Net Nanny

Net Nanny Review: Parental Control Software

Parental Control Software
 
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Rating:
Bottom Line:
The best choice due to its smart block list, proxy-resistance, and good interface
Full Review:
5 2014-09-22 13:12:43

Net Nanny is probably the best-known parental control software product we reviewed. At $39.99 it's the cheapest, and with the release of version 6.5 it's also the best.

Net Nanny's interface is friendly and well-organized, and it's accessible from the program's control panel or remote login via a web-browser (so make sure you choose a really good password). You can choose from 31 categories to block, warn, or allow (Hate/Violence, Adult/Mature, Gambling, Intimate Apparel, Pornography, etc.). Unfortunately, it's not possible to remove words from Net Nanny's basic word list, but you can add them. The word and url list is automatically updated via Net Nanny's servers. You can't set maturity levels, which is unfortunate. While you can make exceptions to keywords, sites, or categories blocked, it'd be nice to have appropriateness levels for different age groups.

The filtering works pretty well, both from an adult and a teen user perspective. When testing this software we take both perspectives into account. As an adult you want harmful content screened out. As a teen or child you may want to see all kinds of things you "shouldn't" but at the very least you should be able to get around seeing the things you "should" see with minimal annoyances. Net Nanny did fine blocking most porn queries and sites. It showed very few false positives, correctly seeing "Enola Gay," "the Gay Science," "chicken breasts" and "sex linked differences" as clean. It did allow us to join an adult group on Yahoo! (we lied about our age), even though the actual adult group area was blocked by Net Nanny. Its hate filter was more problematic, completely blocking Google searches for "KKK," but allowing searches for "Nazi;" it seems to us that there are legitimate reasons for both searches. Hate is a difficult categorization for an algorithm, but we found blocking Wikipedia's entry on "Nazi" to be a little silly.

Net Nanny scored nearly perfect in our circumvention test. It was either able to identify and block proxy sites from loading, or block the illicit content we were using the proxy to try and view. We went beyond our standard set of proxy servers, and found it worked successfully each time. We did find that it occasionally would show Google caches of sites that Net Nanny blocked, but only if Net Nanny blocked the site based on the url. Net Nanny seemed to be good about analyzing the content of the cached page. Net Nanny will not filter content on 64-bit browsers, but administrators can restrict access to 64-bit applications.

Net Nanny did the best out of all of our test group at blocking images in web-based email. We tested it on Yahoo! mail, and it kept us from receiving images that had "adult" file names. But this is also one area where Net Nanny showed some false positives; we received erroneous pornography blocks for looking at a picture of an eagle, though we could eventually see it. A lingerie photo was visible as well when we gave it an innocuous title, though it unsuccessfully tried to block part of that email.

Of course all this activity is recorded in the log for later viewing. Net Nanny makes it very easy, with a fully searchable reporting mechanism that includes both searches and urls tried, both successfully and not.

While Net Nanny monitors a number of chats, it has no ability to monitor email. You can receive notifications of "warning" behavior when Net Nanny detects different behaviors such as use of profanity or acronyms such as MIRL (Meet In Real Life). You can set Net Nanny up to warn you, via email or text message, if your child exchanges certain types of information such as location and age, as well as sexual content. It's rather blind to files sent via Yahoo! Messenger though; they aren't even recorded in the logs. Net Nanny does have the ability to monitor profiles on some social networks: Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, Twitter, and Bebo. MySpace is not included, though parents can ban unsupported social networks.

While we didn't make peer-to-peer content filtering part of our testing, we did test Net Nanny's ability to stop bittorrent file transfers. We were pleased to see that it was able to block our download attempts when we used the popular uTorrent program.

Before we tested the 6.5 version of Net Nanny, we were hard pressed to recommend any parent control software. The changes in 6.5, particularly to circumvention prevention, make it a no-brainer. While no parental control software will ever block 100% of the inappropriate content out there, Net Nanny does a pretty good job. Of course, with 6.5 just out in early February, it'll be interesting to see if new circumvention techniques will be developed in the future. But right now, it's a pretty good product that parents can feel comfortable with, and that kids probably won't hate too much. They'll give you 30 days to try it out free, so you can see if that's true.

System Requirements: Windows 7, Windows XP, Windows Vista. Installs on 64-bit systems, but does not filter 64-bit browsers; Macintosh version available (but not reviewed)

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Service Details:

Cost:$39.99/yr

$19.99/yr additional computers
Programs Monitored:IE, Firefox, Chrome;
instant messaging on Facebook, MSN, Yahoo!
Special Features:Profanity masking; ratings-controlled gaming; picture, forum, blog controls
Social Network Monitoring:Profile reporting: Facebook, Bebo, Flickr, Twitter, YouTube; blocks unsupported sites
Reports/Alerts:Searchable web history reports; customizable real time cell phone/email alerts
Kid-Proof Rating:Excellent: succesfully blocks proxies and filters urls

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