ByNeil J. Rubenking
How well do you know your kids? You may feel sure they’re mature enough they won’t be scarred for life by accidentally viewing websites that a typical parental control utility would block.
But are they good enough at impulse control to avoid misusing their smartphones or social media? With a uKnowKids Premier subscription, you can keep tabs on your children’s social communication.
It’s an impressively complete product, with unusually comprehensive coverage on iOS devices.
At $100 per year, uKnowKids costs more than most competing products, but it does let you keep track of four children.
For each child, you can track activity on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and also track one Android smartphone and one iOS device per child.
If you’re convinced you’ll want this service for many years, you can pay $180 for a lifetime subscription.
Either way, there’s an additional one-time fee of $60 if you want to make use of the service’s impressive iOS support. You can try the service for one week without cost, but you do have to enter your credit card information to start the trial.
Do keep in mind that uKnowKids is strictly an informational tool, monitoring your children’s online behavior.
If you want to impose control over their behavior, for example, by blocking access to inappropriate websites, or by setting limits for time online, you should look at a more traditional parental control product like Qustodio Parental Control 2015 or Symantec Norton Family Premier instead.
Easy StartCreating your account on the uKnowKids website is just a matter of entering your credit card data to start the trial. Next, you’ll get the first of many friendly messages from the company’s hands-on CEO.
This message advises that setup is most easily handled on a computer rather than a phone, and goes into detail about what it takes to connect with the iCloud account for your child’s iOS device.
During setup, you’ll configure uKnowKids with the tracking data it needs. You start by entering the child’s name and birthdate (note that the program will only track children under 18).
If you’ll be tracking an iOS device, you enter the username and password for the corresponding iCloud account.
Don’t have that information? It may be time for a little talk, one that begins, “Well, I’m the one who pays for that phone…”
Going through iCloud gives uKnowKids an impressive ability to report on many activities, but real-time geolocation isn’t among them.
If you want to track your child’s location via iPhone, you’ll need to install the separate uKnowMobile app and link it with your account. On an Android device, uKnowMobile handles all tracking.
Next, you’ll enter your child’s login credentials for Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Clearly this only works if you have access to those credentials, or if you can get your child to enter them for you.
ContentWatch Net Nanny Social tracks those same three sites and adds Google+, LinkedIn, and Pinterest.
The free MinorMonitor just tracks Facebook and Twitter. Whichever of these products you use, full-scale tracking of Facebook activity only works if you get buy-in from the children.
A child who resents being tracked can just disable the app.
Qustodio does take steps to keep kids from turning off its tracking.
It simply doesn’t permit access to Facebook when its Facebook app isn’t installed.
That approach wouldn’t work for uKnowKids, as it doesn’t attempt to control or limit online activity, just track it.
To finish the setup process, you can optionally fill in data like the child’s email accounts, favorite usernames, and so on.
The Social Scan feature uses this information to locate accounts that might belong to your child on a variety of social networks (more about Social Scan later).
That’s it. Now you just wait for uKnowKids to sync your child’s data for the first time.
Email NotificationsThe various components of uKnowKids keep track of your child’s smartphone and social media activity, and email you a notification of any potentially risky communications. Problem words in the notification message display in underlined red, while slang terms that parents might not understand appear in underlined blue.
I appreciate the fact that uKnowKids clearly explains the reason for marking up each term.
I still don’t know why mentioning the Dallas / Fort Worth airport (DFW) caused MinorMonitor to freak out, because it doesn’t offer those details.
Each notification also clearly explains that the flagged communication might be perfectly innocent, and recommends that parents visit the online Launchpad for full details.
Even if the child’s activity doesn’t trigger any warnings, you’ll get a daily summary, and a weekly summary.
And, just to make sure you get off to a good start, the company sends out a daily “Digital Parenting Boot Camp” email for your first week.
One more thing.
If your child blocks uKnowKids from accessing a social media account, you’ll get a notification about that. Of course, it’s the last notification you’ll get until you convince the kid to restore access.
Online LaunchpadI don’t have any kids of the proper age, so for testing purposes I invented “Junior Rubenking” and associated that profile with my own Facebook and Twitter accounts.
