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Parent checking their child's activity using Qustodio monitoring software
Qustodio

One of the biggest pitfalls of most parental control software is limited to a particular device or platform. Qustodio overcomes that by working across all your child’s devices.

How (and Where) It Works

If you’ve done any legwork researching different content filtering and app management solutions for your family, you’ve likely discovered something quickly. There are a ton of solutions that are pretty limited in scope. There are solutions that lock down web browsing, that lock down a single computer, or that work very well on a tablet or phone, but don’t work at all on computers—and then there are solutions that are some combination thereof.

Single device content filtering and monitoring might have worked well 10+ years ago when the only thing you were trying to keep an eye at home was a single computer. Today, however, many families have multiple devices and it’s not atypical for a child to have a computer, phone, and tablet depending on their age and the amount of tech in their household. If the goal is to keep your kids away from adult content and keep an eye on their app usage, then clearly a PC-only solution isn’t worth anything if they can just pick up their phone or tablet and do whatever they want unsupervised.

Above all else, this is where Qustodio, a flexible content filtering and application management tool, really shines. While the free account is limited to a single device (perfect for testing if the product will meet your needs or if you only need to secure a single device like your child’s iPad) a premium account allowed for cross-platform functionality across multiple devices. Armed with a premium plan—$54.95 a year for 5 devices, $96.95 for 10, or $137.95 for 15—you can get the same protection on your child’s computer (Windows or macOS), Android and iOS devices, and even Kindle tablets.

Not only does it work on all those different operating systems and devices, but it works across the entire device. No matter what app or web browser your child uses, the Qustodio system covers it. Using a different web browser, private browsing mode, or other workarounds that would defeat other more simplistic systems won’t work.

On top of all that, Qustodio also offers additional features like application use time tracking, application blocking (with rules and time settings such as restricting games or video apps during homework hours or bedtime hours, for example), social media monitoring (currently limited to just Facebook), mobile location tracking, and, on Android only, SMS monitoring and a panic button.

Qustodio achieves all this by combining on-device applications with administrative profiles for those devices to control access to restricted content and applications in a more granular way than many other tools can achieve. Let’s take a look at how to set it up, what daily use looks like, and what we thought of the whole experience.

Setup

Despite how sophisticated the system is under the hood, the setup process itself is extremely easy. That’s how it should be: you shouldn’t need to have a degree in computer science to secure your children’s devices.

Every Qustodio setup has two parts: the parental control account and the application installed on the child’s device(s).  To get started you simply need to create a parent account either on the website or using the control app on your phone or tablet.

Once you’ve created an account you then create a profile for your child with basic information: their name (or nickname), age, and gender. You can select an avatar for your child but you can’t upload a photo like some other profile systems.

Basic profile in place it’s time to head over to their devices. On computers, you just visit the website and download the software and on supported mobile operating systems, you visit the app store and download the app.

After launching the app, you log in with the parent account and assign the device to the child profile it belongs to. In addition to assigning the profile, on mobile devices like phones and tablets you’ll be prompted to authorize some additional changes to the device to allow Qustodio tighter control over it. On iOS, for example, you authorize the installation of an administrator profile that will help the company manage and protect that device might in the same way that when you get a company iPhone through work that device is often remotely managed and locked down by your IT department.

Finally, while they never mention it during the app setup process, if your read over the company’s blog and documentation they do mention an additional tool that isn’t explicitly part of the software package but provided by the company: the Qustodio Family Digital Agreement (PDF).

It’s a printable “contract” you can go through with your kids as a way to discuss internet safety, good device habits, and get their buy-in, so to speak, into an action plan for safe internet and device use. If you’re struggling for a way to talk to your kids about using a filter/monitoring tool, or just internet safety in general, it’s a really useful tool for starting the discussion. While you’re at it, you can also check out their resources for parents section.

Daily Usage: Qustodio in Action

How you use Qustodio on a day-to-day basis is highly dependent on your family’s needs, the age of your child, and what you’re trying to get out of the experience. If your only goal is to filter clearly objectionably content so your child can’t accidentally (or purposely) access pornography or other inappropriate content, using Qustodio is more or less a fire-and-forget operation that locks down access.

But if you want to use Qustodio as a behavioral management tool to help your child better manage their screen time and app usage, it’s a great hands-on tool for that too. Let’s break down how the different features work.

