Ask Adrian: Our technology editor tackles your trickiest tech problems
Question: My soon-to-be 13-year-old has just got his first mobile phone, an Android model. While I am conscious of downloading a suitable app to safeguard his potential exposure to explicit material, I'm looking for something that will also allow access to YouTube, the usual goofy content that appeals to teenagers. I don't want to totally censor his phone, just block explicit content of a sexual nature. What parental control apps would you recommend that specifically block access to porn sites? Is it the case that these apps provide an 'all or nothing' filtering system? Martha Giblin (via email)
Answer: No, if your main aim is to block adult websites with sexual content, there are some apps that will mainly focus on that without you having to go down the route of taking over everything on your son's phone.
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I will say, though, that most services available assume that you will want some extra features, such as service reports or social media kill switches or screentime control.
There are a handful of cheap or free options and some good paid versions.
If you want to try something that's free, I'd look at two contenders. Both include a solid basic version with more features if you're prepared to pay for a premium flavour.
Before I go into these, you should know that Android phones give you more parental control options than iPhones. This not only includes imposing limitations on the handset, but extends to monitoring the devices from your own phone or getting reports on what has been used or looked at.
In general, Apple doesn't let some of these apps drill down as far as they can in Android devices. Apple says that this is to protect the privacy of the person who owns the iPhone. (Cynics say it's so Apple can control its own software that tackles some of the issues.) The upshot of this is that you will have more effective control over your son's phone (or an ability to limit functions on it) if you're both using an Android device.
Now back to the apps.
One option is Qustodio. The free version of this gives you control over one child's smartphone, blocking all adult content and letting you monitor web and search activity and setting screen time limits. At this level you also get 'daily activity reports' on your son's activity if you really want to go that far. A premium paid version gives you more features, including location tracking, installation on several other devices (Android, iPhone, iPad, Mac, Windows although bear in mind that it is limited on iOS machines) and the ability to monitor SMS messages (I'm not sure how useful this is as kids don't really use SMS with each other). The paid versions cost €43 per year for five devices or €74 per year for 10 devices.
To me, this premium model is quite pricey compared to what you can get with other 'freemium' (free with an option to upgrade later) parental control apps.
Arguably a better value example is Kaspersky's SafeKids. Like Qustodio, there's a free basic version that will block adult content and give you a certain amount of control from your own phone. This includes apps usage control and screen time management. But where this app comes into its own is if you want greater depth, including location tracking and real time alerts when your son tries to access bad sites. Unlike other monthly subscriptions, this is a one-off payment of €13. This also allows you to put it on multiple devices. (Once again, bear in mind that this system, like most others, can't reach as far down into iPhones and iPads as it can into Android devices because of restrictions that Apple places on software like this.)
Lastly, you might want to consider iKydz, an Irish designed system that gives you a lot of control over a child's smartphone, tablet or laptop. This is an avowedly more premium setup and there are two flavours. A phone-only version called iKydz Mobile costs €5 per month. This lets you control and monitor your son's smartphone from your own phone. It's activated via the iKydz app you download to your own phone. You're then asked to scan a 'QR' code and install the system on your child's handset.
Once this is done, you can do things like set up block lists, including adult websites. If you want, you also control which social media services your son is allowed use or for how long. And there's a location-tracking element to it too, which is designed to give you peace of mind as to their physical security. It's designed so that it's very difficult to remove from your child's phone unless you do it.
However, that's aimed at mobile data on your child's phone. For Wi-Fi, the same company sells a separate product that costs €99 and works for any internet-connected device your son might use when on your home Wi-Fi network. This is called iKydz Wifi Home and it plugs right into your home Wi-Fi router.
One last point: ultimately, part of the equation is going to revolve around trust.
Recommendation: Kaspersky SafeKids (free with optional €13 premium upgrade; available from Google Play Store)
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