Parental control is about managing behaviors of your kids on the computer and over the Internet. Parental control can be implemented in several ways.
If you use a router to support Internet connectivity of multiple computers in your home network, you may want to first look into what functionality your router already provides. Most of routers support simple access restriction, such as, domain and URL blocking. Yet, only a few routers provide effective logging that shows you the visited websites or URLs. If you're willing to try your luck with some public domain firmware and monitoring software, you may get to squeeze some juice out of your router. In general, though, the result won't be worth of your effort.
Windows Vista (except Business edition) offers its own built-in parental control. The functionality is fully integrated with the security control of the operating system and is very easy to use. Although not as powerful as the third-party parental control software, parental control from Windows Vista is likely all you need.
If your computers are not running Windows Vista or you are looking for more sophisticated features, there are several software vendors to consider. Based on my research, the two vendors on that top my list are SpectorSoft and Spytech. I'll discuss some of the most important considerations below to help you make your purchase decision.
- Logging: Many of the third party parental control offer a wide range of logging features starting from basics, such as, keystrokes, websites, and URLs to advanced features like email capturing, social networks, online chats, and screen recording.
- Control: Almost all the products allow you to set a schedule during which Internet access is allowed, URL, or website blocking. Widows Vista supports website blocking according to the pre-compiled website ratings in their database. This is useful, because you can't possibly enter all the unwanted websites by hand. Vista also allows restrictions on gaming playing and applications.
- Access: Most of the products require you to have physical access to the monitored computer to see the logs or generated reports, while a few of them can send the reports to your email box. With some upgrade, some products let you access all the logs at a centralized location on the Internet or monitor the activities in real time. At the moment, Spector Pro 2009 of SpectorSoft offers the most powerful feature set followed closely by Spytech's SpyAgent. With help from eBlaster, Spector Pro of SpectorSoft allows you to access the logs and reports remotely. SpyAgent of Spytech offers remote access with SpyAnywhere and real-time monitoring with Realtime-Spy.
- Stealth mode: If you prefer not to have your kids find out that they are being monitored, "stealth mode" can come in handy. Many products is capable of running in stealth mode that hides itself from the user on the computer.
- Pricing: Spector Pro 2009 costs $99.95 per computer with some discount, if you purchase more than one license. Spytech appears to offer a more attractive pricing towards multiple licenses. IamBigBrother of Internet Safety Software costs only $29.95, but charges additional $9.99 per month for accessing data over the Internet that can add up quickly. Some vendors require you to renew your license every year. So, do not rely only on the price tag to calculate your cost.
[picture source: http://www.northeastern.edu/offcampus/images/Detective.jpg]