I also connected it with my iPhone.
I didn’t actively test the Android edition because uKnowKids only works on Android smartphones, and the Android devices I have access to are tablets.
Fortunately uKnowKids on iOS does everything it can do on Android and more.
You can log in to the online Launchpad from any Internet-equipped device—it will make use of whatever screen space you’ve got. On a big-screen PC, you can see the entire Launchpad at once, while on a smartphone you see just one piece at a time.
Summary boxes at the top give you a high-level view of activity.
Icons at top left let you verify that the connections to your child’s accounts and devices are still active.
Another box reports on recent texts and images that generated notifications. You also get statistics on recent contacts, images, posts, and messages. Here “recent” means either the last 7 days or the last 30 days, your choice.
A large panel lists the child’s top 10 contacts, with a pie chart to show the relative frequency of contact.
Another list displays the most recent contacts.
In either case, pointing at a list item with the mouse gets more detailed information. You’ll also find a collage of the latest images posted, a small map showing the child’s most recent location, and a list of all recent activity.
Like MinorMonitor, uKnowKids graphs your child’s average daily online activity on a 24-hour scale.
If you see a ton of activity in the wee hours, you may want to have a talk about appropriate times for going online.
Activity FeedIn addition to the overall summary provided by the Launchpad, you can view a feed of all activity from all sources.
That could be a bit overwhelming, so the Feed page offers a variety of filters.
A number of items from the Launchpad make use of these filters.
For example, clicking the number of text notifications opens the Feed page filtered to show precisely the activities that triggered those notifications. You can also limit the view to items from a particular social media account, or launch a search.
Items on the Feed page display as rectangular cards, with contents varying depending on the action.
Image posts display as thumbnails, for example, while text messages, iMessages, and social media posts show the text. Phone calls only show duration.
A band across the bottom identifies the source.
When you click on a card, it flips over to display more information.
If it’s a text or social media post, the back gives you access to the full conversation.
The back also displays details about any words that were flagged as risky or as slang.
I’m impressed with this well thought-out display.
Social ScanThe full power of uKnowKids goes into tracking your children’s Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts, the ones you know about.
The kids might well have other accounts, hidden ones, or accounts on other social networks.
Social Scan helps you find those, with some limitations.
A product called SafetyWeb used to work in much the same way, before it got absorbed by Experian.
You start by listing your child’s favorite usernames, if you know them, and all the email addresses you know. You can fine-tune the search by adding the child’s school name and your city and state.
Then launch the search and sit back.
The program reports that it’s busy “sorting through 1+ billion online profiles” to find ones that might belong to your child.
The list of sites checked is impressive: Bebo, Facebook, Flickr, Formspring, Foursquare, Gaia, Google+, Habbo, Instagram, Last.fm, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Twitter, Xbox LIVE, and YouTube. When I ran the scan using a couple of my preferred usernames, it found quite a few. Most weren’t mine, but it did turn up a couple of legitimate ones that I had forgotten about.
The catch is, uKnowKids can only scan accounts that are public.
That makes perfect sense, but it also means that if your child has a secret non-public Facebook account, you won’t find it with this scan.
Family LocatorHave you ever tried to take a smartphone away from a modern teen? Right, it can’t be done. One thing you can be sure of, if you know the location of your child’s phone, you know where the child is.
As noted, real-time geolocation on iOS devices require installation of the separate (and tiny) uKnowMobile app. On Android devices, uKnowMobile handles all tracking.
The Family Locator page lets you see where your child is now, along with snapshots of prior locations.
Flip through the History list at right and you can see the markers light up, tracing out a path. You can also schedule check-ins, meaning that uKnowKids will notify you of the child’s location at specific times.
For example, a check-in scheduled a little while after school ends could let you make sure the child got home OK.
Geofences are another way to keep track of your child.
Creating a geofence is simple. You just click a location on the map and then drag to create a circle centered on that location.
Set the fence to trigger on entry or on exit and you’re done. You might create a geofence to notify you any time the child leaves the school grounds, or any time the child enters a forbidden area.
In testing, I had a little trouble with the Family Locator.
