Slowly but surely, Israeli company NetSpark is becoming a foremost world player in the field of filtering undesirable content on the Internet and smartphone. Over the past two years, the Haredi public in the US, Canada and Europe have undergone a revolution; entire communities and leading organizations dealing with the damaging effects of technology and smartphones have chosen NetSpark’s app as their preferred filtering system.
We spoke with Mr. Zvi Ilan, vice president of international marketing at NetSpark, about the company, the technology, and the solutions already being implemented in tens of thousands of households.
How and when was NetSpark created?
NetSpark was founded around eight years ago by a group of scholars and investors led by Rabbi Yehoshua Shapira, Rosh Yeshiva of the Ramat Gan Yeshiva, and Mr. Moshe Weiss, an American-born Karliner Hassid and ultra-Orthodox businessman, now living in Jerusalem. They recognized the need to create genuine solutions for the problems arising from uncontrolled Internet content and surfing. Back then, almost no technological tools existed refined enough both to protect surfers from seeing problematic content, and yet at the same time to allow them access to everything else. This was NetSpark’s goal.
Another important principle and aim was to develop cheap solutions so that anyone, regardless of means, could purchase it without financial strain.
Where is the company located?
In Kiryat Matalon, Petach Tikva’s high-tech area. We employ dozens of workers in various fields: software engineers, computer programmers, cyber professionals, content developers, customer service staff and more. Serving people from all over the globe as we do, we are open for business almost round the clock.
What’s the background of the company’s founders?
Rabbi Yehoshua Shapira is today considered the leading educational voice in the religious sector in terms of understanding its needs, charting the right course, and familiarity with problems and solutions available in Israel and worldwide. As the company’s Torah authority, all the basic filtering levels and packages are set according to his halachic rulings.
Mr. Moshe Weiss, the company’s chairman, is the driving force behind all its daily operations. He brought in the company’s largest investor group, which has already sunk huge sums into developing the technology that is today considered the world’s number one in the Internet and smartphone content-filtering field.
A man of tremendous energies, Moshe can start off the week with a melave malka in a Jerusalem yeshiva whose American students have decided they want to filter their smartphone content – singing with them, giving divrei Torah and speaking from the heart until all hours, just to persuade as many people as possible to install our filtering system, NetSpark Mobile, and start living with content protection. The rest of his week he’ll spend running around between educational institutions, company management and strategy meetings, and trips abroad to promote the company’s vision: that each and every Jewish person, no matter from what worldview or community, will own a kosher – or at least filtered – smartphone. Moshe is a highly sought-after lecturer in Israel and worldwide by people who want to hear his philosophy and how to apply it in practice.
It’s to Rabbi Yehoshua’s and Moshe’s credit that tens of thousands of Jewish homes, and hundreds of thousands of users in Israel and worldwide, can surf the Internet appropriately at home, at work, and on the smartphone.
Who developed the technology?
Our team of programmers and cyber professionals, all company employees, who are drawn from various computer and undercover units in the IDF, or are proven geniuses in programming, computer solutions and the Internet world. Walking into our offices, you’ll see people of all ages and religious levels – the Jewish people at its best. We’re extremely selective in who we bring on board, and most developers come in by word of mouth.
What type of protection does the product provide?
What’s unique about NetSpark’s technology is that it is actually an “artificial intelligence” – a technological system that learns to identify in real time what is being streamed, and decides to either allow or block the content before it ever reaches the viewer. It does this at incredible speed, in a matter of milliseconds, yet still at unbeatable quality.
After you initially choose your preferred level of exposure and blocking, the system runs automatically. The technology also allows control and filtering of apps, adaptation to various browsers, filtering for entire categories such as shopping, games and social networking sites, and specific filtering for a particular app or site. The NetSpark app provides extra features such as tools to limit Internet/ app time and usage on smartphones.
So advanced are the capabilities of our technology that when I travel to offer companies our tech solutions, the professional staff almost fall off their chairs.
Is it an “all-or-nothing” filtering technology?
Definitely not. The remarkable uniqueness of our technology lies in its ability to extract objectionable content. In contrast to other technologies that block entire pages or sites, we are able to eliminate a specific movie, picture or text, allowing customers to continue peacefully browsing. This is very important when it comes to mixed content sites such as news sites, where the decision to allow or block an image is implemented online even if the image was uploaded moments earlier. Thus someone who uses news sites for work purposes can read the news, while we take care of problematic content in real time.
