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Holiday help: Parental control tools for tablets

With tablets showing up on more and more kids’ holiday wish lists (littler and littler kids!), parents will appreciate any help they can get with keep tablet use safe as well as fun. And there’s help over at TechHive, which reports that Amazon Kindle Fire HD, Barnes & Noble Nook HD, and Apple’s iPad, all have some built-in parental controls (e.g., FreeTime on the Kindle Fire and Restrictions on the iPad), but Google’s Nexus 7 and Nexus 10 don’t. For the Nexus tablets, parents might want to look into what’s available in third-party apps. The post mentions Zoodles Kid Mode, Kids Place, or Funamo. So if parental controls are important to you, the device you pick will depend on which type of control is most important to you as a parent – for example, none of the tablets provide Web filtering, but you can completely turn the Web off on the Nook HD and the iPad (in FreeTime on the Kindle, kids don’t have Web access). If controlling screen time is most important, the Kindle’s FreeTime offers pretty solid support in that area, but the Nook will offer more control if the family’s sharing a tablet. Do check out blogger Michelle Mastin’s post for much greater detail and her bottom line.

The most effective “tool,” though, especially when working with littler kids, is watching how they use their tablets every now and then – asking them why they like certain apps and games and maybe trying some of them out. That way, parents gain insights into their children’s interests, as they grow, and can mash up play and experiential learning (here‘s more on that). And in the social media environment we’re all either growing up in or getting used to, it helps to be playful – mess around with new games and social tools and learn as we go just as our kids do – because there are no instruction manuals or tech safeguards for human interaction (thank goodness).

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  1. To me it seems logical that a review site like Common Sense Media should add it to their categories using iconic ‘safety/data/mobile’ stars for datamining and privacy disclosures, given their aptitude and the FTC priv chat.

    I know Lorraine @momswithapps had mentioned an iconic system to try to evolve a simpler industry standard that parents could grok quickly, something like: which is great.

    Personally think the whole 3rd party DPI (deep packet inspection) convo should not be left in the hands of parents, but instead be ‘baked in’ to industry decisions for privacy early on as I’ve read all 42pp of the new FTC report and there’s no way in hades the average parent is going to engage at that level of understanding (nor should they HAVE to)

    Many already resent the complexity of being put in a constant gatekeeper role of ‘parental controls/permissions’ as it’s hard to ‘keep up’ and parents prefer privacy by default. (not to mention most wouldn’t know a DPI from a donut, again, nor should they have to, they just want to ‘not be tracked’ behaviorally or otherwise..and sure as heck don’t want their kids tracked)

    There is massively uneven media literacy dealing w/macro much less micro issues when it comes to privacy and tech, so “the easier the better” with full PRIVACY AS DEFAULT which is what most parents want.

    Cumbersome lingo and buried ‘terms’ make it horrifically impractical for parents who often just click through terms of service ‘to make it work’ for junior without seeing the ramifications privacy and otherwise…and industry has made it a ridiculous hunting and gathering game to unearth what’s really being used/sold/tracked etc.

    The onus should be on industry to sort out the complexity before ‘passing the burden’ to parents, imo, as I’m so fatigued by the passing of the buck and ‘just be a parent’ wails as those hawking data play a sophisticated shell game of “catch me if you can” which amounts to an uneven playing field of privacy data dodgeball where parents and non-techies (inc kids) are getting creamed.

    It’s harming mobile industry perception, creating needless divisiveness and fear factor among parents, and will ultimately force regulatory hands into a technical arena which could foul up the works w/cumbersome implications vs smooth solution-building up front engineered by design.

    It IS possible to be a staunch supporter of kids’ privacy/strengthening COPPA while advocating for cool apps, innovation/education…I’m a walking example of a parent with datamining concerns who also recognizes the powerfully positive sides of media innovation that no one wants to stranglehold.

    But alas…like a status line…”it’s complicated.” So glad people like you are talking about these issues…we need as much balance and clarity as we can muster. imo, industry needs to do their part EARLY on at the engineering/design phase, not mop up the mess after monetizing. “Parental controls” can only do so much.

    December 12, 2012
  2. Dave #

    Does anyone know of organizations that rank the safety of mobile apps for children? Ideally, they would provide a certification or seal of approval. I’m looking for something like the previous post on Privacy Policies but more directed to kids and mobile apps.

    November 29, 2012
    • Anne #

      Hi, Dave. As far as I know (and I follow this stuff pretty closely), there is no such organization or service. The app stores (Apple’s and Google Play) rank apps by popularity. I think Google does a better job at least of displaying people’s preferences with the stars and Staff Picks, but of course the apps aren’t vetted by either company for effectiveness. The assumption is that, the more an app is downloaded, the better it is, I guess. David Burt at Microsoft actually took the time to rate parental control products (a huge task) for his personal blog, but that was for computers and his latest reviews were in 2010, I believe. Reviewing software is time-consuming and costly, and mobile apps are a whole different beast. Sorry I can’t just point you to such a service. Thanks for commenting.

      November 30, 2012

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