App Monitoring and Restrictions

On both computer and mobile platforms, Qustodio will monitor and report on application usage. Here’s what the dashboard chart (showing all activity across all devices) looks like:

In addition to telling you which apps your child uses on their phone, tablet, and computer, you can also set app-based restrictions that range from “they can never use this application” to “they can use this application on these days at these times”. You can set these restrictions from both the web-based family portal and the app with ease.

While the web portal is a tad dated looking (but perfectly functional) and sort of resembled a corporate time clock, the mobile app, seen below, has a much more polished modern look.

For the most part we found this functionality to be straight forward and useful—it was easy to see which apps had been used and the interface for setting rules and restrictions is simple—but there were a few things we’d love to see in terms of increasing the usefulness of the reports.

It would be great if you could choose to ignore and/or combine some apps. For example, the app reporting for desktop computers is super thorough (so thorough that it even recorded stuff like the use of calculator.exe and the Nvidia drive update app). If that kind of stuff wasn’t of interest to you, it would be nice to filter it out. Also, it would be nice to combine things together (for example, combining time spent in a game launcher downloading or picking out games with the games play itself).

Very minor suggestions aside, though, the monitoring and rule/restriction setting worked exactly as expected and we have no complaints about the core functionality.

Web Monitoring and Restrictions

Web activity and restriction work almost identically to the app system. You see what sites they have visited, if they have attempted to visit any restricted sites, and you can easily block, allow, or otherwise restrict content.

In addition to that on the main dashboard, there is a word cloud of search terms and you can drill down to individual search queries by looking at the detailed view for search engines (like google.com and bing.com, for example. There you’ll see exactly what your child searched for like “how long was FDR president?” or the like.

Hilariously, as we discovered, you might find out that your child has learned that typing an entire homework question into Google is a great way to get focused answers (in case you find yourself wondering why exactly your kid searched specifically for “What were the economic impacts of the Dust Bowl on the Kanas economy in the 1930s?”  in between “how to build a Minecraft cactus farm” and “cute puppy videos”).

Social Media, Message, and Location Monitoring

While the app and web stuff is pretty straight forward, this is where things get a little bit more complicated and, as a result, trickier to implement consistently across devices.

Qustodio can, for example, monitor SMS applications on Android devices but it cannot, because of security restrictions and how the messaging app is implemented, monitor SMS messages on iOS. The same goes for phone call monitoring. On Android, it will report a call log, on iOS it will not. Location tracking works on both platforms, but it works better (again because of underlying operating system differences) on Android. There is a panic button function, but that only works on Android too.

While it can track Facebook usage (including wall posts and who you who your child talks to, but not what they say to each other) it does not monitor any other social media. It will, however, report social media application usage just like it would report any other app and allows for the restriction and blocking of those apps. You can’t, for example, see what your child said on Snapchat but you can see how long they used it and block the app.

Daily Reports

As we noted above every family will find different aspects of the service more useful in regard to how they align with their needs. In our testing, conducted with an actual child, we found the daily reports to be the most useful as our primary focus wasn’t on locking down apps or web content but helping the child learn to manage their own app usage.

To that end, the daily reports were super helpful. In addition to the ability to pop into the parent dashboard at any time using the mobile app or website, the parent account gets a daily email digest that shows which apps were used and for how long, which websites were visited, Facebook posts, and other aspects of the child’s user experience monitored by the service.

These daily reports proved to be incredibly useful when it came to sitting down with our willing test subject and talking about app usage, planning time for homework properly, and good sleep hygiene habits like not using YouTube to fall asleep. We have a strong feeling you’ll find the daily report to be pretty useful too, regardless of your motivation for using Qustodio.

The Verdict

After testing the service with children of different ages and with different families, we have nothing but positive things to say about the service. It worked well with elementary school kids and equally as well with older kids.

Any complaints we have (like wishing we could combine apps together into categories for more useful reporting) are very minor in the grand scheme of things and Qustodio delivered on exactly what was promised: easy app and web monitoring with additional handy features, like location monitoring, thrown in on top.

The range of features (and the flexibility in using them) ensures that the service isn’t just for small children or just for older kids, but can be used—by adapting how you apply it and how you talk about using it with your child—as the child grows.

Qustodio Review: Flexible Cross-Device Parental Control Software was orginially posted by Jason Fitzpatrick

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