WebWatcher is distinct in the parental control category for a few reasons. For one, it is not specifically aimed at the activities of children. And secondly, it's meant to run completely invisibly so the monitored user will not even know they're being watched. When they hit a blocked site, they'll be met with an error page almost indistinguishable from a normal connection error. That being said, since it's not for child monitoring in particular, it is extremely easy to circumvent with proxy websites.
WebWatcher is a somewhat pricey solution for parents looking to monitor their children's online activity. It costs $160 for a one-year license, or $99.95/year with NextAdvisor's discount. It's important to note that licensing after the first year is $67/year, so you get a little bit of a price break there. If you want to receive product updates throughout the year, which ensures the software runs smoothly with new third party applications (e.g. updates to web browsers), there's an additional $29.95 charge for its Unlimited Update Package. You also have the option to add on email alerts with e-Notify — so that your reports arrive to your e-mail inbox, not just your WebWatcher account — for $29.95. And if you don't want to install the software yourself, it offers a White Glove Service for remote installation for $19.95. All of its products offer a money-back guarantee if you're not completely satisfied, however, it will not issue a refund if you purchase a license for a device or operation system that it does not support.
Your first purchase also comes with 1,000 free "Smart Camera" screenshots. These are continuous screenshots which can be triggered by virtually any keyword combination. Although they're initially configured for web browsers, you can set them for email and chat monitoring as well. After you use up the allotted 1,000 screenshots, you'll have to pay $17 for another 10,000 shots if you wish to continue using this feature. You can also set screenshots to trigger when specific Alert Words are viewed or typed online; these types of screenshots are unlimited. You can monitor an unlimited number of devices with WebWatcher, however, you must purchase an additional license for each device. For example, if you want to monitor a smartphone on top of a desktop computer, you'll have to purchase an additional one-year license for the same price as your original license, which can get slightly expensive when compared to other software.
Since WebWatcher is meant to be truly invisible, there is no system tray icon or other mark that the application is on the computer. Instead WebWatcher is mostly administered via a web-based interface. You have to log in every time (and, annoyingly enough, accept the terms and conditions every time). However, there is a basic control panel that can be accessed via a hot-key sequence and password, allowing you to start and stop the various monitoring modules. This hot-key sequence is changeable in the preferences too, so you can make it something less obvious than the default.
Like other parental control software, WebWatcher works in two ways: blocking and monitoring. It's pretty good at both, but we should point out right off the top that it has trouble with proxies — big trouble. We were able to hit our set of proxy test sites with ease and could access content that should have been blocked.
When you load WebWatcher's interface you won't find any categories blocked by default. You'll have to manually select which categories you want blocked. The categories are diverse, and allow a fair amount of drill down so you can be truly selective about what you're blocking. This is one of the program's strong points, as it doesn't over-block like a lot of other parental control software does. For example, we were able to block pornography without blocking gray queries such as "chicken breasts" or "sex-linked differences." In fact we could block porn, but still get Wikipedia articles on sex education topics, which were complete with pictures. It's important to point out that you can also disallow sex education if you wish as well.
WebWatcher's monitoring is superb. It can record keystrokes, sites visited, searches performed, instant messenger chats and emails, and it can also be set up to take screenshots of a web browser when certain Alert Words are entered. These Alert Words, which users add using the web interface, are crucial to the workings of WebWatcher because they not only trigger screenshots, but can also help you efficiently go through the massive amounts of data it tracks within a day of web surfing. So, if you're concerned about your child or another member of your household accessing content about drugs, you can choose to just look at pages and emails that mention the word "drugs." Obviously, you'll want to add some variations on that theme to narrow it down. You get unlimited Alert Word screenshots with the purchase price, though as with all data on WebWatcher, it only stays online for 15 days.
It did well monitoring Yahoo! Messenger, Yahoo! Webmail and Windows Mail. According to the WebWatcher, it can monitor AOL Instant Messenger, Windows Messenger and MSN Messenger on all devices as well. However, the other social media networks it monitors are limited to certain devices. Facebook, Myspace, LinkedIn and YouTube, for example, are only monitored on PCs and Macs. The messenger app WhatsApp is only monitored on iOS devices and Instagram is only monitored on Android devices. This was frustrating because if you're paying for an additional yearly license for each device, you'd expect it to monitor the same applications and programs across the board. We did like the fact that both text messages and call log history are monitored across all mobile platforms — Android, iOS and Blackberry.
As we mentioned above, WebWatcher is easily stymied by proxies, allowing savvy users to surf pretty much invisibly. Even when you specify that proxies should be blocked, it does little more than block web pages that explicitly mention proxies. A bigger problem is that Alert Words that come up on sites accessed through proxies will not be detected, so no screenshots will be taken there. If you sift through the website reports, you'll probably be able to find something, but you may not know what if the Alert Words weren't detected — meaning Smart Camera wasn't triggered.
WebWatcher now has a way that you can receive reports via email, with its e-Notify add-on. This feature costs an additional $29.95/year and sends the full reports to a designated email inbox. WebWatcher previously only allowed its users to access these reports on its web interface. There is still no way to set text alerts or notifications for smartphones. It's also important to point out that these reports are only active for the last 15 days, so you'll want to make sure you're checking it frequently, before it's erased from your account log.
WebWatcher is available on Windows and Mac desktops and laptops as well as iOS, Android and Blackberry devices. The newest versions of its software for Windows are supported on Windows 10, but can still be used with Windows 8.1, 8, 7, Vista and XP, while Mac computers must be running OS X 10.6.8 or higher. As far as mobile devices go, it supports Androids with 2.1 and higher, iOS 6.0 to 9.3 and Blackberry 5.0 to 7.1.
You can contact WebWatcher's customer support team one of two ways — via live chat or through a toll-free number, both of which are available 24/7. Our live chat was answered almost immediately and the customer support representative was both friendly and thorough in answering our questions. We had a similar experience with the phone representative, so we were very pleased with its customer support team.
While WebWatcher has excellent customer support and is one of the best parental control software we've reviewed as far as monitoring and blocklists, we have mixed feelings about the product. On one hand, it has one of the smartest and most accurate blocklists we've ever seen, complete with discreet screenshots. On the other hand, it gives proxies a free pass, so its blocking techniques will not stop savvy users. It's also rather expensive, as you have to purchase separate licenses for each device you wish to cover. Given its focus on monitoring, WebWatcher seems more geared toward catching cheating spouses and slacking employees than it is at keeping kids away from inappropriate content online.
|Cost:||$160/yr or $99.95/yr |
|Programs Monitored:||Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome; Instant messaging on Yahoo!, AIM, MSN|
|Special Features:||Triggered screen shots; keylogger; runs invisibly|
|Social Network Monitoring:||Optional Smart Camera can record activity; monitors various social media sites, but restricted to certain devices|
|Reports/Alerts:||Saves data on web for 15 days; email alerts for an additional price|
|Kid-Proof Rating:||Poor: very open to circumvention|
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