A number of parental control companies I used to follow have closed up shop, but I’m also seeing new ones popping up.
Familoop Safeguard is one of this new crop of parental control products, and it’s definitely aimed at the modern multi-device family, with support for Windows, Mac OS, Android, and (to a greater extent than many competitors) iOS.
Familoop boasts an impressive feature set on the PC, but it may be a little bit too new; not everything worked as designed in my testing.For $39.99 per year, you can install Familoop on three devices.
There’s no limit to the number of child profiles you can create, and a Mac OS or Windows device still counts as just one device even though you can associate a child account with each user account.
For $69.99 per year you get 10 device licenses.
ContentWatch Net Nanny 7 swings the other way, with unlimited devices and a fixed number of child profiles.
A $79.99 per year subscription gets you 10 child profiles. Qustodio Parental Control 2015 costs $44.95 per year to protect five children on five devices.
And Symantec Norton Family Premier, at $49.99 per year, doesn’t apply any limits to the number of devices or child profiles.
Kids and DevicesAs with Net Nanny, Qustodio, Symantec Norton Family Premier, and other modern parental control systems, Familoop’s configuration and reporting take place entirely online.
To get started, you sign up for an account. Note that there’s also a 10-day free trial available.
Next, you configure a profile for your child.
After you specify name, gender, and date of birth, Familoop sets the initial configuration to match the child’s age. You can also choose one of nine built-in images or upload a photo of your own.
With the child’s basic information in place, you now start adding devices. On a Windows or Mac OS device you simply download the tiny local agent and log in to your Familoop account. On a mobile device, you get the app from the appropriate app store.
In testing, I found that the devices appeared quickly in the online console. Like most of the competition, Familoop assumes that a mobile device belongs to just one child.
The unusual Circle with Disney gadget necessarily assigns even Windows and Mac OS devices to one child as well, which may be problematic for some households. Like Qustodio, Familoop gives you a choice. You can identify the entire device as belonging to the child, or just choose one user account. Once you’ve added all the child’s devices, you proceed to configure protection rules.
It’s important to add the devices first, because some of the rules differ on different platforms.
Familoop selects a default set of rules based on your child’s age: Kids under 13, Teens 13-15, or Mature 16-17. You can also choose Accountability, described as “Limited monitoring without blocking.” And of course, if you change the defaults you’ll have a Custom protection level.
Content Filtering With a HitchFiltering out gross and inappropriate Web content is a priority for most parental control programs, and Familoop is no exception.
The protection rules page summarizes what sort of Web content protection your child experiences, but you’ll want to click to open the Web content protection panel for full details.
Familoop displays over 30 content categories initially.
If you click Show all categories, the list expands to nearly 80.
Each category is marked Unsafe (red), Iffy (yellow), or Safe (green). When your child tries to visit an Unsafe site, Familoop blocks the attempt and notifies you by email immediately.
Iffy sites don’t get blocked, but you receive a daily summary of visits to those sites.
In testing, I couldn’t find a pornographic or otherwise unacceptable site that Familoop didn’t block. However, I had no trouble connecting to a secure anonymizing proxy.
Doing so let me surf anywhere without control or monitoring by Familoop.
Digging deeper, I found that the Proxy category was merely marked Iffy.
I pointed out this loophole to my contacts at the company and they quickly changed the Proxy category to Unsafe.
A simple three-word command that disables Alvosecure Parental Control and a few others didn’t faze Familoop when I tried it.
However, this product has one great big flaw—it is not browser-independent.
It only supports Chrome, Firefox, and Internet Explorer.
All your kid needs is an unsupported browser, perhaps Opera or Vivaldi, to evade content filtering.
I do like the way Familoop displays Web activity in its console.
Each domain visited or blocked gets a rectangular card that displays the domain, the relevant categories, and time of the most recent visit. You can click for details of all the pages visited on that site.
Some products, Alvosecure among them, just list all URLs visited, directly or indirectly, which can be overwhelming.
Each card features a star icon and a bell icon. You can click the bell icon to turn off notifications for a particular site.
The star icon doesn’t mean it’s a favorite. Rather, you click the star for items that you want to discuss with your child. When you’re ready for that discussion, you can bring up a page that simply contains all of your starred items.
Manual Screen Time ControlFamiloop’s online console offers a chart of your child’s device usage, but it doesn’t attempt to set a daily or weekly time limit, or set a schedule for Internet time.
The company plans to add a feature that would let parents allow or ban certain actions during school time and bedtime, but that’s not in place as yet. You also won’t find the usual weekly grid for scheduling use of the Internet, nor the daily or weekly cap on screen time.
