It is common these days for each member of the family to use more than one Internet-connected device. In fact you might call it the new normal. In addition to home computers, you’ve got smartphones, tablets, iPods, gaming devices and smart TV’s.
How many screens are in your house? I just counted 15 here – 2 TV’s, 1 computer, 2 laptops, 1 Kindle fire, 2 iPads, 1 iPad mini, 3 smartphones, and 3 (old and rarely used) iPods. Each of these connects to the Internet. Wouldn’t it be nice if I could monitor, filter and control usage on any of these devices without having to install something on each device?
Guess what, it is possible!
Here is a round-up of parental control tools that cover every device in your home. They do this by either replacing or connecting with your existing Wi-Fi router. Features vary, and may include:
- Content filtering (i.e. blocking porn or other inappropriate content)
- Content reporting (which websites did your kids visit, which apps did they use)
- Set screen time limits and device “bedtimes”
- Pause the Internet
- Block inappropriate apps
- Block ads
Here are some options you might want to consider for managing all devices in your home.
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OpenDNS has been around the longest and is used in homes as well as schools and businesses. According to their website there are 65 million daily active users.
With OpenDNS, you can block “phishing” sites that try to steal your identity and login information. OpenDNS is also designed to improve internet speeds. Most parents use it for the content filtering for blocking adult content. And with the paid version – only $20/year – you can also restrict web access to specific websites you decide (called a “whitelist”) AND you can view reports going back a full year.
With OpenDNS your settings will apply to all connected devices in the home. You don’t have the ability to use different filtering levels per user or device. For that ability, read on.
Learn more: https://www.opendns.com/home-internet-security/
Circle with Disney
Circle is a new device (shaped more like a square but called a Circle) that connects to your existing Wi-Fi router.
With Circle you can set up age-appropriate content filtering for each connected device, set time limits and “bedtimes” for each device, and even pause the Internet if needed – for everyone or for just one device. This is all customizable and the filters apply to websites AND apps.
For example if your 10-year old uses the family computer and a game console, and your 15-year old uses an iPad and a smartphone, they can each have different filtering levels and time limits. The time limits apply across devices too. So it’s pretty thorough.
Circle has teamed up with Disney to make their product a reality. Each family member has access to MyCircle – a dashboard customized with Disney content such as videos, blogs, GIFs, emojis, music, and games.
Circle costs $99, with no additional monthly fee. At this time, Circle is only available to be shipped within the US and Canada, and also requires an iOS device or Android to run the parent management app.
Circle recently added Circle Go, so that devices can be managed with the same settings even when out of the home, over 4G or other Wifi networks. (Note that Circle Go has a monthly fee).
KoalaSafe is another fairly new device, a small box that plugs into your existing Wi-Fi router and creates a new protected wireless network. Koala Safe is available to use worldwide (whereas Circle is only available in the US and Canada at this time).
The features of KoalaSafe are similar to Circle – you can set time limits, block inappropriate apps and sites, and pause the internet. Create a profile for each child, or general profiles like “little kids” and “big kids” and then decide schedules and allowed apps for each profile. You can block or allow by category, such as all Social Media sites, or just block specific apps. For example you could block all social media, or you could allow Instagram but block Kik and Oovoo.
KoalaSafe works by creating a new wireless network in addition to your existing one. Basically you’ll disconnect your children’s devices from your regular network, and then reconnect them to KoalaSafe. Once you do that, you can assign the profiles to devices for each child.
All of this is configured from a companion app (either iOS or Android) so you can use your own phone to maintain the settings and view reports. You can also do this from a website.
KoalaSafe has also partnered with Curbi to provide filtering when devices are not on the home KoalaSafe network.
KoalaSafe costs $99, with no additional monthly fee.
SafeDNS is a cloud based service, similar to OpenDNS. You don’t have to install any software (but you can if you want to use the SafeDNS settings on a PC away from home).
With SafeDNS you can protect your family from network threats such as malware and phishing web sites. Some of the other features include a customizable content filter where you can block websites by category, or block/allow individual sites. You can set a schedule so that the internet is not available at certain times of day, or to have stronger filtering at certain times. SafeDNS works with all your internet connected devices such as Windows and Macs, tablets, smartphones and gaming systems, with detailed statistics on internet usage. A little more technical know how needed to setup, but site has complete instructions and FAQ’s on their website. As with OpenDNS, you don’t have the ability to use different filtering levels per user or device (at least I didn’t see that mentioned on ther web site). A new feature just added is the option to enforce YouTube Restricted mode.
SafeDNS is $19.95 per year after a Free 15 day trial.
Learn more: SafeDNS – Internet at Home
The following solutions replace your existing Wi-Fi router, rather than connecting to it.
Torch is a Wi-Fi router for the home that allows for setting an Internet bedtime, customizable content filtering, and the popular Internet “pause”. Torch will work with all your internet-connected devices, with management of the service performed through an iOS app or the web (Android app on the way.)
Torch started out as a Kickstarter campaign, and started shipping in October 2016. Torch is now available for purchase. (Some of the links mention availability only in certain countries, but it is not clear which countries, so if you’re not in the U.S. you may want to check).
Torch costs $249.99 with an additional monthly fee. However check their site for coupons and deals, for example right now pre-Christmas there is a $125 off code.
Learn more: https://mytorch.com
Luma is a replacement for your existing Wi-Fi router. Luma is designed to provide a faster, stronger, and more secure signal using three smaller units throughout your home. Luma also has parental control options built-in. These are similar to Circle, Koala and Torch – pausing the internet, daily time limits, and age-appropriate content filtering.
Luma costs between $149-$299 depending on how many of the units you need for your home.
Learn more: https://getluma.com/
(What these products don’t do)
These parental control tools cover every device in your home WHILE they are connected to the Internet over (such as a Wi-Fi connection). This means that iPhones or other smartphones connected using 3G or 4G would not be covered by these solutions. This could be a fairly easy workaround for kids using their phone. In those cases you may want to consider some of the monitoring tools installed directly on a device or that provide monitoring regardless of the type of connection. Circle has launched Circle Go to address this, and Torch is working on an extension of the product that will monitor devices on the go.
And, they won’t be able to report on activity that doesn’t rely on an internet connection. So if those features are important to you, have a look at this list of parental control tools for computers, tablets and phones as well. You might need to put together a combination of tools – I have yet to find one that “does it all”. But with Circle and Koala available with a one-time fee of $99, and some of the other tools free or low-cost per month, it can be done.
Overall I think these products are the solution that many parents have waited for, as multi-device ownership is now part of the reality for so many families. If you try any of these products or services, let me know what you think!
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