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Computer Q&A: Software keeps kids safe on the Net

Thursday, March 13, 2003

By David Radin

I sometimes work with parent groups on keeping children safe from Internet-related dangers. When I do, somebody invariably asks about software that can keep his or her children from being exposed to harmful elements while the parents are not in the room.


There are several products on the market. Recently, I've been particularly impressed by the new Net Nanny 5. This software makes it possible for you to restrict your children from unwanted activities, keep them from being exposed to dangerous or unseemly information, and helps monitor their usage, even without parental hovering.

With Net Nanny, you set up a profile for each of your children that governs their exploits when they use the computer. Each profile allows you to determine what your child can and cannot do, and how long he can do it. You also can determine what types of material each child can see.

You can permit each child to use an application or not. So you can allow your 12-year-old to use a sophisticated game with some level of violence, yet block it completely from your 5-year-old. Similarly, you can block various types of Internet access. By default, Net Nanny stops KaZaA, Grokster, LimeWire and other net applications that can be used improperly or to commit acts of which parents may not approve.

It also can keep your children from giving out the wrong information. For instance, if your child tries to give out her address or phone number, Net Nanny will stop it before it gets through the net, whether the child is trying to send it via e-mail or Instant Messenger. You get to determine which information is nontransmittable, including names, addresses, financial information, school information, e-mail addresses or more.

You can allow selective access to chat rooms, newsgroups and Web sites based on their names; or you can block them based on specific phrases in their names. By default, Net Nanny blocks scores of sexually explicit Web sites. You can add or subtract from the list through your parental settings, known in Net Nanny as Administrator settings. (I wouldn't let your children see you working as Administrator, because many of the explicit phrases are shown on-screen. But you can keep them out by defining your own password.)

My favorite features let parents provide some breathing room for the older children, but keep them honest. I have set up a log-in account for my son, which allows him to use his favorite applications, Instant Messenger and local games, but set time limits for him. I can set it by the number of hours, or set specific times when he can use his computer, after which it shuts off his access. This keeps me from being his timekeeper, even if I do check in occasionally to make sure everything is on the up-and-up.

It also lets parents control the consequences when something runs beyond the acceptable activities. You can have a message pop up with a warning or simply not allow it to happen at all.

The only part of Net Nanny that I find confusing is its "Anybody" account, a default account that is turned on automatically with your computer. It keeps you from being unable to log in when you forget your password; but it also lets your children log in without being timed. The Anybody account is optional at setup. If you don't think you'll ever forget your password, don't install it.

My guide to keeping your child Internet-safe is at www.megabyteminute.com, as well as links to Net Nanny and

other child-safety products.

David Radin is a nationally syndicated radio show host. You can sign up for his tip letter at www.megabyteminute.com or find an archive of his previous columns at www.post-gazette.com/interact. E-mail him your questions at david.pgcolumn@spamslicer.com

Click here for an archive of previous Interact articles

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