It must be agonizing to have kids who use the Web. A friend called and asked what I'd recommend to keep an eye on the Internet access of her five kids. Four of the kids are girls; the oldest is about 16 and spending lots of time in chat rooms.
You've probably guessed I abhor programs that spy on users--but Mom and Dad really need to know what's cooking online.
Philosophically, though, I'm okay with watching what people do on their PC provided they're fully aware that it's happening. I discussed this with Mom and Dad (remember, I'm a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist) and they agreed: Trust with verification.
Hello Spector Pro
SpectorSoft's Spector Pro costs $100 and I was stunned by how efficient it is at tracking everything--and I mean everything--a user does. It works in the background and unless you're really PC savvy, you won't even see it. Even if you do find it, you can't access the setup without a password.
I installed Spector Pro on my friend's computer, then logged in as each user, did a bunch of stuff--opened applications, sent e-mail, sent instant messages, and chatted in a chat room. The program recorded everything I did on the computer, and even took snapshots of the screen. Afterwards, I could review everything.
Heck, I watched a video and Spector Pro recorded it, too--I was able to see the desktop and media player showing the video. There's even a tab that reports on MySpace activity; with all those kids, it should be useful.
Another way to use Spector Pro is to see what Web sites users were on, and to review their actions to learn how and when they might have picked up spyware. The setup also lets you block access in a number of ways, including by time, application, and Web sites.
Spector Pro let me review the data from the activity for each of the kids. I could even use a filter to look at specific data for a particular type of activity.
Dig This: Got a deadline? The Missile Game 3D should keep you busy for a while. [Thanks to Mike D.]
Dig This, Too: Perhaps the Missile Game wasn't hard enough for you. Fair enough. Give this one a try (it helps if you can read French). It will take you a dozen tries to figure it out--and other 50 to get a decent score. (Hint: Keep the lower ball on the balance and bounce the upper ball.)
Kids need protection, and there are other ways you can work towards keeping them safe online.
I always hope the government will come up with a magic wand. Anush Yegyazarian's "Protecting Kids Online" takes a look at the attempt Congress has made--and whether it helps or hurts.
Unfortunately, in "Closing Arguments in Child Protection Law Trial," an IDG News story, it appears as if not much progress is being made on that front.
As you've probably guessed by now, though, I prefer the DIY method. Here are some how-tos and other ways your can take things into your own hands.
A friend of mine, Larry Magid, created SafeKids.com, a worthwhile site with ideas and tools for, as Larry says, keeping the Internet "fun, safe and productive."
CallerSmart's "A Parent's Guide to Internet Safety" is also useful.
If you want in-depth help in making a child's online experience safe, you really need to look at iSafe and Staysafe.org; and don't miss Scott Spanbauer's "Easy Ways to Keep the Internet Safe for All Ages."
Dig This: Here's a "natural language" search engine with a twist. Visit Ms. Dewey and you can have your Web searches delivered with a personal touch.
Fix for a Fix: Missing CD-R Drive Recording Tab
I have a tad more space and I don't want those of you without kids to protect to feel deprived.
By now you probably know I get letters, lots of them, and it appears my fix in a recent Hassle-Free PC column confused a few readers. (Not you, of course, other readers.) One confused reader got excited after reading "Smart Fixes for Audio and Video Hassles."
He thought he'd found a solution to a problem--wanting Windows Media Player to open when inserting a music CD, but instead having Windows Explorer appearing: "I tried to follow your tip about displaying the properties of my CD drive, and then clicking the Recording tab, but my property window is missing the tab. I'm running Windows XP Home, SP2 on a Dell Dimension. Did I misunderstand?"
Windows works in mysterious ways and sometimes the Recording tab disappears. You can get it back by intimidating Windows into recognizing the drive. It takes a simple Registry tweak and Ed Bott's "Windows XP CD Burning Secrets" explains how to do it.