How-to Block Porn on your Android (or other mobile phone)

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Reader Zohner recently asked, “Are you aware of any porn filters for Android phones?” What a great question! A lot of what we’ll cover applies to any phone, and potentially your home computer, but some of it is Android specific.

Steve Jobs threw in his two bits when he was asked about whether or not Apple would allow app installations via any source other than iTunes. “There’s a porn store for Android… you can download it, your kids can download it. That’s a place we don’t want to go, so we’re not going to.” (Hopefully you’ll see why this is a ridiculous statement by the end of the article.)

With phones becoming more tightly coupled with internet services, and being found in the hands of more of our children every day, that’s a very good question. But rather than limit the discussion to just pornography, the items mentioned below will cover any type of material that you find objectionable.

To start off we need to know how you can get content on your Android. Android can make/receive phone calls, text messages, and email from various providers. Android can install applications both from Google’s Android Market and from “non-market” sources. Android can surf the web. Various apps can connect to data sources via the web (YouTube, image gallery apps, eBook readers, et cetera).

Let’s jump right in. No phones that I know of (Android included) have any way to “block” or “filter” violent, pornographic, or any type of other “objectionable” content that comes over the voice portion of the phone. That means you can make and take phone calls that may talk about “objectionable materials” and there’s no way to block it. The same goes for text messages (which is partially why “sexting” is reportedly so rampant among teens and tweens). Sorry, iPhone, this applies to you, too.

Next is the browser. There are no content blocking controls built in to the browser itself, but with superuser permissions you can filter any url you want. This method means you have to know what urls you want to block, add them to the hosts table, then “install” the hosts table on your Android. (See my using the Android Hosts table article for details.) Sorry, iPhone, this applies to you, too.

But apps are what Steve Jobs was talking about. Google is much more liberal about they type of apps that it allows in its Market. There are some apps that are “18+”, but there are no age restriction or “rating” mechanisms built into Android like their are on iPhone. That’s one area that the iOS shines, and I have to take my hat off to Steve Jobs for that: parental controls are really quite impressive on the iPhone and its siblings.

Additionally, yes, Jobs was correct, there is in fact an “adult oriented” market that you can install, and through that market you can get apps that would otherwise have been rejected from the Google Market because of their “adult content”. AT&T doesn’t allow non-Market app installs on most of their Android phones, which would cover this “alternate” market.

So, short of loading up a custom hosts table, there’s not a lot that can be done to block or filter objectionable material on Android (or Windows Mobile). Then again, other than apps, there’s not much that can be done on iPhone, either.

And what’s more concerning, Android, Windows Mobile, and iPhone/iPod have a microphone, camera, and video camera for potentially “making your own material” and sharing that with friends or strangers using the device’s internet connection.

This isn’t just an Android problem, and for Steve Jobs to imply you (or your kids) can’t get it on his devices is worse than naive, it’s deliberately misleading at best.

The best way to “filter” or “block” any kind of objectionable material, in my opinion, is by having an open and supportive relationship with your children. One where they know your values and what is not allowed. One that has reasonable and consistent consequences to actions. But, like I said, that’s my opinion.

What do you do in your family?

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About The Author
Joe Levi
Joe graduated from Weber State University with two degrees in Information Systems and Technologies. He has carried mobile devices with him for more than a decade, including Apple's Newton, Microsoft's Handheld and Palm Sized PCs, and is Pocketnow's "Android Guy".By day you'll find Joe coding web pages, tweaking for SEO, and leveraging social media to spread the word. By night you'll probably find him writing technology and "prepping" articles, as well as shooting video. Read more about Joe Levi here.