Best Free Parental Filter

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Introduction

Parental control software makes it harder to find inappropriate material on the Internet or to do things that "parents" don't want. The criteria I've used includes these four main components of parental control plus compatibility with browsers and operating systems:

  • Block addresses – to avoid specific Internet addresses (URLs or IP addresses);
  • Filter content – to identify inappropriate material;
  • Manage usage – to limit Internet access by setting time limits and time quotas
  • Monitor activities – to see what has happened with alerts and reporting.

Most of the products and services I've reviewed provide similar levels of blocking. They do very little, if any, online filtering for other content. This is because the block lists are created offline from content filtering done on the providers' servers.

I'm separating the discussion into two groups to clarify a key difference based on the breadth of activities that can be managed:

  • Gateways or Proxy Servers only need simple configuration changes on your PC or router. They don't manage usage nor a wider range of device activities. They also have a major weakness which makes the controls easy to sidestep: the DNS configuration can be changed just as simply as it was setup.
  • Software is installed on your device to provide a wider range of parental controls. Time limits and quotas are usual. Some can filter or monitor much more than just web surfing: email, instant messaging, internet chat, and games. Plus there are a few more features to deter users who want to avoid the controls. For example, passwords are usually required to alter the configuration or uninstall the product.

 

Parental Filter Gateways

OpenDNS  

Find web pages for you and check its database to find out if the webpage needs to be blocked


Our Rating: 
3
License: Free (Private/Educational use)
Web based service works with all platforms; fast, effective blocking; faster browsing for many.
Too easy to avoid; one profile on each PC; some technical knowledge required; no desktop controls.
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Parental Filter Software

Norton Family  

Parental filtering and monitoring for web surfing, social networks, email, instant messaging and contacts


Our Rating: 
3.5
License: Free (Limited features)
Comprehensive; multiple profiles on each device; settings stored with your account.
The paid version is needed for time quotas and useful reporting; unblocking is time-consuming.
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K9 Web Protection  

Simple and effective web filtering with safe searching


Our Rating: 
3
License: Free (Private/Educational use)
Simple and effective; highly customizable.
One profile on each device; slower browsing; no controls for email, IM, games, etc.
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Windows Live Family Safety  

A part of Windows Essentials from Microsoft for free


Our Rating: 
2.5
License: Free
Filtering works well; consolidates reporting across multiple PCs.
Controls depend on your Windows version (and its parental controls) and using Microsoft products.
Read full review...

Other Parental Filters

This is the extent of current programs I tested:

  • SafeSquid for 1-3 users is a free version of a corporate product that is not for non-technical users. Once you have installed it you must customize It to make it useful. There is a lot of documentation to help you and there are some useful downloads to get filtering and safe search working. I tried it and found the filtering very effective. You can run it on a gateway or individual desktop and there are numerous network configuration options.
  • FortiClient  has a Web Content Filter component that can be installed without the complete package. Again, this is part of a corporate product. That's probably why it has the best and largest selection of filter categories that I have used: 83 categories in total. Blocking performance was comparable with the recommended products but it didn't enforce safe searching and reporting is limited to a log file.
  • Microsoft Windows Parental Controls built into Microsoft Windows are increasingly more comprehensive but virtually useless in Windows XP. The only safe way to use it is with unrated pages blocked which means you will go crazy with the Content Adviser pop-up asking if you want to view the unrated page. Windows Vista and Windows 7 are far more useful being the basis for Windows Live Family Safety.

I don't recommend using browser add-ons for parental control because they are so easily bypassed. They do not work with all browsers and don't have enough features.

  • Parental Control Bar is a good example. It has website filtering with block lists and allow lists but no reporting, alerts, time restrictions, or filtering of email, internet messaging, etc. It installed a faulty add-on to Firefox, the KidTrackmonitor didn't work, and it has not been updated since September 2007.

I also looked at the following free child-safe browsers. I cannot recommend any of them for their parental controls.

  • KidzCD has a range of child-friendly browsers and they recommend Kidz Protection which manages access to software.
  • Kido'z has a trial version that you can use indefinitely but which does not provide access to the parental controls unless you pay for a subscription.
  • Kidrocket which appears to be unsupported.

 

Related Products and Links

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Editor

This software review is copy-edited by Glyn Burgess. Please help edit and improve this article by clicking here.

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Comments

I've been using OpenDNS and like its features....EXCEPT:

1) I can't bypass the site by typing a password.

2) When OpenDNS blocks a site, I'm giving the domain, but I'm not given the full URL. This is a problem because when I'm doing a search, I open a bunch of tabs, then I look through the tabs to read. But when OpenDNS blocks a site, it doesn't give me the full URL. So when I do bypass the site, I have go back to my search and fetch the results again. This is the main reason why I'm looking for an alternative.

3) The whitelist has a limit that is too small for me.

Does anyone know of a good easy to use FREE Kids Safe Browser for an Android device for which it is easy to add a long list of URL sites?
Thank you.

