What do you suggest for managing what my family can access on the Internet from our house?
This question was answered on October 7, 2015. Much of the information contained herein may have changed since posting.
Parental control options exist in many forms and are generally part of just about any operating system or device that you own.
Whether it’s a Windows or Mac computer, an iOS or Android-based mobile device or a gaming console, there are various settings you can change that provide content and app usage controls.
The best way to find information on your specific device is to do a Google search for ‘parental controls on xxx’.
You can also install third-party software programs such as K9 Web Protection on your computers for pinpoint control on a machine-by-machine basis.
The problem with both of these approaches is that it can become a bit overwhelming in a household that has lots of computers and mobile devices, especially if you aren't particularlytech savvy.
Continually monitoring and managing controls on each of the devices also becomes an ongoing burden since the average US household has 5 to 7 devices that connect to the Internet.
One option that can be much more efficient for setting the ground rules for Internet usage in your home is to change the DNS settings in your router to use the free tools available at OpenDNS.
DNS stands for Domain Name System and it’s why we can use words instead of numbers to access websites that we want to visit.
It translates the ‘host name’ into its associated IP address in the background, so we don’t have to remember a bunch of random numbers.
For example, you would have to know that Google was at http://18.104.22.168
instead of just typing http://google.com without DNS servers doing the translation for you.
By changing the DNS settings on your router to point at OpenDNS, you can control everything that connects to the Internet through your router.
This eliminates the need to go machine-by-machine or device-by-device to get things setup and it also ensures that guests that use your connection follow your rules.
When you sign up for a free personal account, OpenDNS provides a web dashboard that gives you lots of ways to control what can be accessed.
You can choose from one of the three preset levels of filtering or choose from over 50 categories of content to create your own custom level of filtering.
You can also manually add individual websites that you want to always block or always allow, which allows you to create a truly customized filter for your family over time.
It’s really a great way to manage things when your children are younger, but is far from perfect for tech savvy teenagers.
There are simple ways to circumvent the router’s DNS settings if you don’t take advanced steps to lock down all DNS traffic, which may require you to get some assistance from a tech savvy friend.
It’s also completely useless for smartphones or tablets that have their own cellular connection, so remember to setup the parental controls on the device itself in those cases.
About the author
Ken Colburn of Data Doctors on October 7, 2015