4, Netscape 4.x or higher, Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.x or higher
MSRP: $19.95

X-Detect is a Windows utility designed to search a computer for evidence of Web browsing relating to sex and violence. It's a simple utility that any parent can use to determine exactly why little Johnny or Janey sometimes walk around with a vacant stare. Many other types of monitoring software require a parent to install a program which will record a child's browsing habits for a certain length of time. Unlike these programs, X-Detect looks into the past for inappropriate browsing. It uses a variety of tests performed on the system, comparing site address information against a list of keywords stored in editable text files supplied with the software.

Running and using X-Detect is very simple. After launching the software, the basic X-Detect user interface pops up. Clicking the 'Detect!' button starts X-Detect's main search and analysis routine. Although there is no progress bar or readout of which directories and files are being analyzed, the progress text display (25% done, 50% done, etc.) should be sufficient for most people. When the routine is completed, X-Detect provides a report list of sites which contains words matching those in its sex.txt and violence.txt files. The software uses the txt files as the basis for what amounts to a key word search. You are free to edit the txt files as you see fit - add words, change words, and come up with a set of words for a whole different category. For example, you could edit one of the files and add words which relate solely to the Republican party (in the U.S.), the PCs (in Canada), and the Conservatives (in the UK). Get it? X-Detect can then be used to exert political control over your children. Prevent the little minevils from overthrowing the government! We didn't actually try this, but the mind boggles anyway.

Since X-Detect performs multiple tests on the cookies, registry, and history directories, the ordering of the site addresses in the search report varies with where the 'suspect' addresses originated. Some addresses may actually be shown several times because of sex banner ads which leave cookies with similar names. But even though the sites may not have been visited directly, their presence on the computer indicates that inappropriate browsing has been taking place. The total number of sites detected is more of a relative figure - different reports can be compared over time and used to determine a level of severity.

The bottom line? X-Detect reports give parents a chance to detect non-approved web browsing. But X-Detect doesn't block objectionable sites. All it does is provide a list of sites which have already been visited, based on the word list filtering. That means you've got to have a one-on-one with your little darlings. We think this is a good idea, and for many families a better idea than entrusting the whole issue to site blocking software.

Cons: The latest Finer Technologies marketing collateral asks "who can afford to be in the dark about their kids' web browsing habits?!" Well I certainly can! There are some things a parent just shouldn't know (just kidding). Since our memory about our own teenage years seems to fail every time the kids ask about something we now find, um, uncomfortable, the Big Brother aspects of X-Detect should drive at least some small part of the decision to use it. The 'Help Me' button in the sparse user interface calls WordPad and loads a doc file. Online help would be better. There is no Readme.txt of any kind. There's no secure access feature in X-Detect - once someone discovers it on their system, it can simply be uninstalled or deleted. If your little darling is smart, he/she may simply edit the X-Detect txt files into something innocuous. X-Detect does not determine which browser is the system default, so old or secondary browser installations will also be searched. On the other hand, a browser detection function would be beneficial - it would allow users to search files related only to a chosen browser. X-Detect would also benefit from a time/date stamp detection routine which would allow the report list to provide information about which sites were visited most recently.

Pros: The actual detection keyword list is a plain text file, allowing you to add as many nasty, evil, pernicious, and suspicious words as you deem fit. It's a good thing too, because everyone has a slightly different idea of what constitutes "bad for the kids." It's worth playing with the X-Detect txt files for a while just to see how granular or subject-specific you can get.

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