For one thing, geofences that I created by clicking a link on the current location marker weren’t saved properly; I had to click the New geofence button.
I also noticed some problems with location recording.
The current location panel on the Launchpad currently shows that I’m at a restaurant on the Sacramento River, where I had brunch yesterday. Yet the Family Locator page doesn’t show me there at all. My contact at the company explained that at present uKnowKids relies on Apple’s Significant-Change Location Service so as to avoid draining the battery on older iPhones by over-using the GPS.
A significant update for the Family Locator feature is coming soon, according to my contact.
For now, I suggest creating check-ins at significant times during the day, if you’re concerned about tracking your child’s location.
Update StatusThe first time you visit the Update Status page, you’ll get a warning that this is a beta feature.
Its purpose is simple—to give parents a way to verify that what they’re seeing in the Launchpad is current.
This is most important when an iOS device is involved, because there are various reasons an update might not have happened.
The Run Manual Update button is apparently supposed to trigger an iCloud backup, but I didn’t see that happen in testing.
The dates and times shown for other events aren’t necessarily correct.
I found that the iCloud Backup Date was right, but the Last Successful Update time was several hours in the future.
According to my uKnow contact, uKnowKids checks for new data from social media accounts every two hours, but judging from the stated times on this page you might imagine the interval to be six hours, or twelve.
This feature will be more useful as it evolves out of beta.
Mobile-Specific FeaturesWhen uKnowKids is installed on your child’s Android device or connected to your child’s iCloud account, it can report on various kinds of activity.
It captures data about phone calls made, received, or missed, and about SMS/MMS messages sent, received, or deleted.
It can report on all photos taken and photos shared.
Through it you can view your child’s contacts and installed apps.
And as discussed above, it keeps track of the device’s location.
Some products go even farther with mobile parental control.
Installed on an Android device, Norton gives parents full control over who their kids can connect with. Qustodio includes call blocking along with a panic button that lets your child instantly send a call for help.
Do remember, though, that uKnowKids is strictly a monitoring tool.
It doesn’t attempt to impose controls on what your child does online.
Most multi-platform parental control systems either omit support for iOS devices or offer limited functionality. Norton, for example, does little more than track location on iOS devices.
That’s because Apple just doesn’t allow the kind of device integration they’d need to offer the same kind of features you find in Android parental control systems.
Because uKnowKids gets most of its data by mining your iCloud backups, it can do everything it does on Android, and more, with the caveat that you won’t get new information until the next iCloud backup.
On an iOS device, uKnowKids adds a number of additional features.
It can capture iMessages just the same way it captures texts.
It can report on Twitter direct messages.
And it even records browsing and Web search history.
I was a little surprised to find that most of these mobile-specific data items don’t show up in the Feed page, even though that page specifically offers filters to display only mobile data.
If you want to see mobile-specific data, you’ll have to click the Apple or Android icon on the Launchpad to change the viewing mode.
When it’s in iCloud mode, the Launchpad displays five stats boxes: New Contacts, Recent Calls, Total Apps, Text Messages, and URLs Visited.
Clicking the Text messages box opens the Feed page with the necessary filter applied automatically.
Clicking any of the other four gets an awkward list that slides in from the right-hand side of the screen. When you point at an installed app, a new contact, or other list item, uKnowKids displays more detail in a popup window. However, I found that in many cases the popup blinked rapidly making it hard to read.
I’d like to see this mobile-specific information better integrated with the general data feed.
Powerful Social TrackinguKnowKids Premier doesn’t try to control who your kids chat with, what they post on social media, or where they go after school. Rather, it works hard to give parents insight into those activities, and it does a very good job.
I did find a few oddities in testing, but overall I was quite impressed.
If you’re specifically looking for a social media monitor, this is a great choice.
Our Editors’ Choice parental control products, ContentWatch Net Nanny, Qustodio Parental Control, and Symantec Norton Family Premier, monitor a wide variety of online activities, not just social media interaction.
They also allow you to set limits such as banning inappropriate websites and controlling just when the kids can go online.
That’s especially important for younger kids. When the kids get older, you might consider letting go of the reins and just using a tracker, like uKnowKids.