How do you keep kids safe online without constant supervision? I've been thinking a lot about this as my toddlers grow into Club Penguin and Pokemon Online and, although there are plenty of gadgets and services that promise to protect your kids, many are snake oil.
As a geek dad, I'm worried about two things right now: access to pornographic and violent content. Although most of the scare stories out there warn of Internet stalkers and/or perverts, there is little hard evidence that proves that your child is in danger of a kidnapping or worse due to an online interaction. Those usually happen closer to home and in real life. Although "To Catch a Predator" makes for some gripping television, there are no hard numbers that the biggest danger out there is unsavory characters. I'm more worried about unsavory websites.
That said, it's better to be safe than sorry. I came up with a three-part protection plan that almost anyone can follow.
First, cut Internet junk off at the source. OpenDNS Deluxe is a $9.95/year service that allows you complete control over what goes in and out of your home network. The OpenDNS Deluxe package includes a number of filters that block problematic content and you can also lock down browsing to a few specific sites in less than a minute. Because OpenDNS is a service, you don't have to install any software on your machines at home and it works on every computer on your network. You can bypass the security when you're ready to browse by yourself.
Second, get a browser for kids. If you have a Mac, grab BumperCar or try KidZui for Windows. This allows little hands to browse the Internet without much supervision. Smarter kids may brindle at being forced to use a non-standard browser and try to sneak around to use another one, but that's why we enabled OpenDNS.
Finally, and this is a bit extreme, but you can install a keylogger like Refog for Mac and Windows. A keylogger will store everything anyone types on the computer, and you can turn it off or only run it from a certain kid's account. This is obviously a solution for the overly paranoid but, as they say, better safe than sorry.
Generally, your goal is to remain healthily vigilant when it comes to the Internet, but without completely locking it down. Many filters are problematic in that they stop kids from visiting educational sites that may have been deemed risky by a group of censors but are useful for a school project or general research. Admittedly the best overall solution is to hover over the keyboard while they're typing, but for those times when you're just too busy to watch what they're looking at, these three steps should help give you plenty of peace of mind.
Image via RevDanCatt/Flickr