Net Nanny is one of the oldest parental-control-software solutions, dating back to 1995. In 2016, it was acquired by digital-parenting company Zift, which rebuilt the Net Nanny mobile apps from the ground up and renamed them Zift.
In May 2019, Zift switched the mobile apps back to the Net Nanny name, as that was better known. This review is of the Zift apps as they were in the fall of 2018, but there was little change to the app functions after the re-rebranding.
- The best parental control apps: Keep track of what your kids do online
- Best password managers to secure your online accounts
- The best antivirus software to make sure your PC is clean
The mobile apps still have Net Nanny's powerful web-filtering technology at their core; the upside is that Net Nanny's updated Windows PC and Mac parental-control software, which were never rebranded, are now part of the subscription.
The focus on digital parenting is definitely noticeable in the apps. Articles on certain issues from the Zift/Net Nanny editorial team appear in the Family Feed, and the App Advisor feature offers guidance on potential concerns with apps.
Net Nanny's excellent web-filtering tech, which now includes filters of social-media feeds, makes its apps one of the best options in this category. The apps benefit from Zift's recent redesign, with a superior and more current interface than many of their competitors.
Net Nanny's lack of call- or text-message monitoring could be a deal breaker for some users, however, and the relatively high Premium subscription fee could be an issue for others. But if the existing features cover your needs, Net Nanny is definitely one of the top options to consider.
Net Nanny: Costs and what's covered
Net Nanny follows the freemium model, with a basic version of the mobile app available at no charge, and paid tiers that add features. The mobile app supports Android, iOS and Kindle, and paid subscriptions include the Windows and Mac desktop clients. Chromebooks that can access Google Play are also supported through the Android app.
The free Net Nanny tier gives you only the parent apps, not the child ones. (This is a change from the Zift freemium model.) You'll get the editorial parts of the Family Feed and the web-based Parent Portal, which consist of tips and other information about keeping your kids in line online. But you won't be able to see what your kids are doing on any device.
When you sign up, you'll get full use of the premium features for three days, including child apps, which should offer enough of a taste of the full Net Nanny experience so that you can determine whether it is the right fit for you before paying for a year or more. But if you are looking for a permanent free option, I would turn to something like Kaspersky Safe Kids, which offers a more robust free tier.
For paying customers, the premium feature set with Net Nanny is quite compelling. Unsurprisingly for an app that was recently rebuilt from the ground up, the Zift app I used was one of the best-looking apps I have tested.
You gain the ability to block internet content; receive alerts; block apps; view the full list of apps on your child's device; set usage and curfew times; and review 30 days' worth of location, online search, web history and screen-time usage.
As of August 2020, the apps on the child's device can also filter social-media feeds on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, TikTok, Tumblr, Twitter and YouTube. Other social-media services are either entirely blocked or entirely allowed.
There are three premium tiers. The most basic one, Net Nanny for Windows, costs $39.99 per year and gets you a single device license. Obviously, it doesn't include the mobile apps.
Beyond that are two tiers of Net Nanny Protection Pass, one for five devices at $54.99 per year, the other for 20 devices at $89.99 per year. They can be used on any combination of Android, iOS, Kindle Fire, Windows and eventually macOS devices. However, the monthly-payment option that the Zift apps offered is gone with the Net Nanny rebranding.
Net Nanny: Installation
I installed Zift on a Google Pixel 2 XL running Android 9.0 (Pie), an iPhone 7 Plus and an iPad Air 2. Installation was a smooth process on both platforms. Zift employed two apps, one for the child device(s) and one for the parental device(s), and Net Nanny does the same.
On both Android and iOS, they're called the Net Nanny Parental Control App and the Net Nanny Child App. One justification for this separation is that children have a tendency to vote down parental-control apps for obvious reasons, so separating them helps the overall rating of the parent's app.
Zift lacked the web portal that Net Nanny now has at http://parent.netnanny.com, so I had to set it up using the app on the parent device. But otherwise, this was perhaps the best-designed app that I have tested (OurPact is the other contender), so setup using the app still went quite quickly, for the most part.
Once you have created your account, you need to start with the child's device. That is where you create the child's profile by simply entering the individual's name, gender and age. I did find it a little odd that you have to enter an age rather than a date of birth — you will clearly need to manually update this in the future.
On iOS, the Zift app used a certificate installation via the Safari browser and required that I grant a few permissions. Android similarly required granting a handful of permissions to allow monitoring and control of the device. On both platforms, the app did an excellent job of guiding me through the installation process and explained each permission before I approved it.
Net Nanny: App management
As was typically the case, the app-management features on Zift were much more effective on Android than they were on iOS, due to Apple's restrictions, but the app did offer a bit more on iOS than some of its competitors.
For children with iOS devices, the full list of their apps will be imported into the app section of the Net Nanny parent app. The parent can tap on an app to see the App Advisor info (covered in Extras below) for that app; if you see a settings-gear icon to the right of the app, that means the app can be blocked on iOS.
An extremely limited subset of apps (approximately 85 in total) is covered, but some popular apps like Fortnite, Netflix, Pokémon Go and Snapchat are included. If you visit the App Settings menu, you can see the full list of apps covered and even preemptively block them from there.
On Android, of course, you can block any app your child has. My only real complaint with this feature is that it requires two taps to get to the block-or-allow decision from the main apps screen, rather than simply presenting the block-or-allow toggle that exists in the App Settings screen.
