Parental Control Software: A Comparison of Software Effectiveness (Part 2)
Jun 29, 2000
There are many parental control software packages on the market these days, but how does a parent know what they are getting works? This is the second half of a two part review of Parental Control Software.
What is parental control software? It is a software package designed to filter the internet and prevent children from being exposed to obscene or harmful media. The amount of filtering done by each package varies depending on what the software is designed to do. Nearly all internet filtration software is designed and advertised to stop or reduce a child’s exposure to pornography and the sexually explicit.
How do these software packages work? It depends on the technology and software package used; however, most have a list of sites, built into the software or the parent server, that are considered forbidden sites. When the software detects the loading of a forbidden site, word or phrase, the result can vary from the simple, by displaying a screen denying access to the site, to the extreme of shutting down the computer.
The seven Parental Control packages I’m reviewing are as follows: Puresight.net, Cyber Patrol, The BAIR system, Surf Watch, Cybersitter, Net Nanny, and AOL Parental Controls. For each package, I’ll cover the cost, some of the features, and my rating. In order to keep the size of this review manageable, I have broken it into to segments. This second segment will review the BAIR system, AOL Parental Controls and Cybersitter.
To get my rating, I tested each software package searching on 20 different key words. Most of these words would normally lead a person to a pornography site, a hate group site or a site that may be associated with a cult (If you want to know specifically what words I searched with, please feel free to contact me). A few of the key words may lead to a non-desirable site in a round about manner. If a key word resulted in a directory, I attempted to find five sites that would challenge the software. If the word was denied a search, I considered it a pass. If a keyword was granted access to a non-desirable site once on five attempts, I considered it a pass. If the word gained two accesses, the test failed for that word. There is a possibility of 100 passes, fails or a combination thereof. In order to be highly recommended, the software must score a 90 or better. To receive a rating of recommended, the software must score an 80 or better. Any software not scoring at least an 80 is not recommended.
Cyber Sitter was developed by Solid Oak Software. A free trial version of the software is available for download. Cost for the full package is $39.95. The software requires an administrator’s password (except with the trial version) to prevent a child from turning the filter off or uninstalling the software. The software filters and blocks by site and word. The site database is maintained and updated by Cyber Sitter. Installation of the software was very easy.
The software has several nice benefits. One is the “Family Friendly” search engine. This search engine effective turns off most adult related/rated sites. Another great feature is the “Safe-Site” redirection protocol. When searching the internet on a word or phrase, the software will redirect the user to a safe site, when there are no non-offensive web sites available for the word or phrase searched. The same holds true, in most cases, if a non-desirable web site is available in the results directory from a search. Attempting to access the offensive site uses causes a redirection to a safe-site. Safe sites are usually educational and informational in content. A few extra bonuses that come with the software package are the ability to have e-mail and AOL Instant-Messenger filtered.
Similar to other Parental Control software packages, the parent can filter or prohibit game sites, and establish additional prohibitions for users. The software keeps a log of user violations. The parent or administrator can set day and time standards for when the internet is available for access by a child or user.
Of the 20 key words searched for, the software blocked access to sites on 15 of the words without providing a directory. One key word had a directory associated with it, but all offensive links from the directory were blocked. Four key words searched were partially blocked or filtered.
Cyber Sitter has received the PC Magazine Editor’s Choice Award for 2000. Designed for Win 95/98/2000/Me/ and NT.
Based on my test results, Cyber Sitter scored an 89. I RECOMMEND this software package (Grade A-)!
The BAIR System
The BAIR System was developed by Exotrope. A free trial version of the software is available for download. Cost for the full software package is $4.95 per month. Installation of the software package was relatively easy. However, it took me a little time figure out how to uninstall the software package.
The BAIR System is not compatible with Compuserve or AOL Internet Service Providers.
I was unable to test the software, but I can provide some basic information on some of the features that come with the package.
Each internet user must have a profile and an associated password. One of the users must be the administrator. Each profile can be edited as to how intense the filtering software should be. All profile editing is performed by the administrator/parent.
The software package “uses artificial intelligence to block inappropriate words and pictures from being displayed on your computer when browsing the internet.” This seems to be similar to the Puresight software technology, as discussed in segment 1 of this review.
The BAIR System received a PC Magazine Editor’s Award for May 9, 2000. The BAIR System is designed for Win 95/98 and 2000.
I have not been able to test this software, so I can neither recommend it nor provide cautions against using it.
AOL Parental Controls
AOL Parental Controls was developed by AOL for AOL users. The software is a part of the AOL subscription package. Activating the Parental Controls was very easy.
Within the AOL Parental Controls, the master user can establish the controls for all other users on that AOL account. These controls include filtering WEB sites, Newsgroups, limiting access to Premium Sites, and limiting the user’s internet time by day and hours.
AOL has broken its Parental Controls into four categories: General (18 years old or older), Mature Teen (16-17), Young Teen (13–15) and Kids Only (12 and Under).
Kids Only: The filtering process in this mode was very effective. Children limited to Kids Only are not able to access the internet or internet search engines. All attempts to access the internet were blocked. If as a parent, you desire to allow your child to have limited access to the internet, "Kids Only" is not the option for you. If you desire to block all access to the internet, this choice is great.
Young Teen: The filtering process in this mode was also very effective. Young Teens can access an internet search engine. Of the 20 keywords I used to search with, all words were blocked from producing a search directory. If as a parent, you desire to allow your child to have limited access to the internet, "Young Teens" is not the option for you. If you desire to block almost all access to the internet, this choice is great.
Mature Teen: The filtering process for this mode is seriously lacking. A mature teen can access the internet and internet search engines. Of the 20 key words I searched with, only 3 words passed.
AOL Parental Controls, as a part of AOL is designed for Win 3.1/95/98/2000/NT and MAC.
Based on the results of my tests of the Kids Only mode (score of 100), I HIGHLY RECOMMEND THIS Mode. (Grade A)!
Based on results of my testing of the Young Teen Mode (score 100), I HIGHLY RECOMMEND THIS Mode. (Grade A).
Based on results of my testing of the Mature Teen Mode (score 30), I DO NOT RECOMMEND THIS Mode. (Grade F).
Final Recommendations for Parental Control Software in both segments: Cyber Sitter, AOL Parental Controls (Kids Only and Young Teen), Surf Watch and Cyber Patrol all performed well. Any of these software packages would be valuable in protecting what a child may be exposed to on the internet.
The limitation on the AOL Parental Controls is that you have to be a member of AOL to use them. Additionally, the "Kids Only" and "Young Teen" filter protocols might be to stringent for what you need. If you do not wish to join AOL or would like some internet access for your child, then I would recommend using Cyber Sitter, Surf Watch or Cyber Patrol.
The Puresight software package was excellent, but only in one mode, a lot of time will be required to make it a really useable program.
1. Cyber Sitter / AOL Parental Controls
2. Surf Watch
3. Cyber Patrol