NetSanity has been on my list of parental control products to review for quite some time. It’s included in my comprehensive list of parental control solutions but I wanted to test it out for a more thorough review.
NetSanity has many of the tools that parents are looking for in their “digital parenting toolbox” to help them with managing screen time and keeping young eyes away from inappropriate content.
With NetSanity (for iOS devices, with an Android version in the works) you can:
- set a device bedtime,
- block content by category,
- enforce safe searching,
- restrict features such as the camera or taking screenshots, and
- block specific apps such as Snapchat or Instagram,
- (and more).
I was really interested in seeing how that last feature works, because it is fairly unique. Not many parental control services let you block a specific app or game.
Here’s how things went with NetSanity. To get started there are 4 basic steps:
- Sign up for an account
- Create user and device profiles
- Enroll the device
- Set up the specific rules for each user
Sign up for NetSanity
NetSanity has a 14-day free trial, so you can test out features before purchasing. Just sign up on their website – https://my.netsanity.net/subscribe.
You’ll create an account by entering your (parent) email address and create a password.
At this point you can choose whether you want the monthly plan or annual subscription. You must enter a credit card #, but you won’t be charged until the trial is over if you choose the monthly plan. You can always upgrade to the (discounted) annual plan later. This way, if you need longer than 14 days to really get a feel for the service, you’re just making a $6.95 investment. If, after the trial, you don’t want to continue, just be sure to cancel the service before the 14 days so you don’t get charged. I always set myself a reminder on my phone for this kind of thing.
Accept terms and you’re taken to your dashboard.
Create user and device profiles
Next, create the user (child) profiles. Add their name, birth date, time zone, and optionally, a picture. I recommend adding a picture, especially if you’ll have more than one child set up in the dashboard. If you don’t you’ll just see the NetSanity logo instead, and it wasn’t clear to me at first that I could click that logo to get to the settings for that user.
Next, you’ll add the Device information. This is based on the number of licenses you purchased. I did my testing on an iPad mini. When setting up the device, you’ll assign it to a user.
Once you have the user and device profile created, it’s time to enroll the device with NetSanity so you can manage all the features. There are prompts to guide you throughout the set up process.
Enroll the device with NetSanity
This step is done from the child’s device. You’ll need their passcode – and depending on the features you plan to use and your child’s age, you might decide to create a new device passcode that only you know. Go to the NetSanity link provided and follow the install instructions.
Like other iOS parental control solutions, NetSanity uses Mobile Device Management (MDM), so you’ll install the MDM profile. Unlike some other solutions, NetSanity also configures the device to use a VPN (virtual private network). During setup, VPN didn’t work right away. It took me a few tries and a few resets to get it working. I believe this was due to having tested another solution recently – I had to remove that one first.
Once the enrollment is complete, you’re ready to start adding the features you want to use on your child’s device.
Set up the specific rules for each user
With the device enrolled, you’ll set up the rules and filters you want in place for your child. Since there are so many options, they are split up onto separate pages. While going through the settings, I made use of all the “help” links to learn more about the feature. In addition to this in-context help, there are comprehensive FAQ and support pages.
Here’s what you can do with NetSanity:
App Blocker – blocks the app from interacting with the internet, rendering it useless. You can decide which apps are a no-no for your child and move them with one click from the “Allowed apps” area to the “Blocked” apps. Even if they don’t have an app yet, you can block it in advance and IF they ever download and install (if you allow that capability) they won’t be able to use it. I tried that by installing the After School app onto the iPad mini. It opened, but nothing happened. With blocked apps you still see the icon, and can open the app, but without internet connectivity, the app won’t function.
Hide Apps – If you want to totally remove apps from displaying on the device, that is when you would use “HideApps” which is pretty much the same as restricting by rating on an Apple device. The difference is that you can do so on a schedule (using Time Blocker) or at a moment’s notice. Note that when apps reappear, they will be out of order.
Time Blocker – The TimeBlocker allows you to restrict internet access on a schedule. You can choose a different schedule for each day, for example perhaps on weekends you’d like to extend the allowed time. You can also have apps disappear, lock the device at ‘bedtime’. I tested both of these features and they did what they were supposed to do.
As parents we don’t need research and studies to tell us that too much screen time can be a bad thing. Setting limits on the device helps you reinforce your house rules. They’ll learn quickly that iPads go to sleep when they go to sleep! (Or whatever schedule you’d like to use).
CatBlocker – CatBlocker is used to block websites by category. By default certain categories are blocked such as Alcohol Use and promotion; Hate Speech/Discrimination; and Porn/Nudity. You have full control of which categories are allowed or blocked for your child. For example you can choose to block Social Media, Violence, or Vulgar/Obscene Language.
SiteBlocker – If you want to allow a particular site even if it falls into a blocked category, you can “whitelist” the site on the SiteBlocker page. You can also block specific websites. In my testing, I found that Omegle was allowed so I added it to the blocked list, and then I could not visit the site. (Perhaps it would have blocked if I’d figured out which category it might belong in, but I didn’t get that far…maybe social?)
Device Restrictions – With device restrictions you can do things like disable Safari web browser, the camera, taking screenshots, installing apps, and many other options. Some of these are the same restrictions that can be found under General – Settings – Restrictions in iOS – difference is, you don’t need to be physically holding the device to make these changes.
Advanced Features – You can find Battery Saver settings, HideApps details, and a setting called SafeWiFi. This feature is great for those who have a device that is used in another protected setting, such as school. The NetSanity filtering will pause and the school filtering will take over. I didn’t test this feature so can’t speak to its effectiveness but it’s great to see the possibility is here, since so many schools have “BYOD” (Bring Your Own Device) programs.
Overall, I found NetSanity to be fairly easy to set up and use, with many features designed to help parents reign in device usage and support a safe browsing experience. The online help and support are comprehensive and when I e-mailed with a question I received a quick response, even over the weekend. As with any parental control solution, kids may find workarounds – if they figure out how to uninstall the Profile or VPN, you will be notified.
After the 14-day free trial, a device license is required for each Apple iOS device. NetSanity currently supports Apple iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch, currently running Apple iOS 7, 8, or 9+.
If you’re in the market for a parental control solution for iOS device, give NetSanity a try. (I always like to add, Parental control tools can help you as part of a “digital parenting” toolkit. I say toolkit because that’s what any software product is – a tool to assist you, not to replace you. Meaning, you can’t just rely on a parental control software product alone. Ongoing discussions with the kids is key to establishing healthy internet and device usage habits.
Have you used NetSanity? Do you plan on trying it? Leave a comment and let me know how it goes.