In part 1 of this series, I noted that the Senate recently passed a resolution (S. Res. 205) declaring June “National Internet Safety Month.” The Resolution “calls on Internet safety organizations, law enforcement, educators, community leaders, parents, and volunteers to increase their efforts to raise the level of awareness for the need for online safety in the United States.”
In conjunction with Internet Safety Month, I am posting a multi-part series of essays about how parents can deal with potentially objectionable online content or contacts. The first installment outlined the many excellent online safety organizations or efforts that should be the first place parents begin their search for assistance. This second installment will discuss the burgeoning market for filtering and monitoring tools and software.
All the information in this series is condensed from my forthcoming Progress & Freedom Foundation special report, “Parental Controls and Online Child Protection: A Survey of Tools and Methods.” The booklet provides a broad survey of everything on the market today that can help parents deal with potentially objectionable media content, whether it be on broadcast TV, cable, music, cellular phones, video games, the Internet, or social networking websites. We will be launching the booklet on June 20th with an event at the National Press Club.
Before discussing filters and monitoring tools, I want to again stress that these tools should not be considered substitutes for talking to our children about what they might see or hear while online. Even though various tools and strategies can help parents control the vast majority of objectionable content that their kids might stumble upon while online, no system is perfect. In the end, education and ongoing communication are vital.
Filters and Monitoring Software
To better control what children see online or how they communicate in interactive environments, parents can either use “stand-alone” filtering and monitoring tools or rely on the parental control tools provided by their Internet service provider (ISP). A discussion of both types of tools follows.
(1) Independent / “Client-Based” Filters and Monitoring Tools: Most parents are familiar with Internet filtering software and use filters to control their children’s online surfing activities. At a minimum, these software tools let parents block access to adult websites and impose time management constraints on their children’s computer and Internet usage.
Increasingly, however, these software packages also include far more robust monitoring tools that let parents see each website their children visit, view every e-mail or instant message that they send and receive, or even record every word that they type into their word processors. Many of these monitoring tools can then send parents a periodic report summarizing their child’s Internet usage and communications. More robust software programs even allow parents to capture screen shots of sites their kids have visited. Finally, these tools allow parents to do all this in a surreptitious fashion since, once the software is installed on a child’s computer, it is entirely invisible to the user.
Similarly, “IM Safer” offers a free downloadable tool that can help parents monitor instant messenger conversations and notify them when their child is engaged in a potentially dangerous conversation on IM. Importantly, the IM Safer tool respects a child’s privacy since not parents are not allowed to read the full transcripts of online communications. Instead, the application only monitors IM conversations for content that is considered dangerous. Importantly, however, this includes the trading of phone numbers or other personal information.
Some parents might flinch at this level of child surveillance, but other will find it entirely appropriate, especially for very young children just getting online. Regardless, a wide variety of such filtering and monitoring tools is available and they can be calibrated to meet parents’ specific needs and values. A comprehensive list of these software tools can be found at the GetNetWise.org website, but some of the most popular filtering and monitoring tools are listed below:
Table 1: Internet Filtering and Monitoring Software
• Activity Logger (www.softactivity.com)
• BeNetSafe (www.benetsafe.com)
• Bsafe Online (www.bsafehome.com)
• Children’s Internet (www.thechildrensinternet.com)
• Clean Internet.com (http://cleaninternet.com)
• Content Cleaner (www.contentpurity.com)
• Content Protect (www.contentwatch.com)
• CyberPatrol (www.cyberpatrol.com)
• Cyber Sentinel (www.cybersentinel.com)
• CyberSitter (www.cybersitter.com)
• eBlaster (www.spectorsoft.com)
• FamiLink (www.familink.com)
• Family Cyber Alert (www.itcompany.com)
• FilterGate (http://filtergate.com)
• FilterPak (www.surfguardian.net/products.shtml)
• Guardian Monitor (www.guardiansoftware.com)
• IamBigBrother (www.iambigbrother.com)
• IM Safer (www.imsafer.com)
• Internet4Families (www.i4f.com)
• iShield (www.guardwareinc.com)
• K9 Web Protection (www.k9webprotection.com)
• KidsNet (www.sti.net/s-kidsnet.html)
• McAfee Internet Security Suite (http://us.mcafee.com)
• Microsoft Live One Care (www.windowsonecare.com)
• NetIntelligence (www.netintelligence.com)
• Netsweeper (www.netsweeper.com)
• NetMop (www.netmop.com)
• NetNanny (www.netnanny.com)
• Norton Internet Security (www.symantec.com/home_homeoffice/products)
• Online Safety Shield (www.onlinesafetyshield.com)
• Optenet PC (www.optenetpc.com)
• Parental Control Bar (www.wraac.org)
• PC Tattletale (www.pctattletale.com)
• Razzul (www.kidinnovation.com)
• SafeEyes (www.safeeyes.com)
• Sentry At Home (www.sentryparentalcontrols.com)
• Sentry Remote (www.sentryparentalcontrols.com)
• Snoop Stick (www.snoopstick.com)
• Spector Pro (www.spectorsoft.com)
• Spy Agent (www.spytech-web.com/software.shtml)
• Surf On the Safe Side (www.surfonthesafeside.com)
• SurfPass (www.cogilab.com/us/homeedition)
• Webroot Child Safe (www.webroot.com)
• WebWatcher (www.awarenesstech.com/parents/index.html)
Of course, not all filtering and monitoring tools are equal, and features vary by product. Moreover, tools come and go, and many change over time in terms of functions and capabilities. Parents trying to determine which tool or service is best for them can find helpful reviews at the sites listed below:
Table 2: Filter and Monitoring Software Review Sites
(2) ISP-Integrated Parental Controls and Filtering Tools: Stand-alone or “client-based” filtering solutions, such as those described above, dominated the online parental controls marketplace in the late 1990s. The market has changed significantly since then, however. Today, Internet service providers (ISPs)–which include major broadband service providers (BSPs)–offer parental control services as part of an integrated suite of security tools, which typically also usually includes anti-virus, anti-spyware, and anti-Spam tools. These security options are often offered free of charge, or for a small additional fee, when subscribers sign up for monthly Internet service. And most of these integrated tools offer automatic updates such that consumers need not manually download upgrades to stay current. The Internet security websites for major ISPs and broadband operators are listed below.
What this means is that millions of parents now have free or quite inexpensive Internet parental control tools at their disposal as soon as they sign up for Internet access through an ISP. Of course, parents can also add on other tools or independent filtering and monitoring solutions such as those outlined earlier.
Table 3: Internet Security and Parental Control Websites for Major ISPs and Broadband Operators
• AOL (http://daol.aol.com/parentscentral)
• AT&T (www.att.com/safety)
• Cablevision (www.powertolearn.com/internet_smarts/index.shtml)
• Charter (www.charter.com/Visitors/NonProducts.aspx?NonProductItem=65)
• Comcast (www.comcast.net/security)
• Cox (www.cox.com/takecharge/internet_controls.asp)
• Earthlink (www.earthlink.net/software/free/parentalcontrols)
• Insight BB (www.insightbb.com/pcsecurity/default.aspx)
• Microsoft (www.microsoft.com/protect)
• NetZero (www.netzero.net/support/security/tools/parental-controls.html)
• Qwest (www.incredibleinternet.com)
• Time Warner (www.timewarnercable.com/centralny/products/internet/parentalcontrols.html)
• Verizon (http://netservices.verizon.net/portal/link/main/safety)
[In part 3 of this series, I will discuss operating systems and web browser controls.]