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What are your children viewing online?

Parents have questioned regarding their children's internet activity and the need for protection. Often the answers that are returned are quite surprising. Parents reply:

"We don't have that sort of trouble around here"
"My son knows only to visit the websites I tell him to"
"I don't want to know what she's saying online, it would probably scare me"

(source kidshield.eu)

What are the dangers?

There are obvious dangers on the internet. We here in the news about children being groomed by adults pretending to be children. Also in press, we hear stories of children being bullied using social channels such as Facebook, Twitter and alike. But, there are other dangers. The is pornography, nowadays we hide behind phrases such as 'inappropriate content' or 'adult content' - whatever phrase you prefer you do not want your children to be exposed to images which could be displayed either as a full web site or as adverts on web sites which have contents related to dating or social network aimed at adults.

It is your responsibility to safeguard your children!

Remember something really important - once your child has seen an inappropriate image, it is too late to do anything. Nothing you do will remove the image from your child's mind!

As children get older, even as young as year 3 or 4 - they are chatting to class mates who have older siblings and therefore discuss subjects you might not have considered. My children are 6 and 11, I have often overheard them discussing with their friends subjects that I had not imagined would have entered their heads for perhaps a few more years. I know for a fact my daughter has looked up some of the sex education topics on Google and at the time, Google's safe search was switched on, whilst the results were mostly educational, the information contained within the sites was way over head and too much detail.

Perhaps your wondering how I knew what my daughter had been searching?

I have used a number of parental control over the years. Being of a technical nature, some of them were really complex - but I am familiar with corporate scale web monitoring techie stuff so I built something similar at home. Sledgehammer to crack a nut but it was effective. Nowadays, I have turned to domestic/retail solutions much to the annoyance of the kids. There are lots of applications that offer protection, some free and other for a annual charge. I have listed some solutions on offer below (there are more):

Net Nanny
McAfee Family Protection
K9 Web Protection
Google Safe Search
Firefox Browser
MS Internet Explorer

As a parent, can you take the chance?

As you can see, I have listed a number of options in order to apply some level of parental control. Which one is best I hear you ask? Sorry, it is not as simple as that! Each one has varying levels of control and protection. Net Nanny for example control internet access whereas Windows Live Family Safety also provides some control over what applications/software the user can run on the machine in addition to what web sites can be connected to. Both though allow you to view reports of activity from a administration web site so you do not need to physically log onto the computer the children are using. Nice!

Social Networking?

A lot of children spend a fair amount of time on social networking sites. There are age restrictions on many, but they are not very robust and fair number if children I know aged ~10 have Facebook profiles. Some parents have said that they don't mind there children being on Facebook, they are 'friends' of their children and can view what they are writing on their 'wall'. This is is not strictly true, the Facebook 'wall' is not the only means of communication. The instant messaging feature allows friends to chat directly with each other. Also, Facebook alllows you to configure 'groups' of friends, you can then choose which group can see any updates you post at the time you write them. Does your children have 'groups' set up? Did you even know about 'groups'? Do you really know how to use Facebook?

A lot of parents say they are not interested in Facebook or the other social networks. One thing for sure is that your children are interested. I would strongly advise all parents to get accounts on all the networks, then ask your children to show you how to use them. This will empower your child to engage with you and feel good that they are teaching their parents, also it will allow you to get a understanding of how much you child understands about social networking! If you don't get involved, your child may be the one to say "Mum, you don't know anything about it - it is safe! Honest, I only have a few close friends..." and then you discover they have 500 friends they are following.
Lets take a look at Net Nanny?

Net Nanny is an annual subscription, they constantly update their lists of rated sites and protection technology, I do believe thought that it is the most comprehensive and user friendly protection available if configured properly. As an application it installs easily, there is a quick start wizard on install that allows you quickly to add users, IE. your children's names. You might want to create your own account also so you do not need to log in as 'admin' each time. When you add your children, you will be able to set the appropriate age levels for them. What is nice about Net Nanny is that you don't need to have user accounts setup on Windows itself, Net Nanny allows you to switch between Net Nanny profiles easily from the Windows tray icon.

