SocialShield Review: Parental Control Software
|Sign up for SocialShield|
|Relies on your child's cooperation; friend monitoring is smart, but language filter is not|
Social Shield is an in-the-cloud social network monitoring solution with a novel approach: it relies on your child's cooperation. This may be a hard sell to your teen, and it's far from fool proof (kids can have two Facebook pages). On the other hand, it will monitor multiple social networking sites, no matter what computer or device your child may use.
To set up Social Shield, you enter your child's name, email address and some basic data (such as school) in order to make sure you'll get the right individual. Social Shield than sends an email to your child, notifying them that you want to monitor their activity on Facebook, Twitter, or MySpace (although it never found our twitter feed and got hung up when we told it that we didn't have a MySpace account). On Facebook, your child will have to install an app on their page, and accept the app's privacy agreements. If other social networks are found (Flickr, Friendster, etc.), you'll be notified, but there's not the same level of monitoring.
What is that level of monitoring? It comes in two parts: language and relationships. For the language monitoring, it relies on a pretty basic wordlist that pulls out red-flag words without regard to context. For instance, with our test account, we saw warnings about "cutting edge reporting," reading "Moby Dick," a comment that we "must be in heaven," and someone who was "taking another crack" at "Don Quixote" ("crack" being the watchword, though strangely enough "heroine" is not). Sure, there were also warnings about profanities, but the bar is pretty low when "crap" is considered a warning sign. Social Shield should do some work on its semantic detection so parents will not be deluged with innocuous status updates. There's also some latency, so don't expect immediate feedback. We posted purposefully racy and violent status updates (quoting liberally from Marcellus in "Pulp Fiction" as well as some song lyrics liberally laced with the profanity and drug references). Sweeps are supposedly done daily, but there seems to be a 2-day delay which, in Internet time, is a relative eternity. Activity is listed in a Facebook-like feed, and special email warnings are sent for a few select words (we were sent a warning about "die"). We also found an interesting way to frustrate the monitoring, but we won't share it here.
Social Shield does exhibit some intelligence in terms of its relationship analysis. Perhaps most impressively, it boasts an ability to check friends against 50 databases to verify their identities. We were notified that our test account was friends with individuals who seemed to be adults, something that's a concern to some parents. Unfortunately, if the individual has their information private, you won't find out much about them; really it's not the program's fault since it has to respect the privacy settings that individual Facebook users have selected. It's a similar story for the friendship connection analysis. Parents are warned if their child is friends with someone who has few connections to his/her other friends, the logic being that this individual may not be part of the child's circle of friends.
Social Shield is $9.99 per month, and covers the entire family. Prepay for the whole year, and you'll receive a 20% discount. They also offer a 60-day free trial, which will give you a chance to see how well it works for you.
There's been a lot written about the poor implementation of Facebook's privacy settings (some of it by us), but the difficulties inherent in SocialShield's implementation should be a testament to the platform's evolving efforts. It's made doubly difficult by Facebook's (rather understandable) stricter settings for minors. But other things are more in its control, namely its language filter and the latency. It seems to us that if your child is willing to accept the terms of having his/her Facebook activity monitored by you, you probably have a pretty great relationship and don't need this software.
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Here is NextAdvisor's review of SocialShield: http://www.nextadvisor.com/parental_con ... review.php