Qustodio Parental Control for iPhone and iPad: iOS Monitoring with Limits

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Qustodio for Families Premium excels at bringing granular app-management features, with one exception. Its initial iOS offering focused entirely on Web browsing, owing to limitations Apple placed on what can be monitored on iOS devices. Apple has since loosened the reins, so Qustodio has rolled out a new version of its iOS app that introduces some app-management capabilities.

Still, the Qustodio Parental Control for iPhone and iPad app suffers from limitations you don't have to face on other platforms. As an add-on to Qustodio's more full-featured offering, it's all right, especially if iOS is just one of many platforms you're looking to manage. If it's the sole line of defense in an iOS-only household, though, don't expect Qustodio to offer complete control over an iPhone or iPad. 

The Good

Qustodio lets parents establish Web-surfing boundaries and block categories of websites, such as "weapons," "drugs" or "pornography," with just a few clicks.

You can also block or allow certain sites, or simply monitor specific sites or categories, receiving an email alert when your child accesses that content.

Qustodio casts a wide net, blocking sites I thought should be allowed, but you're able to create exceptions for incorrectly blocked sites. 

New to Qustodio's iOS offering is a time-usage feature that lets parents place limits on when a child can browse the Web on an iPhone and for how long, though you can't limit app use to specific locations (say, allowing games at home, but not school). You can also set up daily time allowances, such as 2 hours on school days and 5 hours on weekends. When it's past curfew, or when your kids hit their daily time limit, online access is blocked.

Be prepared from some significant limitations, though: On iOS devices, the time-usage limits work only on the Qustodio browser and for a few select apps (Facebook, Facebook Messages, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, App Store, iTunes Store, Kik, WhatsApp, Netflix and Spotify). Your child can keep playing a game that doesn't require online access, or use a popular app like Snapchat that isn't restricted, without time limits having any effect. 

Similarly, the iOS app offers a location-monitoring feature that works well, but not perfectly. Activate the feature, and Qustodio will ping the device at intervals ranging from every five minutes to several hours, depending on your preferences. You can also see the last-known location of the device from Qustodio’s Web portal. In my tests, location can be off by the distance of about two suburban houses — and even as much as a half mile if Wi-Fi is turned off. Qustodio lists location history in reverse chronological order, along with other activity; I would have preferred a single map dedicated to location history.

That activity timeline may be the best feature in Qustodio, with its reverse chronological view of all the sites visited on the Qustodio browser and how often your kids were on Facebook or other select monitored apps. It's easy to narrow this down to "questionable activity," which lists those sites and searches that Qustodio deems inappropriate. Note that Qustodio can only track activities in the apps it's capable of monitoring.

The Bad

Installing Qustodio for iPhone is surprisingly hard — so hard, in fact, that after my first attempt, I assumed I had done something wrong.

You download the app, then install a VPN "profile" on the device; after a couple of false starts, I figured out I had to disable restrictions on the iPhone. (You re-enable them after installing that VPN profile.) After that, installation was problem-free, though still cumbersome. 

As noted above, Qustodio's time and app-management features are limited to a handful of apps. The phone is off-limits, as you can't block callers or texters. In my tests, messages on Apple's Messages app got through, even during restricted hours.  

Qustodio also offers parents a way to monitor their child’s Facebook activity — including what’s being posted — though it requires what I consider to be an overreach. If you have Qustodio installed on a Mac or PC, and you have your child log into Facebook from that computer, you can then monitor Facebook conversations from Qustodio's Web portal, even when your child uses the Facebook app on his or her iPhone. It's not a feature I feel comfortable using.

Qustodio will email you when a child tries to access a blocked site in the Qustodio browser, but it seems like a text alert would be a more timely warning. Similarly, there's no way to receive an alert when kids are simply using their devices. These are potential teaching and monitoring opportunities that are lost.

Bottom Line

Qustodio offers monitoring tools for Macs, PCs and Android devices that are far more robust than what's available for iOS. That's good news if you have a multi-device family, in which an iPhone is just another device to keep tabs on. It's not Qustodio's fault that Apple places such heavy restrictions on apps, but those restrictions place far too many limitations on this version of Qustodio to allow it to be effective on its own, especially when Norton Family Premier does a better job on the iOS platform.