Building a Safer Web with GBrowser

GBrowser, the mythical Google may actually materialize sometime in the distant future, but for now Birmingham, UK-based Glaxstar is building its own GBrowser (as their website tantalizes, “The G****le Web is coming!!”) that hopes to make the web a safer place for the kids under the ages of 12 and bring some much-needed sanity to their parents.

safeinternetforkids.jpgGlaxstar is the brainchild of Ian Hayward, father of three, who wanted to build a safe web experience for his own kids, keeping them away from all the nefarious stuff on the Internet, but without complex software installs, or spending hours on tech-support. Since Glaxstar did custom development around Firefox for clients, he decided perhaps the best way to achieve this simple security was to write a special plugin for Firefox, that is remote controlled by the parents.

With that in mind he started working on a product that is code named, TGW. It is a free Firefox plugin, that turns Firefox into a multiuser browser and ties it into Glaxstar’s backend infrastructure. The entire family can have their own sign-ons for the browser, and get their own personalized settings. The kids can click on their names and basically are given access to content and the web that has been pre-approved by the parents.

If a child wants to go to an unapproved location, a small message pops up on mom or dad’s browser (which also has a TGW plugin installed), and they can approve (or decline) the “visit.” “We work on a white list concept, and everytime a parent approves the site, then we can put it in a white list, just like email,” says Hayward. The plugin can also throttle the Google search results, and strip out the ads. Google might recoil at the thought of search result manipulation, but come on — what 10-year-old is really going to click on an ad?

“Parents, in order to approve the search, will actually see the full results of a search so there is no loss to Google,” says Hayward, who has thus far bootstrapped his company. The plugin-service combo stores all the relevant information on a server, making it relatively easy to get access to saved settings from different locations, as long as the plugin is installed in the browser.

In case of really young kids, say 5- to 7-year-olds, Hayward says, search boxes, browser and navigation bars are disabled – instead replaced by snapshots of the pre-approved pages such as Disney.com or Nick.com. The server side functionality also allows parents to create pre-approved social networks with some limited chat messaging features.

“Think of TGW as a web within the web that can be personalised and controlled by the family network,” says Hayward. TGW will be really useful when the plug-in is bundled with Firefox as a default download. It is something Mozilla Foundation should do, because it really hammers home the “safe browser” concept they have been touting for so long.

The biggest challenge for Glaxstar will be convincing people to get Firefox. Most people click on the Internet Explorer icon on their desktops to get to the web. It would be prudent for the company to not restrict itself to Firefox, if it wants mainstream parents to start using their service. Of course, Hayward has to also figure out a business model for his service, because if it works as demoed, it can get quite popular with worried parents. (And you know what we really think of FREE!)

While I don’t have kids, I do certainly see my siblings using this browser-modification to keep the web safe for their children. Of course people with children might have a more worthy opinion on this service. What I really found most impressive about the service/plug-in was the fact that it is simple, and elegant and non-intrusive – both for the kids and the parents. It is worth trying – worst case scenario, you might end up with a copy of Firefox. Nothing wrong with that.

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