The State of Parental Controls going into 2019

Kids are now growing up in a digital age. Screens are part of their lives from day one. As they grow, they want to use devices and play games and do whatever everyone else is doing. I am not going to debate if this is a good or bad thing – but it is a reality. 

Major tech companies have taken notice and they have been (and still are in progress) releasing ways for parents to keep tabs on their kids’ device and screen time usage. 

Of course, the big three – Apple, Google, Microsoft – have their solutions. Also other players like Facebook, Nintendo, Sony have solutions for their products as well.

Apple

Let’s start with Apple. There are few different things Apple has had and now just recently came out with to help parents. Up until iOS 12 they had “Family” groups you could create – not so much for managing screen time, but for creating a group where family members can share purchases, location, etc.

As a parent you can set up an Apple/iCloud account for a minor and then incorporate them into your “Family”. A parent also had to set up “restrictions” in iOS settings for each device for a kid. Kids can ask permission to install apps, and parents devices get an alert to allow or deny. 

What NOT to do: I have seen too many parents just sign in as themselves and give their kids a device. Please DON’T do this! Kids can really mess up your accounts. Another thing would be just giving kid unmanaged device with no account. You lose a lot of shared benefits of having an account for your kid under your family.

With the latest release Apple came out with “Screen Time” – for users to manage their own digital wellbeing on their own devices, but this also lets parents manage screen time on kids devices under the family group. 

Screen Time - Kid Device Management

You then get a weekly report of Screen Time for your kid and can change settings etc through Screen Time on what apps are allowed, etc. 

So, what’s missing? Well – for one – some devices have TouchId or FaceId – how does a parent set that up and still get into a device physically? Up to you. For now on my family devices, no passcodes or 2 factor auth – it is just too much overhead and messy to manage with kids. 

Google

Google has something similar for managing kids devices – it is called “Family Link” – but you need to install and configure it. Similarly to Apple screen time you can manage what apps and time spent and other settings on devices. It works on Android devices so if you are running a Google Android device but your kid has an old iPad or iPhone you are out of luck. 

Google Family Link App

Recently they announced you can run Family Link on Chromebooks (ChromeOS) as well – but I have yet to get this working. It is supposed to work similarly to Android where you can manage the apps and see usage, set screen time etc.

I have found that Google support around Family Link is more responsive than other Google support I have tried to reach out to, but I still cannot get it working on my daughters Chromebook.

One thing to note as well, and maybe I can follow up on this one after I get it working – but you need to create a google account for your kid (just like Apple). If you manage it, it should be okay. But – your kid might already have a Google Account through their school district. It starts getting tricky here. You as a parent cannot “manage” that account. I think there is a way to link them. So the kid would login to your Chromebook with their kid google account, and then still be able to get to google classroom or login to chrome (google docs, etc) with the school account. Time will tell. It is messy right now.

YouTube (owned by Google) is another story. YouTube is really a cesspool of crap if you get down the rabbit hole. There have been many articles and cries for help to Google/YouTube to let parents better regulate what their kids see. YouTube STILL doesn’t let you block entire channels. This is a big miss.

Also, if you have shared devices (like an Apple TV, etc) with YouTube and you login as the adult – the kids sees your recommendations. What kids watch screw up your recommendations. Switching between accounts is not easy (Netflix does this pretty well).

YouTube Kids is an app that is made for “kids” – and is supposed to filter out junk – but it isn’t foolproof. Parents are usually going to take the easy route, and YouTube website/main app etc are going to be the go to. In my opinion – the filtering on YouTube and parental control is one of the big problems Google needs to tackle, and soon.

Google also has a bunch of features, not so much parental controls, that they are coming out for around Google Home around reading books with your kids, stories, etc. Try them out sometime if you can, they are pretty cool. With four kids in the house, reading to one of them, while one reads themselves, while the other says “Hey google, tell me a story” is a lifesaver, especially when one parent is away for an evening.

Microsoft

Microsoft has very similar setups to Apple and Google – but of course a little different. With Microsoft, you can setup an account for your child and tie it to your “family” – but you can use an existing email (so if you have a gmail or icloud from Apple or Google you can use that).

Microsoft Family Home Page

The only real devices you can manage from Microsoft are Windows devices and Xbox.

You can allow a child to login to a Windows device and restrict time and apps. One big miss here though is that you can only manage web browsing with Edge, and not other browsers. My kid uses Chrome – because they are used to it with Google Chromebooks at school, but I cannot manage their browser usage, etc. Big bummer

Managing Screen Time for Microsoft Devices

With Xbox you can manage screen time and game limits and ratings, etc. Works pretty well

Nintendo

Nintendo has an app you can download and tie it to your Nintendo switch. You can use it as parental control and set time limits and game limits etc. I don’t use it for that as I manage that pretty close directly with my kids but a nice feature of the app is it tracks play time, and that is good even to see for myself!

