Lifestyle

Parental controls: monitoring your children’s virtual whereabouts

Tech Talk

A few weeks ago, we addressed the complex nature of the online social networking community called MySpace. In that article, we referenced parental controls and how to find out more about them in order to provide online safety for children.

Apparently, we struck a chord, as the questions are still coming in and every inquiry is focused on the subject of parental controls. So, as dutiful columnists looking out for the best interests of the readers and their families — this is our response.

The previous article included two Web sites specializing in parental controls and information: www.software4parents.com and www.k9webprotection.com. These two sites are recommended by MySpace; however, the list of software specializing in Internet security and, more specifically, parental controls and monitoring is long.

A very popular and well-supported program is Net Nanny. You can find out more about it at www.netnanny.com. Additionally, head over to www.parentalsoftware.org and look at its offerings, SniperSpy and WebWatcher. Also, Sentry Remote, KidsNet, Spector Pro, Eblaster 3.0, Spector Classic, Enuff and IamBigBrother are offerings that you may want to look into to provide yourself with a well-rounded perspective of this important subject. Simply use your favorite search engine to locate the URLs for these programs. Keep in mind, product reviews are subjective and user experiences vary. Do your research and determine which program seems to fit your needs. Most offer a free trial so that you can “try before you buy.”

Before moving on — and in the tradition of providing valuable resources to the readers of Tech Talk — we would like to make mention of a free program that can be installed in your browser as an always accessible toolbar. It is called FreeShield and can be found at www.freeshield.com. There is a bit of a learning curve here; however, it is a good solution for a hands-on and moderately tech-literate computer user.

As with any software, consult the system requirements for the program that you are interested in and be sure your computer is up to the task.

Now, on to the business of monitoring.

Any security software program must adhere to a set of parameters in order to do its job. While most Internet security and monitoring programs have a default set of keyword parameters, they are also equipped with a set of user-configurable controls. The real strength of these programs can be found in their customizability features. However, be forewarned — these programs are quite literal in their implementation of user-directed commands. For instance, if you choose the word “sex” as search criteria and disallow any site with that word, you are effectively eliminating any reference to “sexually transmitted diseases,” “safe-sex practices,” etc. Needless to say, a bit of planning and forethought is advised.

Lastly, as sophisticated as the World Wide Web has become, it is still a vast environment with ambiguous boundaries between appropriate, inappropriate, safe or unsafe information and media.

Take care; it is a virtual jungle out there.

Wayne Nelson and Jeremy Self own and operate Wired Northwest LLC in Redmond. Submit your questions to: techtalk@wired-nw.com. (206) 788-7975, 788-7898.

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