Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Parental Controls for Smart Phones and Tablets

We've all thought about parental controls for our TVs and computers but what about those smart phones and tablets kids are using these days. iPads, Kindle Fires, Nexus 7, and the wide range of smart phones like the iPhone and Android phones. All of these are basically computers with access to the web and all of its power to search out information on many subjects. Yes, even those subjects we want to shield our kids from until they are ready and it's we who will know when they are ready...right?

I must admit that my kids are full grown adults now but I have grand kids and my kids might not be aware what their kids are doing with their smart phones and tablets. Even 2 year olds are darn good at turning on their tablet, touching their app and enjoying a cartoon or movie. I'm not saying a 2 year will visit sites or search for words that you don't want them to but knowing how to keep them smart and honest is prudent.
Parental Controls should provide the following.
  • Show only the apps approved by parents.
  • Allow certain numbers to be called from their phone.
  • Block the ability to spend money on music or apps without parental consent.
  • Block the ability to search for certain categories of words based on age or content.
  • Block the ability to go to web sites based on age or content.
  • Block the ability to view YouTube videos based on age or content.
  • Put a time limit on the use of the device.
  • Provide a report or view of sites visited, words searched, sites or words blocked and why they were blocked.
  • Provide a parental consent to allow any of the above if the parent chooses.
  • If a device is shared amongst family members, allow for different or no controls based on the person.
  • Ability to track the location of a smart phone via it's GPS signal

The iPad/iPhone as well as Android provide a certain level of parental controls. One might say these controls don't go far enough and that is why many apps are available. Costs vary according to the sophistication of the app, the number of devices covered, etc.

The Apple iPa's parental controls consist of a variety of restrictions as Apple puts it. You can set restrictions on the following apps:
  • Safari web browser
  • Camera and apps that use the camera
  • Face Time
  • iTunes Store
  • iBookstore
  • Siri

You can also restrict:
  • Installing Apps. This includes the ability to stop a child from spending money on apps.
  • Deleting Apps. In other words the little x doesn't appear on the app icons when you're customizing the Home screen.
  • Explicit Language: Siiri attempts to help out by beeping if it recognizes an improper word.
  • In-App purchases. Another help to avoid the ability for a child to spend money.
  • Content restrictions. You can Tap Ratings For, then select a country from the list. Then set restrictions for music and podcasts, books, etc.
Below is the iTunes Parental Controls setup. Not bad but limited when compared to some of the dedicated Parental Control apps.
To see the complete list of iPad Restrictions go the the iPad User Guide which is found in Safari, select Bookmarks and going to the bottom of the list.

There is a large number of parental control apps and I found it a bit difficult to narrow it down to a few as the features vary along with the prices. As usual, you can choose the features you need and then the price you wish to pay. Some have annual subscriptions so the overall price can be quite high. However, these apps are the ones that are feature rich and who but you decides how much your child's safety is worth--certainly not me.

Now let's discuss parental control features that go further for protecting your children.
  • Block word searches for certain words.
  • Block access to unapproved web sites. Unapproved web sites determined by categories or specific ones.
  • Block more than just the web. Blocking You Tube for example.
  • Web or e-mailed reports showing what was viewed, blocked and why.
  • Provide filtering by person if the device is shared.

The controls are more restrictive along with flexibility for the parent. So let's see how we can get an app that provides for some of these parental controls.
I found a few for Apple, Android as well as the PC.
Mobicip is a very good looking app that provides virtually all of the items I mentioned above.
After creating an account, set up users, you install a new browser called Safe Browser. You then disable Safari, You Tube and the App Store. At this point you use Safe Browser's filtering capabilities to control what can and cannot be viewed in the browser. Safe Browser looks and feels just like Safari except for its parental control features. You can access Mobicip directly on the web to see sites that were viewed by user, any that were blocked and why they were blocked. Even get a report e-mailed to you on a weekly or monthly basis.
Free. Additional features that most will want-Annual Subscription of $9.99 per year per device.
For iOS and Android.
McGruff is another good app.
Free, Full Control-$0.99 and Full Family Control:Gold Update-$9.99.
Works on iPhone and iPad. It is extremly flexible too. There is the ability to control viewing by site categories of Age, Content, etc. Even control the amount of time one can browse the web. There are even parental controls on You Tube. Have the device send a Summary or Detailed list of sites viewed and words searched. Install the app, apply a password and go. If the device is shared, have unique controls for individuals.
Both of these apps add a new browser to replace Safari. The new browser has more features for parental controls. You would then disable Safari on the iPad.

For Android tablets like the Kindle Fire or Galaxy Tab as wells as Android smart phones.

Kids Place is a full featured parental controls app that works on Android tablets and smart phones alike. Kids Place appears to have good features to keep a child from spending money on apps, music, etc. It even allows you to put restrictions on phone calls and texts. It misses some of the features I listed above so look closely and decide for yourself if Kids Place has what it takes to meet your needs. Kids Place is FREE.

Purchase a license for each Android smart phone or tablet. I could not discover the price on their site. Not good.
Reviews are at both ends of the spectrum...good and bad, nothing in between.

This apps goes another step further by allowing you to track your child's whereabouts by secretly using the GPS in their smart phone.
FREE There are quite of few of these and reviews seem to be mixed on many. Using a phone tracker might sound a bit "over the line" for many. I mention these however because you need a choice. If you get a call from your child's school saying they did not arrive as expected, knowing you had a phone tracker app on their cell phone might be a comfort.
Available for iPhone/iPad or Android
Below is a list of apps and articles to review to help make a decision. These is enough flexibility in features along with price to get you to the app that will make you feel comfortable with technology in your child's hands.
The Vancouver Sun. CuriousDad. The Problem with iPad parental controls. August 30, 2012

By Daniel Nations

A blog talking about Mamabear.
Parental Controls for the PC
By Brian Posey of Tech Republic. May 1, 2012.
December 20th, 2012 by Daniel P. Howley, LAPTOP Staff Writer
PC Magazine
By Sara Yin. July 27, 2012
$19.99 per year
Net Nanny for Android
$19.99 per year
AVG Family Safety for iPhone, iPad or PC
$19.99 per year
$3.68 to buy
$4.95 to buy
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