Nintendo Parental Control App
Nintendo Switch – Play Time

Facebook

Facebook. Not sure on this one as I deactivated my account recently and I am about to jump ship due to their creepiness, scandals, privacy issues, etc.

I did try out Facebook Messenger for Kids this summer. It lets your kid sign up just for Messenger for Kids, not Facebook. They can add their friends, but both kids parents have to allow it. Also, parents can limit usage time and also install the app on their device and see all messages, etc.

This app works well if your kid wants to message their friend from their old iPhone using iMessage – but their friend has their parents old Android device and it won’t work.

Netflix & Hulu

I mentioned it earlier, but Netflix does have a way to create a “profile” that is deemed “kids” and is pre-filtered to kids specific shows. You can set it for “little kids” or “older kids and younger”. This works fairly well in practice.

It is easy enough for kids to just change profiles though. Maybe having non kid profiles pin controlled would be a good addition? Also, we have one for “Family” that has things we might all watch together vs just Paw Patrol episodes 🙂

Profile for Kids in Netflix
Edit Profile – Kids – Netflix

Hulu has a very similar setup. Profile for kids, can see kids shows.

Choose Profile Screen on Hulu – Web
Set Programming to “Kid Friendly” – Hulu

Sony

Sony has a way to set up parental controls on Playstation. You can set up a profile for your kid – but you need an email address. You can restrict games and screen time, etc.

I have a Playstation but haven’t set these up myself as my kids don’t play on it. Yet.

Amazon

Amazon has a way to set parental controls, I really can’t speak to them as I have no real Amazon devices where you set this up – but here is a link to assist if you’ve read this far.

Summary

Okay, so there is a lot going on here. Your mileage may vary. Your family is going to be different than mine. More or less kids, different ages. Also, your tech profile won’t be the same. Different devices, platforms and operating systems.

As you can see, for the big companies, you need to set up an email address for your children and manage their profiles, and connect them to your family. Then they offer you ways to restrict time on devices and also different types of content, etc.

There are also ways some of the smaller or ancillary players let you manage children use time and parental controls. I hope you found this useful, hit me up in the comments with any questions!

Amazon Kindle Support is Best Ever

For my birthday, Emily and Ella got me a Kindle. And yeah, Kindle rocks. Not just the device, but I have been using it for iPhone, iPad, Mac, PC since it came out. To top it off the device rocks as well, I like that it works outside in the sun the most, and the battery life is stellar. Even as the iPad is “one app” at a time device, really, the Kindle device is “one app” in a device, and it lets you focus. I have read like 8+ books so far this year.

I recently got home from a trip, and finished a book. After shutting down the Kindle, I noticed a blotch on the screen. WTF? I keep it in a case and haven’t dropped it or anything. So I call Amazon Kindle customer service. They ask me about it, really just what happened and in 1 minute they are sending me a new Kindle and instructions and prepaid postage to send the other one back. I get the new one, it is already registered to me, and I am on my way. I was flabbergasted at how good the support was, you don’t get it or see it everyday. Kudos Amazon.

Book Review: The Cult of the Amateur by Andrew Keen

Recently, Amazon released their Kindle application for the iPhone. Since I don’t have a Kindle (but I want one!) I figured this would be the next best thing. They have this technology in the app called WhisperSync which sync’s up the page you are reading, so if you do have a Kindle, you can switch between that and the iPhone app and pick right up where you left off.

I have had the Kindle app for a few weeks now, but have just read samples on it (you can send samples of books from the Amazon site to your iPhone). Now, whenever I hear of some book that might sound interesting, I will note it in the iPhone, and then later go to Amazon and check it out. One of these books I heard about recently was “The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet is Killing Our Culture” by Andrew Keen


I heard Mr. Keen on an NPR program talking about his book, and it piqued my interest. First off, let me say that reading the book on the Kindle iPhone app rocks. I read this book in like 3 days just reading it here and there when I had some free time, just pulled up the iPhone and started reading, very slick.

Now, about the book. He goes into detail about how Wikipedia, Illegal movie and music downloads, blogs, YouTube, Google, User Generated Content, remixes, mashups, etc, and everything Web 2.0 (and even Web 1.0 – in my opinion sometimes he just blur’s the distinction) is killing our minds, and media, and jobs, and culture, and everything else.

I got the feeling while reading this, imagining an author back around the time cars started to get popular, but horses were still on the roads, where the author is complaining about autos and transportation using them, arguing we need to save horses as the method for transport.