Net Nanny: Filtering
As you would expect, given its origins, this is a strong point for Net Nanny. Even when the apps were called Zift, the Content Filter section of the apps was the one thing that still retained the Net Nanny branding, as that was the back end for the filtering in Zift.
Net Nanny prides itself on its ability to perform a real-time check of the page being visited in order to determine whether it should be blocked, based on the content settings, which saves it from having to rely on a database of sites that should be blocked.
You can access this setting within each child's profile so that you can individualize the content blocks or alerts. There are 14 categories — weapons, drugs, provocative content, mature content and so on — that you can choose to Allow, Alert or Block.
These all worked reliably across a number of browsers on both platforms. While you may want to restrict the number of browsers available to your child to avoid potential problems, in our experience, any popular option (Safari, Chrome, Firefox, Opera Mini) will be served equally well by the Zift web filter.
In the event that your child runs into a site that is inappropriately blocked (or allowed), you can go into the Website Settings page found immediately below the Content Filter and manually add sites that you would like to always block or always allow. The child has to come to you to make this request; the child does not have the option of requesting access from his or her device when blocked.
As mentioned above, Net Nanny now also filters posts on several social-media services, including Instagram, TikTok and YouTube. The parent doesn't need to know the child's login username or password for the services, and the filtering is done right on the child's device, whether it's an iPhone, iPad or Android phone.
YouTube monitoring also includes reports of searches, videos watched and time spent watching videos.
Net Nanny: Time management
Net Nanny offers an abundance of time-management features, including options to set overall usage limits, daily schedules to pause the device or simply pause internet access, and an allowance system. The setup process was my one quibble, as it was slightly more time-consuming than was necessary.
The usage-limits feature is a minor example of this annoyance. It is easy enough to pick the limits for any day: You simply tap on the day in the Screentime management menu in Zift and then select the amount of time you would like the child to have for that day. This takes all of a minute to do, but it could easily be streamlined so that the limit could be applied across multiple days (as I'm sure most users would like to do).
What I did really like here was the option to give a temporary time boost or retraction on the current day without having to tweak the time allotment for that day in the future. I still preferred the actual task-based allowance system seen in the Screen Time parental-control app, but this was a close second.
The setup for scheduling was a bigger headache. Fortunately, this section does allow you to apply the same schedule across multiple days, but the actual time selection was frustrating at first.
You tap whether you want to create a new interval that will completely pause the device or simply block the Internet, and then the app pops up an interval, and you set a start and end time.
The problem is that it tried to be intelligent about this and simply prevented me from setting the times as I wished.
What I ultimately realized is that once an interval exists, you can move it wherever you like by long-pressing and then dragging and dropping it as you wish. This is absolutely the best way to handle time management, and frankly, I think Net Nanny would be wise to move to that as the primary means of control — it is faster and more intuitive.
Once you have the schedule set up, it provides a view of the full week, which I really liked. Again, once I'd learned the new method of dealing with the schedule, it was simple to make changes as needed.
For children with multiple devices, Net Nanny allows you to set rules that apply across all devices, avoiding the need to repeat the setup process or try to split up the total time on each device yourself.
Net Nanny: Texting management
Net Nanny doesn't offer any texting- or calling-related features. On Android, you can block texting apps and related apps, but there is no monitoring available on either platform. If this is a primary concern for you, then consider either Norton Family Premier or Qustodio.
Net Nanny: Location tracking
Net Nanny lacks any kind of geofencing features, but it does manage to tick most of the location-tracking boxes and even includes a basic version of the feature in the free app.
Free users can view the child's current location (or last known location in the case of devices that lack a constant internet connection) at the top of the Family Feed overview screen. This kind of functionality is natively built into both Android and iOS, but it is convenient to have it in the parental-control app as well.
Premium subscribers gain access to the location tab within the Net Nanny app, which additionally can show you the location history of child devices for up to the past 30 days.
Net Nanny: Family Feed
Net Nanny uses a fairly novel approach as the main focus of the mobile app. It's called the Family Feed, and it basically gives you an inbox with all of the most recent activity across all registered child devices.
You'll see any online searches, app installs, app usage and flagged web content, and it will also offer advice from Net Nanny experts on how to tackle certain subjects with your kids. App-usage reports offer the option to block currently installed apps directly from the Family Feed, along with the App Advisor breakdown on each one.
Swiping down from the top of this feed gives you a convenient overview screen with the current location, remaining screen time and current rules that are applied to each device. It's not meant to be your primary monitoring method, but it's fantastic as a quick, glanceable view of everyone's status.
Net Nanny: App Advisor
This is a useful reference tool for parents who can't keep track of every single app that their children have or want to install on their devices. The App Advisor gives you a breakdown of some of the important details regarding an app, such as whether it has in-app purchases, live streaming, chat, location tracking or photo sharing.
To read the full lowdown on any app, you need to go to the Zift or Net Nanny websites. But when you look at your child's installed apps in the Zift app, it will give you an abbreviated version of the same content with a link to the full article.
Net Nanny review: Bottom line
Net Nanny/Zift is another strong option in the parental-control-app market. The thoughtful design of the app and helpful touches like Family Feed and App Advisor set it apart from some of the competition. I think parents with multiple children and/or devices to monitor will find the Family Feed particularly compelling.
As long as text monitoring isn't a serious concern for you (in which case you should look at Norton Family Premier), Net Nanny is one of the best parental-control options available today.
Updated with addition of social-media filters. This review was originally published Feb. 14, 2019.