Today's Cap Times has an article
about parental snooping on their kids' Internet activity/cell phone usage and the technology that enables it. According to the piece, there are many services and pieces of software out there that lets parents monitor the activity of their children. A company called SpectorSoft is doing brisk business with sales growing "by 25 percent a year for the past three years". They have a service that allows parents to read every text message their child receives in real time and have "sold 500,000 copies of its snoopware to families."
The article also mentions that these products and services appeal to parents "who are often left in the dust by tech-savvy teens". Sales numbers are one thing but how many non-tech-savvy parents were actually able to install the software and then learn how to use it effectively? I've worked in IT for a while and, let me tell you, there are a lot of people out there for whom "non-tech-savvy" is an understatement. Yes, I've encountered people who think the DVD tray is a cup holder. One guy, when told to close all open windows, got up from his chair and closed all the windows (of the glass kind) in his house. And then there are those who have never used the right mouse button before and, when told to do so, become fearful of ever using the left mouse button again. It's like they're scared that pushing both at the same time would be like crossing the streams in Ghostbusters
and lead to total protonic reversal.
Snoopware is great but completely useless unless you know how to use the stuff.
I have an 11-year old stepson at home and I have Windows Live Family Safety
on his laptop. While it has many features, I use only a couple. The one I use the most is time limits. I can make sure his session is locked when it approaches bed time and cut out his access completely when he misbehaves in such an egregious manner as to require denying access to the laptop as a punishment. The other one I use is web filtering. It's set on the lowest level so as to filter out only the most obvious stuff. There is also a log of web usage but I've only looked at it once or twice. I saw that the kid does e-mail, goes to YouTube, and goes to some online gaming sites but not much else so I don't bother to look at the log. Besides, I've got better things to do than perusing it – like being there as he creates worlds in Blockland.
But he's 11. Right now I don't have any reason to worry about him surfing porn because he won't do it. The easiest way to get him to leave the living room is to put on a movie that has topless women in it. The kid hates boobs. He's repulsed by the mere sight of them. This situation will no doubt change soon but I am not worried about porn in the least. Now, maybe his mother is but I don't know. I viewed the stuff as a kid but it was in magazines and I turned out OK. The only difference is going to be that he is going to the miss out on the pages stuck together. (And, if he's straight, the lovely forests of Venus.)
My worry is downloading. Viruses are a pain but that can be mitigated pretty well with anti-virus software and Windows' User Account Control. Hell, with my shiny new router I can put his laptop on a guest channel to shield my PC and his mother's. No, what I worry about is torrenting. The last thing I need is to be slapped with a lawsuit by the RIAA or MPAA, not to mention I'd probably have no bandwidth left.
As far as the issue of trust goes, I'm in the middle somewhere. I certainly trust that teenagers will do and say the stupidest things but I don't want to be Big Brother and monitor everything. Parents weren't able to snoop in on every conversation before the Internet and ubiquity of cell phones so why start now? I think it is a bad lesson to teach kids that Big Brother is going to be watching them. But, on the other hand, it's also a bad lesson to teach kids that they can have freedom without any responsibility.
I guess I'll just have to wait and see what the future holds and how the boy develops as a teenager. So much of this is contingent upon circumstances which vary greatly from family to family. Right now I have no plans to change anything unless I have reason to believe trouble lies ahead. I want the boy to understand that I want him to enjoy himself online, to flex his creativity, and feel that he has some privacy. But I also want him to understand that he is a child and that his mother and I are the ones in charge. He gets to earn our trust and the amount of freedom he has is commensurate with the responsibility with which he uses it.
Lastly I'll note that the new version of Windows Live Family Safety was just made available today along with the rest of the Windows Live Essentials suite. I am using a beta of this version now on a Windows 7 machine. One big difference I noticed was that it moves all the parental controls online. Out of the box, Windows 7 parental controls are apps on the PC. Now you are sent to log into a Windows Live account (or Hotmail) and access all the controls from a webpage. Once you save settings, they sync with your computer and are enforced.
While I like the idea of being able to 86 the kid's use of the computer remotely if he fucks up big time, it's been hit or miss as far as how long it takes the synching to occur. I actually posted a question at the Family Safety forums asking how long a delay I can expect between saving and synching as was told that "from their experience", it was pretty much instantaneous. This did little to allay my fears. Hey Microsoft, have someone with technical knowledge man the boards. I don't need all the details on the APIs or anything but it would have been nice to have gotten an answer based on the program's technical specifications along with some reasons why your mileage may vary. Also note that the program's website is much more interested in touting features than it is in giving documentation.
Going by balloon messages appearing in the Notification Area, I've seen changes applied after a few seconds, a few minutes, and a few hours.