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Internet Security Software Gets More Parental Controls
Internet security packages have evolved far beyond simple anti-virus programs, with tools that protect you and your family while you browse the web, chat with friends and family and access social networking sites. This year's crop also has a fairly robust set of parental controls built-in that help you decide what your kids can view and when they can view it.
Also relatively new is cross-platform support, which is becoming increasingly important as kids start doing less browsing on computers and more on tablets and smartphones.
Here's a look at what you can expect from the major players.
Trend Micro's Titanium 2013 Maximum Security)(protect up to three devices for one year: $80.93 on amazon.com) offers robust controls for Web browsing and social networks on your PC, Android devices or Windows 8 tablet, when it's available later this fall.
Trend Micro lets you restrict Internet access based on specific categories of websites and filters inappropriate content. You can also set limits on how much time your kids spend browsing the web and get detailed reports about where they're going. If you have more than one child, you can create accounts for each one that reflect their age.
Trend Micro's social media protections are also comprehensive. It can automatically scan your child's Facebook and Twitter feeds, highlighting safe links in green and potentially malicious ones in red. Your child can also press a button to easily notify the friend who posted the bad link. These protections also cover Google+ and Pinterest, among others.
Symantec's Norton Internet Security 2013 (protect up to three PCs for one year: $38.99 on amazon.com) integrates with Symantec's free Norton Online Family service for a plethora of parental controls.
As expected, you can control Web browsing either by content blocking or through time limits. Norton Online Family will also send parents detailed information about what your kids are searching for and when they try to visit a blocked site.
Symantec's social network monitoring is not as strong as Trend Micro's. You can see what sites your kids belong to and how they represent themselves (age, sex, etc.), and Norton will protect against malicious links in Facebook, but not within Twitter or other social sites.
The Norton Safety Minder Mobile Edition app lets you extend monitoring to your child's Android device, monitoring where they go and blocking inappropriate sites. For those parents who want the most control, upgrading to Norton Online Family Premier Edition ($49.95 per year) adds the ability to monitor and control your child's texting and app downloads. Plus, you get reports on what videos your child is watching online.
Kaspersky Internet Security 2013 (protect up to three PCs for one year: $69.51 on amazon.com) offers most of the same Web protection as the others, including time limiting and Web content blocking. But it goes a step further in managing your child's PC use by letting parents block specific software from running or setting time limits. This can be useful if you want to let your child play their favorite game -- but only on weekends; or if you have software, such as QuickBooks, that your child really has no business accessing at all.
Kaspersky also provides parents control over specific contacts in your child's social networks and instant messaging accounts; you can set who your child can communicate with -- and who they can't. This has the defensive benefit of protecting your child from bullies, while also ensuring they are not carrying on conversations with strangers.
Kaspersky offers multi-platform protection through Kaspersky One ($99.95 for up to five devices), protecting your kids from malware on Android and iOS smartphones and tablets, but there are no integrated parental controls for these other devices. Instead, you must download the Kaspersky Parental Control Beta (free on kaspersky.com), which lets you filter Web content and, for Android, control what apps can run on the device.
McAfee Internet Security 2013
McAfee Internet Security 2013 (protect up to three PCs for one year: $41.99 on amazon.com) has the most limited parental controls of the big four. You can limit Web browsing based on age or specific categories, set time limits and get reports on your kids browsing history, but that's about it. There are no social network protections or parental controls for mobile devices.