Sunday, January 01, 2012

Parental Controls on iOS and OS X: what we do now

A year or two ago I wrote about how Google and Apple have both failed Parental controls. Since then things have not gottenmuch better.

In response to a comment on an old post, this is the compromise I use for the children's accounts on iOS and OS X.

  1. Google is blocked. I find Bing searches easier to track and control because it doesn't use https.
  2. Children get our family Google Apps domain email through IMAP, not through Gmail.
  3. Children access our family Calendars from their iPhones, not from the desktop. (I could use iCal on the desktop, but iCal is one of the worst pieces of software garbage ever produced.)
  4. A 'Family and Learning' account can be accessed at any time. It has very limited net access, has WorldBook, has apps, iTunes, etc.
  5. Each child has their own account. Parental control is set to 'automatic'  with a few domains specifically allowed. I was never able to get domain specific filtering to work. After they are on the computer I review their browser history with them. They could of course delete specific browser pages, but I don't believe they have (the computer is very visible and public). I stopped reviewing log files because Apple's log file review UI is almost as crappy as iCal.
  6. Because iOS apps have so many back doors to webkit, particularly via ads, we don't use any 'free' apps. Safari is disabled. For now we allow iTunes despite the content it provides -- the boys are getting older.

This works for us, but Apple's Parental Control support is lazy and incompetent. They simply don't care.

Android/Google, as best I can tell, are worse. Note that Google Gmail explicitly states all US users must be 14 or over (COPPA partly, but really this is a Google copout). i don't think Android OS includes any default parental controls.

I don't know how Windows 7 does. I suspect it's a bit better. I can't find anything about parental controls in Metro/Windows Mobile.

See also:


mleduc said...

Hi Gordon. Just a quick note of thanks for sharing your experiences. I have a RSS feed for your posts and often find them worth a read.

Today's on parental controls is near and dear. The 11 year old got a ipod touch this christmas. His younger brother desperately wants to get one and got enough cash from family to get one.

So I'm battling the 11 year old over internet access and the 8 year old over whether he can spend his money on a device.

Anyway, when you disable safari, does that mean no internet browsing on the device? Likely not an issue for the next year or so as he's happy to browse the app store. However, I can sense the need to search the internet for answers, even if just to settle a bet with his dad.



Rob said...

Like Marc, I follow the blog too, I have a 13 year old. While I also used some of the techonlogy basics like OpenDNS and parental controls in the earlier years, I also focussed on instilling moral values into my daughter. At some point technology will fail, either inside your house or outside. Then you have to rely on the values you've given your children to carry them through. The combined approach makes a lot of sense and soon enough you'll find they can make good choices on their own if you've done your job right. Sooner or later they grow up. Into what depends a lot on you.

JGF said...


You've hit on one of my top 3 complaints about iOS. Disabling Safari doesn't disable webkit use (embedded browsers).


Most 'free aps' are ad supported, and from any ad link you get an embedded browser, and from there it's a few hops to Google.

So we don't allow any free aps.

Alas, many good apps (Wolfram Alpha for example) also have embedded browers as do several games.

We REALLY need Apple to fix this. I find it hard to believe it's not fairly fixable, they don't care enough.