Once thing I’ve been concerned about since my children started using our computer and accessing the internet is what content they might come across online. From inappropriate ads to bad websites that might show up in response to a seemingly innocent search query, there’s plenty of scary material online. While I can physically monitor what books and toys and people come into our home, it’s much harder to monitor what comes into my home via the internet. That’s where internet filtering comes in, and Michael Lee Mason is a dad whose made that affordable for all families.
In fact, he’s so concerned about protecting families from harmful internet content that he’s made internet filtering free. Here, I’m delighted to chat with Michael about his startup company, FreeFiltering.org, and what gave him the idea to do this.
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TKM: Tell us a bit about yourself!
Michael Lee Mason: I’m dad to 3 homeschooled kids. My amazing wife handles most of the homeschool heavy-lifting!
In a previous life, I was the lead singer in the U.S. Air Force’s country / classic rock band, where I had the opportunity to perform at the White House on a couple occasions, once at the retirement party for the first female Supreme Court Justice, Sandra Day O’Connor. During my stint in the Air Force, I was able to travel to countries all over the Middle East and Southwest Asia. I toured the ruins of one of the oldest Christian monasteries in the world, in the ancient city of Ninevah. Just a few years ago, I discovered this monastery had been destroyed by Islamic iconoclasts. This might have been where my love for Christian history was born.
TKM: Tell us a bit about FreeFiltering
Michael: We offer free internet filtering for home wi-fi, based on historic Christian values. Families simply register a free account on our site and make an adjustment to the DNS settings on their wi-fi router using our self-help guide. After that, every device connected to their wi-fi is protected automatically.
For families who prefer to have some help, we offer a paid Expert Setup session that is conducted remotely. Some families want to customize filters for each family member, so we also offer a Premium membership… but every family gets basic protection for home wi-fi at no cost.
Christian parents are rightfully concerned about the way their kids are being systematically exposed to false ideas about human sexuality at school. Then, those ideas are all-too-easily reinforced with unfettered internet access at home. A couple clicks can spiral into catastrophic physical and spiritual harm. As parents, we are entrusted with training up our children in the ‘way they should go.’ As that job becomes more difficult with each passing day, our company’s mission is to come alongside parents and provide tools to help them fulfill their God-given responsibilities. ~ ChristianNewsWire
TKM: What inspired you to create this service and offer it for free?
Michael: Since we homeschool our kids and they use the internet quite a bit, I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few years trying to ensure our home internet is as safe as possible. About a year ago, I decided to see if the filters I was using were blocking websites devoted to the latest tenets of the “Sexual Revolution”, particularly the normalization of LGBTQ lifestyles.
To my dismay, I discovered the filters were not doing the job! I decided to go looking for a service that promised to filter based on historic Christian values. I didn’t find any. Instead, I found a company apologizing that their filter had accidentally blocked this content. I also saw a decade of lawsuits filed against public school districts if their filters were found blocking this ideology. I decided there should be a filtering service unashamed to stand for traditional Christian values. So I started FreeFiltering.
TKM: Can you explain for non-techy people like me how internet filtering works?
Michael Lee Mason: The simple answer: Change the DNS settings on your router, and devices connected to your wi-fi through the router won’t be able to access blocked websites.
Complicated Answer: The Domain Name System (DNS) functions like the “phonebook” of the Internet. Your Internet Service Provider (ISP) provides you with its own DNS service by default. Continuing to use the default DNS from your ISP is like giving your kids a mob boss’ contact list. You’re inviting your kids to call up all kinds of shady characters if you’re still using the default DNS from your ISP.
We generally access specific websites online through easy-to-remember domain names, like Amazon.com or Facebook.com. But web browsers actually interact with web servers through hard-to-remember Internet Protocol (IP) addresses. DNS translates the easy-to-remember domain names like Amazon.com to the actual IP addresses that browsers need to load the requested site. Each device connected to the Internet has a unique IP address which other machines use to find the device.
DNS servers eliminate the need for us to memorize random IP addresses such as 192.168.1.1 (in IPv4), or more complex newer alphanumeric IP addresses such as 2400:cb00:2048:1::c629:d7a2 (in IPv6). You can imagine our filtering service as being a black permanent marker we use to black out the phone numbers of shady characters in the phone book.
TKM: What was the most challenging part of creating FreeFiltering?
Michael: So far, the most challenging part has been figuring out how to effectively get the word out to families that there is a way to filter their home internet based on historic Christian values. It’s surprisingly difficult to reach Christian families with our message when Big Tech companies control most of the advertising platforms. That’s why we developed our “Evangelist Program” to reward our users for sharing our service with their friends. We’d rather invest our marketing budget into our users instead of sending money to Big Tech.
TKM: What has been the most exciting part of launching FreeFiltering?
Michael: During the first couple weeks after our launch, a news article went viral that resulted in a few hundred people signing up on the site. So many of them reached out with heart-felt words of encouragement. It really lifted my spirits to see that there were people who believed in the mission we set out to accomplish.
TKM: You’ve gotten some negative attention for your site. How do you respond to that?
Michael Lee Mason: Shortly after sending out this press release to Christian media outlets, I got a phone call on the new company phone # I had set up. I answered the call, excited that a reporter was calling to inquire about our new service. Instead, the voice on the other end said he’d called to “make fun” of me. It was in that moment I realized that there might have been some negative publicity, so I did a quick search to see what had happened.
I quickly decided that I wouldn’t read the negative press. A couple weeks later, a positive article was written that went viral. I caught myself reading the first paragraph and decided I wouldn’t read the positive press either! So I really don’t know the details about what people are saying. I’ve decided to focus on helping the people who come to the site, sign up, and want help filtering their internet.
TKM: What’s your favourite thing to do in your free time?
Michael: I enjoy reading theology and church history. In recent months, I’ve been studying the portions of Scripture that contain prophecies concerning the end of time. I enjoy using the Catena app to see how ancient Christians interpreted these passages.
Do you use an internet filtering service in your home? Are you worried about what content your kids may access online?