by Hugh De Payen
An article about the key considerations you need to make when buying Parental Control Software. Looks at the basic features common to all good Parental Control Software and the advanced features found in the better software.
In the fight against Internet predators and unsuitable content, Parental Control Software is a powerful weapon. It provides a hassle-free way for parents to keep their children safe. This article looks at some of the key features a parent should be considering for when buying Parental Control Software.
All Parental Controls should have some basic monitoring features. These should include:
- monitoring instant message or chat conversations in things like MSN Messenger or AOL Instant Messenger.
- monitoring web sites accessed.
- monitoring emails sent and received either locally (via things like Outlook) or remotely (via things like Hotmail).
- monitoring keystrokes.
The better Parental Control Software will also have advanced monitoring features. One particularly useful feature is the ability to take screenshots; this the gives the parent a good visual picture of what happened on the child's computer and makes reviewing the logs a lot easier.
Another feature that is very useful is the ability to monitor email attachments. Many products miss this feature, but an attachment is just as likely to contain worrying images and information as the email body.
Good Parental Control Software may also contain more advanced monitoring features such as specific logs of what a child has entered into search engines, or logs of peer-to-peer (P2P) downloads. Whilst these may not be considered 'essentials', they do increase the level of monitoring and add that extra bit of protection.
Blocking was what the old 'Net Nanny' software used to do. Whilst blocking alone is not enough these days, it is still a useful component to have in your Parental Control Software.
The basic form of blocking is by URL only, but the more advanced products will also allow you to block sites when certain keywords or phrases are found in the text of that site. This is much more convenient to set up than plain URL blocking.
There are 4 different ways that a parent can view the reports and logs created by Parental Controls. Most Parental Control Software uses only one of these methods:
1. The parent signs onto the child's computer and view the logs directly. This is the oldest and most inconvenient way. It means the parent needs access to the child's computer to see what went on. If the parent is not letting the child know that they are being monitored, it is even more inconvenient because the parent has to access the computer when the child isn't around to see.
2. The logs are emailed to the parent. This is okay to a certain extent, but it can lead to a lot of email traffic and it means that the parent has to wait until the logs are emailed - there is no real-time access.
3. The logs are stored on the child's computer and the logs are accessed remotely from a different computer. This is much more convenient for the parent, but the logs can only be accessed when the child's computer is switched on and operating correctly. Because the logs themselves are store on the child's computer, they are open to tampering and at risk of being unobtainable in the event of some sort of error on the child's computer.
4. The logs are stored on a remote server (provided by the vendor) and the parent accesses those logs remotely, from any computer in the world (including, if necessary, the child's own computer). This is the most secure and efficient method.
I highly recommend you look for Parental Control Software with a type 3 or 4 reporting mechanism. For the best protection for your child, a type 4 mechanism is preferred.
This sort of software should install in what's called a 'stealth mode' so that it is undetectable on the child's computer - all the better products will do this.
Of course, no matter how good the individual features are, they need to work well together through an easy-to-use interface, so this is an important consideration. Also, the vendor should provide good support, preferably by phone, and the documentation should be easy to follow.
You can expect to pay $100 for the best Parental Control Software on the market, but this is a small price to pay for ensuring your children are safe online.