ByNeil J. Rubenking
When you think of parental control you probably get a mental picture of a browser window warning your child that a website is taboo due to porn or other unwanted content.
That’s certainly a common mode, but kids can also encounter nastiness, bullying, and other unwanted activities on popular social media websites.
ContentWatch’s Net Nanny Social tracks your child’s activity on a wide collection of social networking websites, and alerts you to potentially problematic posts and activities.
For $19.99 per year, Net Nanny Social lets you keep track of all your children on social media. Yes, you can get some degree of social tracking for free from MinorMonitor, but MinorMonitor tracks only Facebook and Twitter, and only tracks one child per account.
If you want to keep track of your kids both on social media and on the rest of the Web, the Net Nanny Family Protection Pass is quite a deal.
For $79.99 per year, you get 10 licenses for Editors’ Choice ContentWatch Net Nanny 7 plus an all-family license for Net Nanny Social.
Getting StartedGetting started with this service is a simple matter of signing up on the Net Nanny website. Once your account is created, you’ll have access to the Net Nanny Social online dashboard. Note that you can access the dashboard from anywhere, and that there’s no local client required on the children’s devices.
That means that whether your child logs in from a smartphone, a tablet, or a computer in the school library, you’ve got eyes on social media activity.
Facebook is the 800-pound gorilla in the social media realm, and Net Nanny Social naturally emphasizes Facebook monitoring. When you click the link to add a child, it first asks for the child’s name and email address.
Immediately thereafter, it asks if you know the child’s Facebook login credentials.
If you do, you simply log in and install the Net Nanny Facebook app on the child’s account.
If not, it can send an email to the address you specified, explaining the service and asking the child to install the app.
As a last resort, you can connect Net Nanny to your own account and monitor your child’s activity indirectly, as long as you’re friends with the child. Note that a clever child could hide any or all Facebook activity from you in this scenario.
As with any monitoring tool that relies on a Facebook app, Net Nanny Social can’t function without the child’s buy-in.
Disabling an app is just a matter of a few clicks. MinorMonitor also relies on an app to keep track of Facebook activity. So does Qustodio Parental Control 2015, but it has a neat trick.
If Qustodio’s app is disabled, it prevents the child from logging in to Facebook. Symantec Norton Family Premier tracks Facebook activity without an app; as a result it doesn’t get nearly as much information, and it can be temporarily bollixed after any Facebook update.
More Social MediaIn addition to Facebook, Net Nanny Social can track your child’s activity on Twitter, Google+, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and Linkedin.
To get you started, it searches each service for an account matching the child’s email address. You can also paste in the child’s profile URL, if the email search didn’t do the job.
Some social networks, notably Twitter, are all about making your thoughts and other content freely available. Net Nanny Social can check on posts and other Twitter account details without any help.
For others, Linkedin among them, just having the profile URL lets you view public information, while connecting directly with Net Nanny lets you dig deeper.
On the dashboard’s overview page, you see a list of the child’s monitored social networks.
There’s also a simple statistics block that shows how many profiles are connected, how many alerts the child has generated, and how many activities overall were noted by the monitor. You can choose to view those stats for just today, the last week, the last month, or over the whole time monitoring has been active.
Risky BusinessTo see just what your child has been up to, you’ll want to start by viewing alerts. Net Nanny Social aggregates posts and actions from all social sites whose content triggered an alert.
By default, Net Nanny alerts on eight categories of risky content: Vulgar language, Bullying, Sex, Drugs, Alcohol, Racist, Profanity, and Suicide. Parents can turn off any of these alert categories, or add alerts based on a parent-defined list of suspect words.
And you can choose to receive immediate notification of alerts via email or SMS. Note that the notification messages explain the reason for each alert, while the alert list online simply highlights keywords.
The exact mode of display for risky activities varies by network.
Tweets simply appear in their entirety, for example, while Facebook posts come with a link to view the original post in context.
If you determine that a particular post is innocuous, you can click a button to dismiss it; dismissed posts remain visible in the list of safe activities.
Activities List and MoreIn theory, any postings or other social media activity that might be risky or problematic will trigger an alert.
In practice, that might not be the case. Your at-risk teen might plan an in-person meeting with a shady friend without hitting any of the verbal tripwires, for example. On the full Activities page you can view all of the social media activity that did not getflagged by Net Nanny.
Activities for today, this week, or previous weeks display in one long list, with plenty of white space.
If your child is a prolific social media maven, you may find there are multiple pages of items. Scanning them all can take a while, naturally, so if you’re looking for something specific you can use the handy search bar.
I found, though, that doing so merely highlighted the search term, without indicating how many instances were found or navigating between instances of the found text.
You can also view all photos from the child’s social media accounts, or just view those that were flagged due to content or comments.
In a similar fashion, Net Nanny lists all of your child’s friends, showing their profile photos, and optionally lists friends that were flagged because they admit to being older than the parent-defined cutoff age (30, by default).
A Few ProblemsAs I mentioned, I connected Net Nanny with several of my own social media accounts, so as to get a feeling for its operation. One thing I noticed right away; it can take a while for online activities to register in the Net Nanny dashboard.
If you suspect that your child is planning to run away, or take some other risky action, don’t wait to see it in the monitor.
Go have a real-world talk now!
I hooked up Net Nanny to my Facebook and Twitter accounts on a Friday, figuring it would have the whole weekend to get up to date.
I found that even when it did capture account information, the Friends page only showed the people I follow on Twitter, not the much more interesting list of Facebook friends. My ContentWatch contact explained that an API change by Facebook in January erroneously disabled this feature for all new Net Nanny Social accounts. Until the two companies sort out this problem, new accounts won’t see Facebook friends.
Linkedin is among the social media types that Net Nanny can handle at two levels.
Given just the profile URL, it can report on everything that’s visible to the public.
If you connect the Net Nanny app to Linkedin, it can go deeper. However, each time I tried to do so, nothing happened.
Digging a bit revealed an error message related to the URL not matching a registered API key.
When I reviewed this product several years ago, it included a sentiment dial on each child’s overview page. Like the similar feature in MinorMonitor, this component aimed to identify whether the child’s overall posting style trended more toward negative or positive sentiments. My ContentWatch contact confirmed that this feature was removed, mostly because users didn’t feel it helped.
Best in a BundleSeveral years ago there were quite a few products in the parental social media monitoring area, but a number of them have fallen by the wayside.
Check Point dropped ZoneAlarm SocialGuard, for example. SafetyWeb and SocialShield are also gone.
It’s possible that parents just don’t feel the need for a monitor that only works if they have access to their children’s social media credentials.
Net Nanny Social can definitely be useful, but it has a few problems, like the Facebook and Linkedin glitches noted above.
It’s probably best used in conjunction with a full-scale parental control and monitoring tool like Editors’ Choice Net Nanny 7.
As noted, a $79.99 subscription lets you protect 10 kids with Net Nanny and all your kids with Net Nanny Social.
If you want your social tracking integrated with parental control, you could consider Qustodio Parental Control; if you don’t feel the need for social tracking, Symantec Norton Family Premier does a great job in other areas.
These two share the Editors’ Choice honor with Net Nanny 7.