Safe Kids: Take the Worry Out of the Web with Smart Content Filtering

You wouldn’t turn your kids loose on the streets of a big city without careful supervision. That’s because, for all its wonders, a sprawling metropolis also has its dangers, too — unsavory characters, unsuitable places.

Same goes for the Internet. But thanks to computers, tablets, and smartphones, your kids are almost constantly connected to this virtual metropolis — and you can’t keep an eye on their every move. Intentionally or not, they can be exposed to inappropriate websites, objectionable videos, potentially creepy chat contacts, and even identity theft.

Indeed, consider how big a role the Internet plays in kids’ daily lives. They might consume a steady stream of YouTube videos in the hours after school, text endlessly with friends on their phones, search the Web for song lyrics, and tweet more than a nest of baby birds.

Much of this activity is probably harmless, but risks abound. For example, YouTube is home to a lot of videos many parents would find unsuitable for teens, let alone young children. Texting can lead to sexting.

You need a way to be there even when you’re not there, to protect your kids from the online world’s unsavory characters and content. Fortunately, there are effective, affordable solutions you can apply both in your home and on your kids’ devices.

For starters, consider tackling the problem at the server level. In most homes, Internet access is doled out by way of a wireless router, which connects to a service provider’s broadband modem. That modem connects to the provider’s servers, which typically have no content filters. But you can configure your router to connect to a service that offers different servers, ones that can limit access to adult websites, social networking sites, video sites (like YouTube), and so on.

A good example: OpenDNS, which specializes in filtering Web content. What you’re doing, essentially, is tweaking your router’s settings so it uses OpenDNS’s own domain name server (DNS) instead of the one supplied by your ISP. And that DNS does the filtering for all the Internet-connected devices in your house. That includes everything from PCs and tablets to smartphones and game consoles.

Call that a quick fix — and a good start. To really round out the kids’ online safety, you need to install security software on all their mobile devices. That not only adds protection against viruses, phishing links, and the like — items a new DNS won’t catch — but also assists when those devices are out and about (that is, not connected to your home network).

For example, a “family-friendly” Web browser for your kids’ smartphones and tablets will filter out objectionable websites, language, search results, and videos. And since this filtering occurs on the devices themselves, it doesn’t matter if they’re connected to a Wi-Fi hotspot or a 3G network.

Mobile security software can also protect users’ identities by showing you which apps can access personal data and letting you configure access controls for those apps. At the same time, look for software that includes device tracking, which is helpful not only for recovering a lost or stolen gadget, but also for keeping tabs on your kids’ whereabouts. That’s the best security of all.

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