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'X-Stop' Is Stronger Than Dirt--On the Net

Technology: New software serves as a 'filth filter' and keeps adults-only sites away from all those inquiring young minds.


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 Pac Bell offers to Southern California schools. Those using it include Century High School in Santa Ana and the Colton School District in San Bernardino County. The ABC Unified School District in Los Angeles County and districts in San Francisco and Chula Vista have expressed interest.

Bradshaw says the software, which will be continually updated, prevents Internet search engines from accessing adults-only sites. And, unlike competing products, X-Stop works offline as well as online, he says.

"The device actually reads what people type before the computer does," says Bradshaw, 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, selling for about $38.

Controlling Internet content is a topic of hot debate. The Communications Decency Act, which would have imposed prison terms on people who disseminate "indecent" material over the network, was ruled unconstitutional in June 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. 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.

To keep his 9-year-old daughter, Natalie, from coming into contact with undesirable people through chat groups or e-mail, Bradshaw 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., has come full circle in the computer industry.

He sold IBM punch-card mainframes in 1962 and two years later became a computer salesman for NCR. 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.

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

At X-Stop headquarters, three employees are assigned to research the names of racy Web sites to add to the software. Ethnic and racial slurs are included in the lexicons, and to help compile the bilingual lists, Bradshaw turned to friends fluent in Spanish.

Parents and teachers can override X-Stop with a password, and all the lists can be customized, says Bradshaw, who sees his product as helping to expand, not restrict, juvenile access to data.

"The Internet has a vast wealth of good and wholesome information, and I hope we as a nation will take the lead in putting the Internet into the hands of schoolchildren," he says. "But at the same time, we need to protect them."

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