If newspapers, local tv news, magazine, artists, etc don’t want to keep up with changing technology, then in my eyes they almost deserve to fail. He refers to Beethoven and Mozart and how they would never use the methods today to distribute their works, etc. It seems that there is this same arguement over and over. I can just see/hear it: “Sheet Music is killing the ability to play by ear!”.. “Radio is killing Sheet Music!”.. “Vinyl Albums are Killing Radio”.. “8 Tracks are killing Vinyl” (ok, I am joking on that one).. “Cassettes and CD’s will kill Vinyl”… “Mp3’s are going to kill CD’s!”..

Wait up. The part I didn’t add on all those quotes was this . ” and the artists suffer”, yet the artists always continue to survive. Its the fat cats, the middlemen who end up losing out. The publishers and then go betweens that need to change their models and they just don’t adapt to change fast enough, or do they want to change. It seems that they just want it how it is right now, and everything will be fine, and I guess I disagree.

Wikipedia, YouTube, all the mashups – they release creativity. What you as a user of these services need to realize is that you need to take everything at face value. You shouldn’t take Wikipedia as gospel, it is up to you to know that. Most people don’t do that though, and thats the problem. Instead of blaming the services and the content, how about we look at ourselves?

Ok, I could keep ranting on every part of this book in the same manner, but I will stop. It is a good read, gives another perspective of the “Web 2.0 Revolution” (as I roll my eyes – it isn’t a revolution at all, its an evolution – things will always change).

In the end ,it just seems as the old media and the old ways of doing things are trying to cling on to anything they can to try to make it stay the way it was, but that just isn’t going to happen. With everything, you CHOOSE to be a part of it or not. You don’t need to use Google, or the internet or anything, and you will be just fine, but if you do choose, then you play by the rules (or non-rules) of the net, plain and simple.

So, if you do have an iPhone, I would gladly recommend checking out the Kindle app from Amazon and start reading some more books (And if you have a Kindle as well, even better!)

The Cult of the Amateur: How blogs, MySpace, YouTube, and the rest of today’s user-generated media are destroying our economy, our culture, and our values


Amazon S3 and WordPress Video Site – 2 Hour Project – What A Debacle

About a month ago, I wanted to test using Amazon’s S3 service, for storage. I couldn’t think of any quick, easy projects to use it for, then it hit me, how about video/photos?

I decided to see how long it would take for me to make a video site, with comments, views, etc, on a small budget.

My first thought was maybe to use a hosted WordPress.com blog, and just redirect the domain, which is about 10 dollars a year, and then use S3 for the video/photo hosting. That idea was nixed because hosted WordPress.com blogs can’t embed flash, javascript, or iFrames, etc.

My next idea was just getting a WordPress hosted blog at HostMySite, which is what I went with (which eventually I will move to my own server). This was 45$, and the domain was roughly 10$, so 55$ so far.

Now, to get videos working, and a cool theme. First the theme. I just searched free WordPress theme sites, and found one that looked cool. I set it up, slapped up some Google AdSense and Google Analytics, and changed the logo, rearranged a few things.

As for getting video to work. I was having issues embedding jscript (for the flash video embeds) in WordPress. It would work, but then screw up the formatting of the rest of the page, etc. I knew iFrame would work, so I went that route. Since I am a .NET dev at heart, I made a page where it will take some params on my www.stevienova.com site, and grab the file from S3 and play it. So on WordPress, I just iFrame that site with the right params. I suppose later I could make a PHP page to do the same thing and keep it all self enclosed. Probably will do that once I move it to my server.

For video I found a nice little flv embed, which has a ton of options, even can do pre and post roll ads if I want. What is nice with the setup I have is that there really isn’t and bandwidth being eaten by my webhost. Just the theme images. Everything else is on S3. The videos, thumbnails, etc.

Pricing for Amazon S3 is pretty good.

  • Storage Used: $0.15 per GB-Month of storage. This fee applies to all object data and metadata stored in buckets that you created under your account.

    It does not matter who created the objects in your buckets, so think twice before you give somebody the right to write objects to your bucket!

  • Network Data Transferred: $0.20 per GB of data transferred. This fee applies anytime data is read from or written to one of your buckets. It does not matter who is reading or writing the data, so consider this when you give public access to one of your objects that may become popular.

With the site just starting, the storage and transfer is really low. Less than a dollar.

So, in about 2 hours and less than 60 dollars later, I created a self managed Funny Video site, from the ground up. I can now use Windows Live Writer to post to it, and I use a S3 tool to upload files to S3.

I also have other people putting videos on it, so that is cool as well. I am not sure where it will, because it really was just an experiment to see how fast I could get a video site up, and for how cheap.

Not sure how funny the videos are or will be, but if you want something up, I will put it up. Once nice thing, is that I can just iFrame YouTube as well, so if there is something there that might be Copyrighted by a YouTube uploader, I don’t have to worry about that, since its just the YouTube player which you can embed legally.

Fun stuff 🙂

Check out the site.

whatadebacle

http://www.whatadebacle.com