Helping Addicts Stay Safe Online

April 23rd, 2014 | Posted by Rob Weiss in Sex Addiction

Helping Addicts Stay Safe OnlineAddicts of all types have been adversely affected by the tech-connect boom and the endless array of stimulation it provides. As online accessibility, affordability, and anonymity have increased, so too has the number of people falling prey to Internet-related addictive behaviors – compulsive porn abuse, compulsive sexual hookups, compulsive gambling, compulsive shopping, compulsive video gaming, obsessively posting/checking social media, etc. Substance abusers and drug addicts also get in on the online act, purchasing illegal prescription opioids (Suboxone, Oxycodone), sleeping pills (Ambien, Lunesta), benzodiazepines (Valium, Xanax), and Desoxyn (the prescription form of methamphetamine), along with all the related knockoff pills. So today, regardless of the addictive behavior or substance being abused, most addicts utilize digital technology to affordably and anonymously access it.

The good news is that there are numerous software programs, commonly known as “parental control” software programs, which can be used by recovering addicts as a tool of sobriety. Most of these softwares, as the “parental control” label suggests, were initially designed to protect kids from inappropriate online content and contacts, but they can easily be adapted for use by recovering addicts.

For the most part, parental control softwares are used by recovering addicts for two primary purposes:

  1. Filtering and Blocking. Good software can prevent or at least stall access to troublesome digital content and interactions. Filtering and blocking is especially valuable for behavioral addicts (compulsive gamblers, sex addicts, relationship addicts, social media addicts, compulsive video gamers, compulsive spenders, and the like).
  2. Tracking and Accountability. Good software can inform an addict’s accountability partner (therapist, 12-step sponsor, friend in recovery, spouse) about every site and person visited online, keeping the accountability partner fully informed. Substance abusers find tracking and accountability especially useful, as it lets others who are supportive of their recovery know if/when, for instance, they have sent a text to an unknown/unapproved person (such as a drug dealer) or visited a “pharmaceutical” website.

When shopping for recovery-related software, addicts and their loved ones should seek the following features:

  1. Customizable Filtering and Blocking. Nearly all of these products have preset filtering levels – ranging from levels appropriate for young children to levels appropriate for adults who wish to stay away from certain types of sites/apps. The better ones offer customizable filtering, with blacklisting of specific sites/apps that would otherwise be allowed and whitelisting of specific sites/apps that would otherwise be blocked.
  2. Secondary Filtering and Blocking Features. In addition to basic website filtering and blocking, most products offer several secondary features, including:
    • Online search filtering and blocking
    • App blocking
    • Social media blocking
    • Instant message/chat blocking
    • File transfer blocking (preventing the sending and/or receiving of pictures, videos, and the like)
    • Video game filtering
    • Profanity blocking

    Obviously, some of these features are more important to recovering addicts than others. Softwares that include all of these are best, though, as even video games may contain significant drug-related, sexual, or otherwise triggering content.

  3. Recording and Reporting (Accountability) Features. Ideally, protective softwares monitor the recovering addict’s digital activity and provide the addict’s accountability partner with reports on usage, along with real-time alerts if the addict uses (or even attempts to use) his or her digital device in a prohibited way. Available recording and reporting features may include:
    • Websites visited
    • Online searches
    • Social networking
    • Usernames and passwords
    • IM/chat
    • Email
    • Screenshot playback

    Ideally, reporting is available to accountability partners remotely (accessible via their own computer or phone) at regular intervals, on-demand, and via real-time alerts.

  4. Ease of Use. The software should be easy to install and to customize. Ideally, users should be able to globally configure the software, establishing settings on all of the addict’s devices simultaneously instead of dealing with each machine individually. The best softwares offer free tech support via email, phone, and even live chat.
  5. Compatibility. Not all softwares work on every digital device. In fact, many are quite limited (and therefore not recommended). It is important to make sure a product works on all of the addict’s device(s) before purchase. It is also important to see how many devices the license covers. Ideally, you want to cover all of the recovering addict’s digital equipment with only one license.

Ideally, reporting is available to accountability partners remotely (accessible via their own computer or phone) at regular intervals, on-demand, and via real-time alerts.

  1. Ease of Use. The software should be easy to install and to customize. Ideally, users should be able to globally configure the software, establishing settings on all of the addict’s devices simultaneously instead of dealing with each machine individually. The best softwares offer free tech support via email, phone, and even live chat.
  2. Compatibility. Not all softwares work on every digital device. In fact, many are quite limited (and therefore not recommended). It is important to make sure a product works on all of the addict’s device(s) before purchase. It is also important to see how many devices the license covers. Ideally, you want to cover all of the recovering addict’s digital equipment with only one license.

As of now, the most effective filtering and accountability software programs seem to be:

  • Net Nanny, $39.99, available on Windows, MacOS, Android, and iOS devices: The filtering and blocking features offered by Net Nanny are versatile and effective, as are the recording and reporting features. There is no screenshot playback, but everything else a recovering addict might want is included. Additionally, Net Nanny is relatively easy to install and configure, and usable on almost any device. Plus, the price is excellent.
  • Norton Family Premiere, $49.99, available on Windows, MacOS, Android, and iOS: Norton Family Premiere offers above average filtering and blocking, coupled with above average recording and reporting. Ease of installation and configuration is good, and, like Net Nanny, Norton Family Premiere is usable on virtually any device. It’s also reasonably priced.
  • WebWatcher, $99.95, available on Windows, MacOS, and Android (but not iOS devices): WebWatcher has improved significantly since its introduction a few years ago. The filtering and blocking features are versatile and effective, as are the recording and reporting features. Installation and configuration are straightforward. The main issues with WebWatcher are that it’s not available for iPhone or other iOS devices, and it’s twice the price of Net Nanny and Norton Family Premiere.

It is important to state here that no Internet filtering and accountability software is perfect. A resourceful addict can nearly always find ways to work around even the best products. As such, these softwares should not be viewed as enforcers of recovery. Instead, they should be looked at as recovery-related tools that can help a willing addict maintain sobriety (via filtering/blocking features) and re-build trust with loved ones (through the accountability features).

Robert Weiss LCSW, CSAT-S is the author of Cruise Control: Understanding Sex Addiction in Gay Men and Sex Addiction 101: A Basic Guide to Healing from Sex, Porn, and Love Addiction, and co-author with Dr. Jennifer Schneider of both Untangling the Web: Sex, Porn, and Fantasy Obsession in the Internet Age and Closer Together, Further Apart: The Effect of Technology and the Internet on Parenting, Work, and Relationships, along with numerous peer-reviewed articles and chapters. He has served as a media specialist for CNN, The Oprah Winfrey Network, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Today Show, among many others.

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