Copilot Family is a parental control tool for smartphones and tablets. It is available for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch, Android phones and tablets, and Chromebooks and Amazon Fire.
One of the biggest challenges parents face is how to manage their children’s online access and device use. Before the rapid adoption of mobile devices it was easier – install parental controls on the family computer and you’re done. While that is still recommended, it will not help when a child’s primary computer use is on their phone or tablet. And when each child has his or her own device it is even more complicated. Luckily there are a number of parental control tools available to help enforce a healthy “tech” balance.
How can Copilot Family help your family?
The key features are:
- Limit or disable apps and functionality such as the camera, FaceTime, ability to take a screenshot, explicit content, and more
- Set time-based restrictions limits – such as, no app use at school, or no camera during homework time
- View device location and receive notifications when your child arrives at or leaves a destination
- See when new apps are downloaded
- Remotely lock or wipe the device
I tested the service on several iOS devices. Copilot Family is fairly easy to set up. First you sign up for an account (free – with a premium service debuting later in the year, according to their website). Next, install the app on your child’s device. There will be a “link” code to add the device to your account. During this process you will install a management profile (or MDM for mobile device management) on their device.
You can monitor more than one device. In this screenshot of the Copilot dashboard, you can see my iPhone, and two “child” devices – an iPhone and an iPad. (Not sure why my name displayed so strangely and unfortunately could not find a way to fix that!)
When you add a device you will create a permission level that will be used by default. You can enable or disable:
- App Store
- In App Purchases
- Downloaded Apps (i.e. anything that isn’t “native” to the device, that your child has downloaded from the app store)
- Web Browser
- Explicit iBooks
- Age Settings for Apps (0-8, 9-11, 12-14, 15-17, or 18+)
Disable apps at certain times of the day
This is a feature that I know a lot of parents will like to see. You can create other permission levels, and assign them to time blocks. For example, let’s say Chippy can use her the Safari browser, Facetime, and apps during the day, but not during homework time. During the “Homework” time block, the permissions change, and she cannot access the web, Facetime and apps.
This system allows for the flexibility of using different permission levels at different times of day, per user. So while Chippy can’t browse the web while during homework, maybe Allie is allowed because she is older.
I tested this out a few times and watched, as if by magic, app icons disappeared from the device then reappeared at the end of the time block. On one occasion they didn’t return, however I’m told by the tech gurus at Copilot that they’ll be adding an “override” function in a future update in case this happens. But you’ll also want to be sure the device is charged and connected to the internet (that might have been my issue).
***One important note, when you disable purchased apps, they will return to the device in alphabetical order. That means if your child has painstakingly moved all their apps into folders, the apps will not return to those folders – at least for iOS, I can’t say for sure if it works the same on Android and other systems. However, this is not unique to Copilot Family. Other services I’ve reviewed work the same way. I’m guessing if there was a way around it, the app developers would fix this.
You can decide what notifications you’d like to receive, and whether you’d like an e-mail notification or text message. You can receive notifications for:
- Urgent Alerts (sent by your child from the Copilot Family app on their device),
- Location entered, Location exited (did your child arrive at school? Did they leave the neighborhood?)
- Copilot Agent Removed (did they figure out how to remove the service from their device?)
- Apps installed (notification when they download a new app)
I test these out and all worked as expected. I set up locations for home and school, and every time I left the house and drove past the local school, I received the alerts. If you don’t have unlimited texting on your own phone, you might want to opt for e-mail alerts. Also if the device is not connected to the Internet, location monitoring won’t work. For an iPad for example, the location will only be determined if the device connects to WiFi.
What would make Copilot Family even better?
A feature I’d love to see here is the ability to restrict individual apps, rather than just by age range. For example, you might want to disable Snapchat and Instagram after 8pm. You could do that now by using the age restriction, and disabling all apps within that age range (in this case, 12+). But then all other apps rated 12+ will also be blocked. Or, if you have an Android, you can restrict by app category. Sadly the ability to restrict by app category is not available for iOS devices. But I’m told that’s coming soon (along with several more premium features). Also, be aware that “native” apps, or those that come pre-installed by Apple, cannot be disabled. This includes phone and iMessage on Apple devices.
Even without those features, Copilot Family would be a good option for a family with children of various ages with multiple devices who want to set some limits on device use.
Learn more and sign up on their website: http://www.copilotfamily.com