In today’s modern economy, no one wants to spend a dime more than they have to, and this is doubly true for those of us supporting a family. I have two children myself, and protecting them is the highest priority. Today’s average teenager has somewhere in the neighborhood of 400 or more social networking contacts, which means that the parent saying, “don’t talk to strangers” doesn’t have the impact it once did. Moreover, many parents admit to being baffled or at least ignorant as to what their kids spend most of their time online doing. Protecting our children while they are on the computer is just as important as protecting them in any other place, so why not do it for free?
Qustodio (pronounced Cust-oh-dee-oh) is a free program that allows you to protect and monitor your children online. You can see how they spend their internet time, set limits for them to be online, and protect them from the various online dangers like predators, un-suitable content, and other cyber-hazards.
There are, of course, other programs out there that offer online monitoring but many of them are cumbersome to install, cost a monthly subscription fee, or just plain don’t work. Qustodio offers a free way around these issues. Currently available for windows (Xp through 7), there is no official line on whether they will be producing a Mac version or not.
Installing Qustodio was easy, a matter of a few clicks and waiting for the infamous ‘loading bar’ to complete it’s journey from one side of the window to the other. Once the installation is done, it invites you to sign up for a Qustodio account. This account is free and links you to what they call the “Family Protection Portal” , hereafter called the FPP. During the account creation process, you’ll create a profile for each of the children you wish to use Qustodio for. A nice feature that it offers at that point is to ‘hide’ Qustodio on your PC, so that no one can see that it is operating. This is an interesting option that keeps the kids from knowing they are being monitored. While I don’t approve of duplicity in general, it could be a good way to find out what they would be looking at if they think they are not being watched. While the cat’s assumed to be away, the mice are pretty sure they can play with impunity. The install process also requires that you create an account for each child to log on to windows itself. This can be a rather tedious process normally, but Qustodio pretty much does it for you so it’s painless. At the end of the process, it asks you to restart the computer, which will be important to activate the account(s) just created for them. It also sends a ‘welcome’ email to your account, with some basics on getting started.
When you get back to your desktop you’ll find a little Qustodio icon in the system tray. Clicking on this icon offers a configuration menu or the option to report a problem with the software. The Configuration menu is actually a web page that takes you to the FPP and once logged in you can change all kinds of settings here. You can change accounts, basic account info, the computers that your kids are running, and even set up different kinds of email notifications to tell you when the kids are up to something. Essentially, the way Qustodio works is to pass information through a specialized proxy program (called qproxy) and verify it’s level of safety based on the settings you choose in the FPP. Each child’s profile has a Summary of their activities and a Rules & Settings tab that lets you decide what and when and how they interact with the web. You can choose categories for them, to limit their options. You can also set up time limits for when they are allowed to use the internet. For example, you can set it up so that each child has a three hour block to use the internet, and during one child’s time block, another’s is disabled. This not only helps to keep the kids on task by creating a schedule and limiting their own usage, it also helps cut down on the “you’ve been on it forever! let me on it!” syndrome that any parent with more than one child and only one computer is far too familiar with. You can even set up specific site or domain exceptions to the standard categories. Additionally, Qustodio offers a fairly robust Safe Search option that will filter the children’s search results. Many search engines offer this same kind of filtering, but having it centralized and connected to the child’s windows account makes it far easier, and more reliable no matter what search engine they use.
During my testing, the only real downside I found to Qustodio is that the qproxy.exe can be slightly CPU intensive so I would recommend this program for anyone who has a mid-range to high-end system but those with slow, old machines may have some trouble running it. On the upside, having the children’s profiles available on the FPP via the web means you can monitor, check-in, and modify their settings and activity even when you are not at home. You could, for instance, log in and see what they are doing on the web while you are at work, or log in to the web from your smartphone and check to see what they are up to while you’re out on date night. So far, there is not an Android or iPhone app available for Qustodio but it’s probably only a matter of time.
Qustodio advertises itself as “Tamper-Proof” and says that no matter how technologically inclined your kids may be, they won’t be able to find a way around the limits you impose using Qustodio. Personally, I would take this particular boast with a grain of salt because I know first-hand just how smart and capable kids can be, but in general you probably don’t have to worry much about it unless your kids are teens and are computer gurus. I tried to find some ways around it and while I was successful, it did require a certain amount of expertise that it’s not likely most kids would have available. Just make sure you don’t give the child accounts any administration rights on the computer and you should be fine.
If you need help with Qustodio, they do offer a contact link on their home page, but other than that there isn’t much in the way of support. You can report a problem or give feedback on the site but there isn’t an available FAQ or user forum to answer any questions you might have. Nevertheless, because of the simplicity of the program, I didn’t have any questions I wasn’t able to figure out on my own.
Overall, I found Qustodio to be worth it’s weight in ones and zeros and I would suggest it to anyone who wants to monitor their kids online without spending the college fund on super fancy premium cost software to do so.
Tested on: Windows 32-Bit Home Premium and Chrome (5.0+)
Get it at: http://qustodio.com/