PocketGuardian is a parental control service for Apple devices such as iPhones, and Android smartphones. PocketGuardian is different from some other solutions. It analyzes your child’s texts and social media posts and only alerts you when it detects a potential problem, such as cyberbullying or sexting. This way, you can address issues without feeling like you are prying completely into your child’s online life. For parents who want the least intrusive monitoring method, Pocket Guardian is a good solution. PocketGuardian is also one of the only services that can monitor Snapchat.
How PocketGuardian Works
PocketGuardian set up
The first step is to sign up for an account on their website (you can try it for free for 30 days without entering any payment information). From there, you connect your children’s devices and social media accounts. You can connect Instagram, Twitter and Facebook accounts directly from the dashboard. These are included in the basic plan, along with web browsing history, SMS (text message) and iMessage monitoring.
With a PocketGuardian Plus plan, supported apps on your child’s device are automatically detected once you connect to the service. Some of the more popular apps for teens are included such as Snapchat, Kik, WhatsApp and Oovoo. Check the list below and on PocketGuardian’s website as there are some differences here between iOS and Android.
You can monitor as many devices and social media accounts as you wish for no additional cost – the monthly fee is per household, not per device.
The set up process for devices varies slightly between Android and iOS. I tested using an iPhone, which does not require installing anything on your child’s phone. You do need to know your child’s iCloud account and password, and the device needs to have iCloud backups enabled.
Set up was very easy, with instructions and prompts to guide you through the process, but I’d still like to see a general user guide available on the main dashboard. There is a FAQ page on the main site. I was able to connect without any issues. Again for iOS, you’ll need to be sure that the device has iCloud backups scheduled nightly.
Once set up, you’ll receive a confirmation e-mail so you’ll know that everything is working.
PocketGuardian Alert notifications
PocketGuardian starts to analyze text messages and social media accounts and notify you ONLY if it detects content that could be deemed questionable. This isn’t just looking for keywords – PocketGuardian is smarter than that! “Proprietary software determines the statistical probability that content in a given context is inappropriate”. You’ll receive an e-mail alert that tells you whether the message was sent or received, which device and app was used, and whether the content was considered sexting, bullying or inappropriate content. What you won’t see is the actual content.
You could have a few “false positives”. For example, during my testing I received an alert for possible sexting, sent from my iPhone (what, me?) Since the alert does include a time stamp, I was able to figure out which message triggered this alert. It was a reply I made to a photo where I referred to my friend’s new shoes as “sexy”.
You’ll have to decide how to handle the alerts. You won’t always have the context of a particular message (as in my shoe example) so you’ll need to check in with your teen. The e-mails include links to articles and resources that can help guide these discussions.
In addition to the alert e-mails, you can also view a device/account’s alert history for the past week, month, year or longer. This can be viewed by selecting an alert length for the device or account, then select “View Alerts” from the “Action” drop down button.
In the month I spent using PocketGuardian I only received three alerts. In addition to monitoring my iPhone as a test, I was also monitoring my daughter’s Facebook and Instagram accounts. I didn’t receive any alerts about those accounts, which is a good thing!
This did have me thinking about how I’d feel if no alerts were received the entire month. On the one hand, since you only receive alerts when something potentially “bad” has happened, there would be a sigh of relief. On the other hand, you might start to wonder if the service is working, or what you might be missing.
To answer that last concern, you will receive a weekly e-mail summary, regardless of the activity – even if there were no alerts that week. Also, PocketGuardian will detect if a child has removed or disabled PocketGuardian from accessing their social media account or device. If that happens, you’ll be notified and the account will be listed as “Inactive” within the dashboard. To re-enable PocketGuardian monitoring, you would just select “Re-Activate” from the “Action” drop down button.
Services that Pocket Guardian supports for reporting
As of this review in April 2016, PocketGuardian supports monitoring of the following apps – one of the only services, if not the only one, that currently monitors Snapchat and hidden “Vault” apps like Calculator%. Check their website carefully, as there are differences between iOS and Android and details for each app, and differences between the basic and plus plan.
- iMessage – sent and received messages
- SMS – sent and received messages
- Facebook – posts and photos
- Instagram – posted images and comments
- Twitter – tweets, mentions and direct messages
- Kik – sent and received messages
- ooVoo – received messages only for Android
- Calculator% – iOS only
- Calculator Pro – iOS only
- Jott – received messages only for Android
- Snapchat – unread and saved messages, iOS only
- Viber – received messages only for Android
- WhatsApp – received messages only for Android
In summary, PocketGuardian would be a good choice for those families who want to make sure their children are using social media, apps, and messaging appropriately while allowing for the highest level of privacy. This might not work for all families, as some may be in a situation where they’d like to more closely observe their child’s online activity. Every family has different reasons for adding a parental control service to their “digital parenting” toolkit. I can see this as a good choice for older teens especially or for any teen using Snapchat.
PocketGuardian is available from their website, with a 30-day free trial, and then a Basic plan for $9.99/month or Plus plan for $12.99/month. The cost covers multiple devices.
I’ve added PocketGuardian to my Comprehensive list of parental control options for computers, tablets, and phones.