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Getting The Dirt Out

Anaheim Hills computer chief has come up with a 'filth filter' to keep Net-crawling kids safe and give parents and teachers peace of mind.

July 30, 1996|BRAD BONHALL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

If all goes according to plan, Michael Bradshaw will soon have millions of young enemies.

He will be despised by every teenager who has ever taken delight in typing dirty words in WordPerfect. Or called up an X-rated site on the World Wide Web. Or used a school laser printer to create what teachers might call an "inappropriate" flier.

The focus of their wrath? X-Stop, the computer "filth filter" that Bradshaw and his computer programmers have been developing over the past 17 months in their Anaheim offices.

The software uses extensive libraries of barnyard language to stop young typists in their tracks. Its aim is to give parents and teachers peace of mind and allow students to surf the Net without running into racist or pornographic material. It will be marketed to schools, to companies that are expanding their e-mail access and to parents for use on home PCs.

X-Stop is being included on a test basis in the Internet access package that PacBell offers to Southern California schools. Those using it include Century High School in Santa Ana and the Colton School District in San Bernardino County. Others, including the ABC Unified School District in Los Angeles County and districts in San Francisco and Chula Vista, have also expressed interest.

Unlike competing products, X-Stop works off-line as well as on-line.

Bradshaw says the software, which will be continually updated, prevents Internet search engines from accessing adults-only sites.

"The device actually reads what people type before the computer does," says Bradshaw, 58, of Anaheim Hills, who invented a way for keyboard strokes to trigger the censor. The product, in both Windows and Mac versions, is due to hit retail shelves in time for Christmas, he says, adding that it will retail for about $38.

Controlling Internet content is a topic of hot debate. The Communications Decency Act, which would have imposed fines and prison terms on people who disseminate "indecent" material over the network, was ruled unconstitutional last month by a federal court panel. (Laws against child pornography and obscene communications, however, continue to apply to the Internet.)

Bradshaw believes parents need to take it upon themselves to protect children from profane material on the Net. X-Stop will join an arsenal of other programs--such as SurfWatch, Net Nanny and Cyber Patrol--designed to block unsavory sites.

"There are places you can go on the Internet where the pornographer will not only give you the dirty pictures, but he will give you a decoder and a viewer," says Bradshaw, who adds that his product will disable those decoders.

In schools, teachers acknowledge, kids are tempted to access whatever racy sites they can find.

"Kids push the limits, to make everybody sweat," says Fred Sutton, instructional media technician at Century High. He sees X-Stop as a "gatekeeper" that removes some of the burden from staff members in monitoring student conduct on the Internet.

"We like to experiment with new products, particularly ones that let us concentrate on education instead of being a policeman. X-Stop does one important thing that its competitors don't, and that is it prevents [students] from sending dirty e-mail. Once they type in the word, the computer shuts down."

In the home, the same kind of control is necessary, Bradshaw says.

His 9-year-old daughter, Natalie, is learning to surf the Net. To keep her from coming into contact with undesirable people through chat groups or e-mail, he added her name and phone number to X-Stop's lexicon on his home computer so she can't inadvertently send them out.

Internet users have become younger and younger, Bradshaw says. "I'm afraid in their innocence that they could carry on a conversation with a dirty old man posing as a 7-year-old. A pedophile could ask them an innocuous question, asking for their name and phone number."

Bradshaw, the CEO of Log-On Data Corp., is an Orange County computer pioneer. With his new product, he has come full circle in the computer industry.

He sold IBM punch-card mainframes in 1962 and two years later became one of the first two computer salesmen for NCR, working in Santa Ana. He later owned and operated electronics and appliance distributorships and served briefly as finance chairman for the Orange County Republican Party. But in 1989, he went out of business.

"Bankrupt on the wrong side of 50," as Bradshaw puts it, he met his partner-to-be, programmer George Shih, at a computer swap meet in Long Beach. In 1993, intent on learning the PC business, Bradshaw worked for three months at no salary on the assembly line of Shih's computer manufacturing business.

With their speed and skill, the younger workers ran circles around him, Bradshaw says. But, supported by his wife, Ginny, a pharmacist, he slowly learned the nuts and bolts of modern computers and worked on his keyboard invention.

Shih became interested in Bradshaw's idea the next year, and the two formed Log-On Data.

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