Instead, Familoop offers parents a button that puts the child on electronic time-out. On the Android tablet I used for testing it did prevent all activity. However, on Windows 8.1, it was less effective.
The time-out window filled about half the screen, and covered up any other program windows, but I could still run programs and interact with them around the edges of the cover-up window.
In addition, any modern Windows apps simply covered up the time-out window. My company contact confirmed the problem with modern Windows apps; they’re working on it.
As for iOS, the timeout portion of the app behaved strangely in my testing.
Sometimes it did nothing, other times it made the icons for browsers vanish. My company contact confirmed this as a bug. iOS devices should display the timeout warning just the same as Android devices.
They’re working on this as well.
Search ControlFamiloop can force Safe Search in Google, Yahoo, Bing, and YouTube.
Inappropriate searches just get filtered out. Of course, a smart child could switch to DuckDuckGo, StartPage, or another unsupported search portal.
Back in the online console, you can choose to view online searches.
In this view, each search site displays as a card, and clicking for details lets you see what your child searched for.
In testing, I found this feature lacking.
For example, it correctly identified ChaCha as a search engine but did not record my searches.
DuckDuckGo got categorized as Other, and it placed IxQuick’s StartPage in the Iffy category Occult. Only my Google and Bing searches actually got recorded.
Fooling Program ControlBack in the online console, in the settings dialog for each child, there’s a page for Time & App restrictions.
As noted, the time part isn’t here yet. Your only choices for blocking particular programs or program categories are currently Always and Never.
Familoop lists over two dozen program categories that you can choose to block, among them Books/Comics/Reference (an odd collection), Messengers, and Social Networks. Perhaps more useful, you can switch to blocking programs by name.
This could be a solution for the fact that content filtering doesn’t work in off-brand browsers. Just block them, right?
Alas, this feature is easily duped.
As with McAfee Family Protection 2.0, Alvosecure, and a few others, all your clever child needs to do is copy the browser application and give it a new name, say, copying chrome.exe to cheeseburger.exe.
The renamed browser is free of Familoop’s blocking. Program control in Microsoft Family Safety for Windows 10 and Qustodio can’t be fooled by that simple trick.
Back under the protection rules, there’s an option to set the maximum allowed rating for apps and games on Windows, Mac OS, and Android. Under iOS, you can also set a maximum rating for movies and TV shows.
I didn’t find a way to fool this feature.
Capturing CommunicationsYou can see on the configuration page that Familoop is designed to monitor Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. My contact at the company pointed out that the connection to social media needs to happen first on a Windows or Mac device before it will work on a mobile device.
I dutifully logged in to Facebook and made a few posts and comments.
They never showed up. Over the course of several days I tried this again and again, on Windows, Android, and iOS.
I also logged in to Twitter and sent a few tweets.
The Social Feed report eventually showed my tweets as well as a video I watched on YouTube, but nothing from Facebook.
In my experience, this feature doesn’t work, and Familoop tech support couldn’t figure out why.
When I first looked at Familoop, the settings page indicated that it could capture the child’s Web-based email messages on Gmail, Hotmail, AOL, and Yahoo.
In my testing, it never did. My company contact confirmed that feature wasn’t working, and the designers removed it from the settings page.
I appreciate the quick response, but it would be better not to make unsupported claims in the first place.
Familoop also claims to capture instant messages, specifically those using Skype, Hangouts, Facebook Messenger, and Yahoo Messenger.
In my testing, it did not. Note that these communication-capture features are not present in the mobile editions. However, the Android edition logs calls and texts.
Detailed ReportingWhen you log in to the Familoop console, the first thing you see is a summary of your child’s recent activity. Like Circle with Disney, Familoop calls this report Insights, but it’s vastly more detailed than the minimalist report you get from Circle.
At the top, you see an hourly bar graph of today’s device usage, color-coded to flag any Unsafe or Iffy activity. You can click on a bar segment for details.
There’s also an option to see data for the last week, 15 days, or 30 days. Oddly, when I selected one of these I saw activity reported several weeks before I ever installed Familoop, all of which linked to a tweet I posted.
Familoop reports total screen time on all devices, and also breaks down the total into time spend in Web browsing, social activity, messaging, games, and time spent talking on the (Android) phone. You can also choose to see activity for just one device, rather than all of them. Note that for iOS devices Familoop shows only the total time, not the detailed breakdown.
The websites summary panel reports the number of websites visited, as well as the number that were blocked and the number that were considered suspicious. You can click the panel to see details, or flip it over for a breakdown by category.
Another panel reports the number of searches made, and the number that were considered suspicious or unsafe.
There are panels (called widgets) for social activity, videos watched, recent contacts, location, and recent apps used.
