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In our previous blog, “Today’s Home Search Engines: The Unfiltered (and Unsafe) Guide to the Dark Corners of the Web”, we explored some of the dangers of having unprotected search features built into a growing number of household devices, remote controls, and services. These search tools have the ability to provide enormous convenience—taking simple commands and returning aggregated content and information from potentially all over the web or data centers anywhere in the world. Unfortunately, without proper safeguards, they can also to be misused, intentionally or otherwise.
Safeguards for search are more important than ever before with the vast amounts of web content available with only a few words, typed or uttered into the input device. And this has a potentially significant impact on a large percentage of Multiple System Operators (“MSO’s”), Cable, and ISPs installed user base: families and households—especially those with children.
Every parent is concerned with protecting their children from dangers and negative experiences in the world. Parents also understand that their kids are growing up with more access and information than any generation that has come before. This puts an increased burden and responsibility on service providers and systems operators to ensure a safe and healthy experience with sufficient protections.
Even with safe search protections, filth filters, and age-restricted limitations in place, every parent worries about what content their kids have access to.
MSO’s, in particular, face increased scrutiny from organizations seeking to stop online exploitation and the dissemination of sexually explicit, violent, and terrorist-related content. A number of search tools have been called out lately by organizations like the National Center for Sexual Exploitation (see the The Dirty Dozen for companies currently in the dog house) and the Internet Watch Foundation, as well as other watchdogs, who will continue to apply pressure when businesses fail to put proper security measures in place. Especially as these companies continue to turn a profit while avoiding the security and safety issues they perpetuate.
In this article, we’ll take a look at how MSO’s can protect their users, as well as themselves by implementing safe search filtering functionality. We’ll also take a look at why this is increasingly important given recent regulation and how other industry trends will pose mounting challenges as OTT (over-the-top) offerings continue their assault against the cable operators.
Challenges Continue to Mount for Traditional Cable Operators
The term Multiple System Operator is defined by the Federal Communications Commission as a business that operates multiple cable or direct-broadcast satellite television systems. Though the term can be used to refer to small cable companies that serve more than one community—it is typically reserved for large companies like AT&T, Comcast, and Charter Communications in the United States; Rogers or Shaw in Canada; Virgin Media in the UK; and others that operate a large number of systems. These companies serve nearly 120 million households in the United States alone—which is estimated to be over 300 million consumers total.
Cable television began back in 1948 as a means of enhancing signal strength for consumers in mountainous and distant regions. But over the past 70 years, cable operators have become a staple for residential and business.
However, with rapidly changing technology and mobile connectivity brought about by the smartphone, as well as the popularity of over-the-top (OTT) streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, and more—cable operators have faced growing challenges and stagnation in subscriber growth.
More and more, the next generation of “cord cutters” are seeking to pay less and only for specialized content and services they need, which has rendered large cable packages and long-term contracts less and less attractive.
Given all of these challenges, it will be critical that MSO’s minimize churn from their existing customer base. That means it will be critical that they continue to differentiate their services by investing in content for video-on-demand (VOD) and continuously improving the user experience for both their consumer and business bases.
Search Protections for Inputs, Results, and Recommendations
With over 120 million households still using their set top boxes and cable services, protecting the family cable experience will be critical to keeping customers from jumping ship to streaming services or competition with improved features and experiences. Many MSO’s already have a large percentage of their user base on contracts for both cable broadcast and internet services, as well as landline telephone plans. Some even offer mobile service offerings to compete with wireless providers.
As competition remains stiff and these trends play out, MSO’s will likely look to integrate and aggregate content and streamline the experiences across service offerings—as well as devices including computers, tablets, and smartphones. This puts even greater significance on search tools and functionality, which is increasingly popular and voice focused.
As services and content are aggregated and user experiences are streamlined, implementing safe search and filth filters will require a number of considerations. Let’s take a look at the primary areas of attention for MSO’s (and other service providers).
Safe Search (Inputs)
Safe Search refers to the blocking or filtering of objectionable search terms in input fields. Even if the service in question does not provide direct internet access (which it likely will at an increasing rate)—internet search tools can be leveraged for research and manipulated to help abuse search inputs.
A user, particularly young users, should not have the ability to even enter bad words and phrasing that would lead to other proposed search terms.
Safe Search Results (Returned Content)
Safe Search Results refers to the blocking of unsafe or objectionable content in response to a user’s search for content/title keywords and phrasing—providing critical protection to users and families by eliminating the possibility of objectionable, illegal, or violent content displaying in results.
Recommendation Engine Results (Automatically Generated Content)
In addition to search, many services offer recommendations based on the user’s search history and content consumption habits. Recommendation engine results must not be overlooked. They have the ability to serve up access to objectionable, illegal, or violent content in the same way as a search bar/feature.
Parental Controls / Restricted Content (Blocking Access to Web Content)
Parental Controls offer critical restrictions (based on age or user permission settings) for parents and guardians to limit what content others within their plan or household can view. Combined with the critical protections offered by Safe Search, Safe Search Results, and Recommendation Engine Results, Parental Controls can provide optimal control for parents in blocking their families and children from accessing the dark corners of the web.
Trust zvelo to Power Your Search Safety and Filtering Needs
zvelo provides the content classification, malicious and objectionable detection services that power the world’s most advanced parental controls and filtering for a safer and more secure web.
If you’re an MSO, cable operator, or ISP with concerns about the safety of search results and filters in your product, service, or app—contact us to learn more about integration options, capabilities, and how we can help you build a better and more protected platform for your subscribers.