I've been using K9 for a month or two but now have uninstalled it. I ran into two problems that made the use of K9 unacceptable to me.

First, it persistently blocked me from downloading a file from a site I use all the time for downloading/uploading. I could not figure out how to unblock this particular URL. I know if I'd been willing to invest more time, maybe I would have figured it out. But in this case, I did not have the luxury of time, and K9 was interfering with what I wanted to get done. Without an obvious way to override the block, I had to get rid of the app.

Second, K9 caused my default browser to "act funny". Specifically, whenever I would reboot my PC, Firefox would open ON ITS OWN and display the website msn.com. Note that msn.com is NOT my default browser home page. For a long time, I was blaming Microsoft for this nefarious action, however, after I uninstalled K9, Firefox quit doing this. So, it turns out K9 was the culprit. I didn't know this until after I uninstalled K9.

I was using K9 for personal protection against stumbling onto a website that might install malware on my PC or compromise my personal information in some way. I was NOT using it to protect me against seeing certain types of content. Therefore, my experience with K9 made it unacceptable to ME. Other situations will be different (e.g., using it for parental or workplace control), so what I personally find to be an unacceptable trade-off might not be a problem for someone else. So, I'm just putting that out there so you, the reader, can evaluate my comments in the light of your own situation.

Link "Best Free Web Site Link Checker" seems quite unrelated to the topic of this article.

I don't know if you have children yourself. If you have children then most of us parents spend a lot of time trying to get our children to learn responsible behaviours and to take responsbility for their own security. If you are successful then you don't need many of the parental controls because your children are able to ensure their own safety. An Internet link checker is one way to do this when web browsing. Likewise automated Internet safety checks which is another link.

Four years on from when this article was last updated, there are some newer security articles on the site that would also be linked to as well if I was still editing the article.

I agree. However, "Best Free Web Site Link Checker" is about checking for dead links, not link safety.

Some of the link checkers listed all the links not just indicating those that were broken. I presume that they still do -  LinkChecker was added about that time and it was one that did. That was the quickest method to see what other websites were linked to. Parents could use this method if they wanted more info before blacklisting or whitelisting a domain. I'm not sure that Internet Safety Checks have totally removed the need for this.

 

Is working fine for me. MC - Site Manager.

This one seems polished.

http://www.qustodio.com/en/

Probably the finest app in this category. Found it today, and I was setting it up on my nephew's PC :)

Let me add more to it.

OpenDNS is good but how difficult is it to bypass it ???? it takes less than 20 seconds to bypass it. your kid does not need to access the router . samge goes with any toolbar addons. if you want it secure you need to have multiple security layesrs. like:
1. OS: accounts with limited access so user can not make changes to network settings
2. Software: Good/Decent security products (like avast/etc...)
3. Network: if you are really concern decent/clever router which can do more clever things.

I can go on about this for days but the point is as some people mention here it will be really hard to control kids as they are getting more clever. if they want it they will find away around it. I am an I.T speciallist and have 2 boys and my god they are making it very challenging for me :)

i've tried them all. use k9 if you want to completely stop porn from tech knowledgeable teens etc. opendns has some benefit but can be easily circumvented, as can Norton. plus, stopping all googles cached nude pics is the hardest and k9 does it. that said, k9 digs into your computer very, very deeply: but ran smoothly for me. opendns and norton were easy to set up on my router, to protect all wireless devises. k9 can't do this and must be set up on each computer independently.

This category looks at web filtering and doesn't attempt to describe how to child-proof a computer. That is why most of your points are not discussed here. But those issues are covered in many other articles on this site. Regarding OpenDNS, the article mentions that such products/services are easy to bypass: "1. Gateway or proxy servers only need simple configuration changes on your PC or router. They don't manage usage nor a wider range of desktop activities. They also have a major weakness which makes the controls easy to sidestep: the DNS configuration can be changed just as simply as it was setup."
Kidbox - browser for kids, aged 2 to 8: http://www.kidbox.net/en/index.php

I'm a PC tech and for a period of a few years starting around 2005 we recommended the Blue Coat K9 Web Protection to dozens of our home users. The application was advertised as "free and lifetime" for that group. Lo and behold all these years later, Blue Coat (without notice) decided to pull all these licenses the week prior to April 15th. Because the license pull cuts off Internet service, our customers are frantic because some really need their PCs prior to tax filing day. Most of these users remain--and always will--novices when it comes to anything but the basics with computers. We've had to coach dozens through the process of uninstalling the application. AVOID THIS APPLICATION AT ALL COSTS!

It surprises me that no one mentioned [edited] as a parental control solution. I've been using for the largest part of the last decade and it really is one of the most complete solutions out there. My kids are now growing out of this, but they still use it as their starting point and managing their permissions is very easy and dispenses any sort of over the shoulder parenting. A solid recommendation for this one.

This is a freeware site. Please do not mention/recommend/suggest commercial software. This is not allowed. Keep the suggestions to freeware only please.