Default Parental Controls Stink: Use This Instead

Senior editor, security and privacy
Updated

The parental controls built into both Windows 10 and macOS High Sierra don't do enough to protect children from online dangers, the German independent testing lab AV-Test said in a report released today (Dec. 11).

However, third-party software from Kaspersky Lab and Norton Symantec do provide adequate protection, according to the report.

Credit: Yiorgos GR/ShutterstockCredit: Yiorgos GR/Shutterstock

While all the products tested did a good job of blocking porn websites, the built-in controls failed to stop kids from accessing most retail, gambling, gaming and pirated-content websites, as well as online forums, AV-Test found. Only Kaspersky Safe Kids did a decent job of protecting kids against online "grooming" by sexual predators.

"At first glance, many products, along with Windows and MacOS, offer quite a lot," the AV-Test report said. "But the quality of the processed information and the additional features quickly separate the chaff from the wheat."

MORE: Best Parental-Control Mobile Apps

The lab put Kaspersky Safe Kids, Norton Family, Microsoft Family Safety and Mac Parental Controls through a battery of tests, measuring how well each blocked risky websites and risky activities and how much information and monitoring power each gave to parents.

Seven other third-party desktop parental-control products were subjected to a smaller subset of these tests, including Net Nanny, Mobicip, McAfee Safe Family, F-Secure SAFE, G Data Internal Security, Trend Micro Internet Security and JusProg for Windows. AV-Test noted that the last program is recommended to parents by German government agencies.

It's worth stating that AV-Test's main business is testing antivirus software, for which antivirus companies — including Kaspersky Lab and Norton Symantec — routinely submit their products and pay for tests. Products that pass a minimum standard receive certifications, but in this case only Kaspersky and Norton submitted (and presumably paid for) their parental-control applications for the certification tests.

Caveats aside, the testing methods and results do seem fair. AV-Test noted that "only the internal tool from macOS is equipped with a necessary ad blocker" to block money traps, gaming sites that ask kids to frequently pay small amounts of money. "Kaspersky Lab, Symantec and Microsoft don't offer one."

Apple's desktop software also was better than Norton Symantec's at controlling screen time and protecting privacy, while Microsoft Family Safety matched Kaspersky Safe Kids at thoroughly reporting kids' application usage, search history and website visits, including attempts to visit blocked sites or use blocked applications.

Likewise, most of the seven other third-party tools (whose makers presumably didn't pay for testing) were pretty good at blocking online dating, shopping and gambling sites, and some of them provided adequate remote monitoring powers to parents. But they and the built-in controls failed to do anything about the big blue social-media elephant on the web.

"Only the protection packages from Kaspersky Lab and Symantec even offer a control and protection tool for Facebook," said the report. "There is no such thing in any of the other products or in the operating systems."

Offering some sort of control over social media activity is increasingly important. "Children often divulge lots of personal details in the internet and in social media without thinking about it," AV-Test explained. "The Kaspersky Lab and Symantec protection modules for social media prevent this. The tools of the operating systems are powerless here."

Last week, AV-Test reported test results on the built-in parental controls of five mainstream operating systems: Windows 10, macOS 10.13 High Sierra, Android 8 Oreo, iOS 12 and Amazon Fire OS.

While AV-Test found that all the built-in parental controls failed to adequately protect children from online dangers, Mac Parental Controls was the least terrible, while Google Family Link was "hardly reliable" and Amazon's Kindle Fire Parental Controls was worst of all — "it simply does not work or is unusable."