Review: Net Responsibility, Accountability Software for Linux

Interestingly, one of the more common questions I get from Christian friends who are thinking about moving to Linux is, "Is there an open source replacement for CovenantEyes or SafeEyes?" I confess that in the past I didn't have an answer for them. Fortunately I came across Net Responsibility a few months ago, and I've been testing it out.

The latest release of Net Responsibility is version 3. This is a complete rewrite in C++ to improve performance, reliability and accuracy. It installs as a service on Linux and starts up automatically when your computer is switched on.

In order to properly make use of Net Responsibility, you need to register an account on their site. My privacy alarm bells went off in my head when I read this, but I calmed down after a while as I realised that not only do all the other Internet accountability applications do this, but they are proprietary and I trust them less with my data than a couple of guys working on an open source application.

I would prefer if they were completely open with regards to how they store and use my data (by detailing it on their site), but I could always just check out the source code and see what it does.

Installing and configuring Net Responsibility is fairly straightforward on Ubuntu and its derivatives. Download the .deb file and then double-click on it to launch the package installer.

According to their installation instructions, once you've installed it you should be able to find a configuration program in your menu. I never found that program on my computer, but I suspect it may be because they have only just release version 3, and they haven't been able to release a configuration program yet.

You need to enter your account details in the configuration program, or via the command line when installing Net Responsibility, to link up your local instance to your account on the site.

I've been testing Net Responsibility out for the last month or two, and overall it's been good. As I've said before, it runs as a service, and I've never seen it hogging any CPU or consuming megabytes and megabytes of RAM. It faithfully records any and all web traffic, and e-mails a report of any potentially inappropriate sites and/or URLs. You can also log into your account on their site and set up how strict your filters are, selecting various lists of general filters and additional filters.

Net Responsibility also e-mails your accoutability partner whenever you make a change to these filter lists, and whenever Net Responsibility was shutdown, providing you with a greater level of accountability.

The only real issue I had with Net Reponsibility was its filtering capabilities. It performs a really simple string find algorithm to find matches on your filters. Unfortunately this brings up a lot of false positives. I had not browsed any sites that were remotely inappropriate, and when I got my report I noticed a lot of "red" URLs. Upon closer inspection I saw that most of the positives were just autogenerated URLs, like cached images, account activations and password resets. Setting up filter matching using some intelligent regular expressions may render less false positives.

Overall, I'm actually really impressed with Net Responsibility. It is unobtrusive, it works really well, it runs on Linux and it is open source.


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