Most other technologies that block entire sites and apps prevent legitimate content from being viewed. Alternatively, once they’ve allowed a page, if an immodest picture is then uploaded, it probably won’t get blocked. Studies show that most of those who end up abandoning filtering technology were using a crude tool such as this. It reduced the benefit and easy use of their smartphones to unacceptable levels. Hence, we’ve invested heavily in developing technology that won’t even be noticeable.
Does the filtering slow down the surfing speed?
Not in any tangible way. Without technology making evaluations within milliseconds, no one experiences slowdown at such speeds. As the surfer scrolls through the page, the system smoothly blocks or allow contents at the surfer’s scroll rate. Just to give you a sense of things: our current system filters 24 million new YouTube videos and 200 million new photos per day, and more than 500 million text characters per second. Obviously, this represents tremendous computing power, allowing an absolutely uninterrupted surfing experience.
How do you protect users of social media such as Facebook?
On the strictest protection level, all social networks are blocked by default, unless the person specifically requests something else or makes the change independently, so as to be able to use a network such as Facebook. On the lower protection levels, we eliminate the problematic content from the site.
How do you keep up with new ways that online inappropriate content is delivered?
Our highly advanced team is familiar with technology on the most sophisticated levels, including secret technologies used primarily in warfare, so we can find solutions to almost any problem. I’m not aware of even one significant problem we didn’t solve within a very brief time; 2-3 days maximum.
Can each smartphone user set up personal filtering preferences?
For sure. All customers who’ve acquired our software are given a control panel allowing them to operate their smartphone remotely from their computer. We recommend using managed services, such as those provided by stores that install NetSpark Mobile for you, so you benefit from guidance and assistance, as well as protection from temptation that could potentially cause customers controlling the system on their own to lapse.
How does it work on smartphones and tablets?
You can download the app from our website www.netsparkmobile.com or from Google Play (look for “NetSpark Mobile”). It’s a relatively simple procedure of a few steps, taking less than seven minutes, during which the filter is installed on the smartphone. It comes with a seven-day free trial; payment begins only after those seven days. By the way, again, the most foolproof method that avoids all problems is to contact one of the stores nationwide and have it installed professionally. The app now supports Android- and iOS-based systems, and can be used in more than 90% of smartphones around the world. Today you don’t need to replace your device or pay more; you can get low-cost filtering within a few minutes, or through a professional installer in a store.
Who are your clients?
Well, it varies greatly. We sell to telecommunication companies, cell phone providers, educational institutions, technology distributors and manufacturers, and private customers. Our customer base extends far beyond Israel to the United States, Canada, Europe, and South America, and increasingly now in the Far East.
For educational institutions and communities we offer a management system unparalleled anywhere in the world that allows them to customize special packages for their students or community members, and to manage them. Our clients in the Haredi sector in Israel and abroad include Chabad (whose Beit Din gave a special hechsher to our app), Belz, Vizhnitz, and even some of the more “extreme” communities.
Is there any reason not to use this web-filtering technology?
Yes, if you don’t own a smartphone or tablet! Seriously, though – we actually don’t encourage the use of smartphones or Internet. Rather, we’re a solution for those who are currently using an unrestricted smartphone and feeling apprehensive about the high risk of inappropriate content and the inevitable harm it causes.
What would you tell parents and educators who have not yet provided this level of protection to the children under their supervision?
I think they’re playing with their children’s fate. The statistics, even in the religious and Haredi communities, don’t paint a good picture. Children and teenagers are exposed to appalling content that causes unimaginable corruption, G-d forbid. I want to tell these parents and educators: don’t bury your heads in the sand, it’s not a question of “if” these children and youth will end up seeing, and being damaged by, these internet abominations, but of “when.” Even if you give a teen an internetless smartphone, that’s no guarantee! A smartphone is able to connect to WiFi, and the child will go ahead and find the network that will give him or her Internet without restriction or filtering.
Don’t play with fire. Your job is to protect your children. You wouldn’t let them get drunk, do drugs or drive without a license. Don’t leave them unprotected on their smartphone or tablet.