A few of these aren’t present initially, but you can click the Add widget button to add them.
If your configuration includes mobile devices, you can add panels for camera photos, calls and messages, and protection status.
But there’s more, much more.
The Feed page shows all activity in the form of cards, with red or yellow borders for Unsafe or Iffy activity. You can click for relevant details.
For example, clicking on the card for a website shows the pages viewed on that site, and clicking on a search card reveals just what search terms were used.
And you can narrow the feed to just show websites, social media, messages and calls, or applications.
The Contacts page lists all of your child’s contacts in the now-familiar card format.
Clicking for details lets you see the phone number, email address, and so forth.
Another click gets you recent contact history. On the Media page, you’ll see videos the child has watched as well as any photos or videos taken using mobile devices.
As noted earlier, every card has a star that you can click as a reminder.
The Starred page brings all of these together so you can discuss them with your child.
Places and GeofencingThe Places page shows all of your child’s recent locations.
If you’ve only installed on desktop computers, this won’t be a very interesting display.
I did find that it correctly located the stationary Windows PC I used for testing.
The Places tab gets more interesting when you’ve added a mobile device to the child’s account.
When a mobile device is present, the child’s configuration dialog gains a new page called Geofences.
To add a geofence, you simply click a location on the map and drag to define a circle. Name the geofence, identify it as safe, iffy, or dangerous, and you’re done. When the child crosses into or out of the defined area, you get an email notification.
Don’t miss the Data Transfer settings link at the bottom of the page. Here you can define how often Familoop reports the child’s location.
The default is once per hour; you can set it as low as every 15 minutes.
A separate setting determines how often Familoop transfers data other than geolocation from mobile devices, and whether or not it uses cellular data when Wi-Fi isn’t available.
In testing, this feature worked well.
I set up a safe geofence around my home neighborhood and defined the grocery store as dangerous.
I took a mobile device along to go shopping, and received notification that my imaginary child had left the safe zone and entered a dangerous zone.
Support for iOSFamiloop on an iOS device behaves quite differently from on a Windows PC.
I’ve reviewed Familoop Safeguard (for iPhone) separately. Please read that review for full details; I’ll summarize here.
Many parental control systems give iOS short shrift, figuring it’s too difficult to perform their tasks in Apple’s tightly-controlled environment.
Familoop takes an approach I’ve never seen, installing a configuration profile, a remote management tool, and a VPN. Yes, this pretty much gives Familoop total control of the phone—good thing the designers aren’t using this power for evil.
This setup gives Familoop the ability to filter all Web traffic on any browser or app. Most competitors force use of a proprietary browser. Qustodio Parental Control (for iPhone) can also filter all traffic by use of a VPN, but installing the VPN is awkward, while Familoop’s installs effortlessly.
Familoop tracks time spent on an iOS device but doesn’t break it down by activity.
Social media and other communications aren’t tracked on iOS.
There’s no time control for apps on iOS, but parents can choose to allow or block a wide variety of activities and features. When you choose to block, say, the App Store, or iTunes, that application’s icon vanishes.
It’s more powerful than most iOS parental control tools.
Support for AndroidFamiloop on an Android device is more similar to the desktop version than on iOS. One nice difference—its content filter handles any browser, where the Windows version supports only Chrome, Firefox, and Internet Explorer. My review of Familoop Safeguard (for Android) gives the full details.
As noted, Familoop tracks calls and SMS messages on Android devices, and breaks out the time spent on the phone in the Insights report.
It also captures photos taken using the device.
Installing it requires you to make it a Device Administrator, but that’s true of just about every Android parental control system.
As with the iOS edition, Familoop on Android provides geofencing.
If your child enters an area that you’ve defined as dangerous, you’ll get an email notification right away.
An Ambitious EffortNewcomer Familoop Safeguard offers an impressive array of parental control and monitoring features, especially on mobile devices.
Its online console handles all management of child profiles, and also offers impressively detailed reporting on the child’s activities.
There’s no time scheduling of device or Internet use, though parents can remotely impose a timeout.
And for mobile devices it offers location tracking and geofencing.
That’s all very well, but I ran into quite a few problems in testing.
The timeout feature doesn’t work right under iOS and proved only partly effective on Windows.
The social media tracker never caught anything I posted on Facebook, even after several days. On a Windows device, the content filter only works in three browsers, and the program control feature is easily fooled.
The list goes on.
Familoop has potential to be an impressive utility, once all the initial glitches are shaken out. Until then, stick to our Editors’ Choice parental control utilities, Net Nanny, Qustodio, and Norton.
A number of parental control companies I used to follow have closed up shop, but I’m also seeing new ones popping up.