Another killer feature for me is the ability to read instant messaging and search engine queries. Net Nanny supports nearly all the instant messaging applications and I think for this feature alone, it's worth the money. Your child will potentially spend a lot of online time on instant messaging and has the highest risk of being intimidated, bullied or worse still groomed by the most unlikely of online 'friend'.

Net Nanny provides full administration of your access settings using an intuitive online interface in addition to accessing the software on the computer itself. Net Nanny also is restrict able to restrict the amount of web access your child has, perhaps 2 hours a day anytime between 4pm and 6pm - no problem with Net Nanny!

How good is McAfee Family Protection?

McAfee Family Protection appears to be a well rounded solution on paper, but how well does it really perform?

The download and install was straight forward, it was easily installed within minutes. After the install, I was not required to restart Windows which is always a welcome change. Once installed you have to select the 'Configure Family Protection' program available from the 'start' menu. You are required to enter your email and password used to register with McAfee to activate the product. You have to do this regardless of being a trial version or the paid up version.

If you re select the 'Configure Family Protection' program from the 'start' menu, you are presented with the admin interface after first entering your email/password. Here you need to initially create a user(s) for your family. This is where my problem lay, I wanted to add an account for my daughter, I entered her name and it was rejected. It informed me that it was not a unique username, strange I thought, but reading further I became aware that user account details are stored on McAfee servers. The username has to be unique across all McAfee users - that is potentially a lot of users! There was no help in suggesting a unique username, you have to keep trying till you find one that is acceptable. I found this quite strange, surely McAfee could internally add a an extra level of abstraction to allow you to enter the username of your choice!

Generally, the software worked well. Before being given access to the internet you were forced to login as a McAfee configured user. After configuring various settings, in particular the personal details for a user, it reported such things like when my daughter logged into Facebook and passed personal details to a friend. That is a useful feature!

If you right click the task bar icon, you can select to 'view usage reports' - any user can see their own logs, the admin user can see everyone's (which is what you would expect). I did have one issue with McAfee product, I was unable to monitor Skype IM, I had configured it to monitor all IM conversations, but it did not seem to work. I contacted the McAfee using the instant chat feature found on their website. I was introduced to an assistant who asked a number of questions and seemed to be helpful until I was posted a URL to go to in order to find my answer. Turned out it was a page selling me a set-up package where a McAfee technician would set-up my computer for $19! At this point I asked the assistant if Skype IM monitoring was supported and they replied 'Skype IM monitoring is supported'. After rechecking my settings I decided to give up. Other than that, I like the software and the interface. If Skype was not an issue it is a worthy candidate offering your family parental control capabilities.

What about K9?

I have installed the K9 software which purports to be similar in some ways to the Net Nanny, but I have never successfully installed it in order to verify it's claims. I have tried to install it on a number of different Windows 7 machines, but always came accross small issues which made it un-useable. I did contact their help desk and they were very responsive and assisted my attempts to figure out a number of issues, mainly to do with authentication but we ended up not continuing. Feel free to give it a try, your mileage may vary, it does sound like a well rounded solution.
What about the FREE solutions?

Then there are the FREE solutions. The Windows Live Family Safety is a great partial solution if you are running Vista (SP2) or Windows 7. It offers filtering, online reports and some instant messaging support (MSN, Hotmail) - not Facebook etc. It does allow you to restrict the amount of time your child is logged into the computer. It also allows you to only allow your child to run certain software/applications. But I do like the way in which Net Nanny controls only internet access, you child may need the computer to type up some homework. Net Nanny will allow this and disable internet access whereas Windows Live will not allow them to login to the computer if out of time.

Windows Live protection is offered on a per user basis - but you need to log in as that user to windows, this might not always be convenient for shared computers. So, Windows Live is great free solution, but you have to understand how it enforces it's protection which may not suit everyone in practice.

The other options I listed are browser based or search engine controlled. You can follow the links above and tweak your settings as required. One thing for sure is that Net Nanny and K9 also incorporate things like Google Safe Search automatically.

A few internet service providers have inbuilt child protection (AOL uses a McAfee product (currently £3.99 month), whilst it may offer a reasonable level of protection, in my opinion they can't beat the levels of protection that Net Nanny and potentially K9 provides.

Do not take a chance with your children's online safety, Quick Call Dave now for a informal discussion about your requirements!

Call Dave on 01275 541 893 today.