Getting parental control to work on an iOS device has been a problem plaguing programmers for ages. Apple's tight control over how programs can interact makes it difficult, but lately some new techniques have emerged. Kaspersky Safe Kids (for iPhone) leverages these new techniques better than the competition. It's the most effective mobile parental control product I've seen on the iOS platform.
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The $14.99 per year Safe Kids subscription lets you configure as many child profiles as you want, and install on as many iOS, Android, Windows, or Mac devices as you want. That's impressive. The only similar product with no limits on children or devices is Symantec Norton Family Premier, and it costs $49.99 per year. In fact, Safe Kids is by far the least expensive of any iOS-compatible parental control we've reviewed, and all the rest (save Norton) limit you to anywhere from three to five devices. uKnowKids Premier (for iPhone) in particular costs $100 per year and permits four child profiles and eight devices. Safe Kids looks pretty generous!
The iOS edition reviewed here has most of the features that Kaspersky Safe Kids offers on Windows and Mac desktops, but not all of them. Read my review of the full product to learn all the details. And if your family uses both iOS and Android devices, check out my review of Kaspersky Safe Kids (for Android).
Quite a few Android parental control tools offer an app for parents; not so many under iOS. Besides Safe Kids, only Mobicip (for iPhone) and FamilyTime Premium (for iPhone) offer an app for parents. And Safe Kids is the only one that uses the same app for parents and for kids.
Your My Kaspersky account is what ties all your devices together, and the initial setup for that account is easiest from a desktop browser. With the account created, it's time to install the app on your own iOS device in Parent Mode. Log in to the My Kaspersky account and you're ready to get started. Create a profile for each child with name and birth year, and optionally choose a predefined or personal avatar image. For testing the parent app, I used an Apple iPad Air.
Next, install that same app on your child's device in Child Mode. For testing, I installed it on an Apple iPhone 6. Here's where Kaspersky gets really clever. A number of parental control vendors have discovered that they can exercise control on iOS devices by using a Mobile Device Management (MDM) profile. Familoop Safeguard (for iPhone), FamilyTime, and Circle Go (for iPhone) all use this technique. But it's a snap for a clever child to remove the profile and thereby remove parental control.
A child who tries that trick with Safe Kids gets a surprise. The removal process requires a passcode, and the child gets no indication of where to even look for the passcode. If you, as a parent, want to remove the profile, you can get the necessary passcode from your My Kaspersky account online.
Norton, Mobicip, and Net Nanny (for iPhone) accomplish their content filtering through a proprietary browser. They explain to parents in excruciating detail how to use restrictions to prevent use of other browsers. Safe Kids also works through a proprietary browser—in fact, the app in Child Mode is the proprietary browser. But through the power of the MDM profile, it actively suppresses other browsers. Their icons vanish from the phone. Familoop manages filtering in any browser because it installs a VPN for that purpose; however, kids can easily turn off the VPN.
Content Filtering and Social Networks
When you create a new child profile, Safe Kids preconfigures its content filtering system based on the child's age. There are fourteen content categories that can each be marked as Allowed, Warning, or Blocked. Blocked is simple: The child can't go there, period. In the desktop editions, the blocking screen includes a link that lets parents temporarily lift restrictions. That link isn't present in the mobile editions.
When the child visits a site from a category marked Warning, the display from Safe Kids is almost the same as for a blocked site. However, instead of a red traffic light it shows a yellow light, and there's a link to proceed to the site regardless. Naturally, parents get an alert any time a child ignores a warning. You can adjust the status of each category from the parent app.
You have to set up social media tracking by using the online console to send an email asking your child to install an app for Facebook or for the VK social network, popular in Russia and Europe. If the child later removes the app, you'll get a notification.
Since monitoring occurs through an app in the social network account, it doesn't matter what device is actually used. Safe Kids picks up posts regardless. However, if you want to view social media activity you have to log in to the online console.
Timeout Warnings and App Control
Most parental control systems offers some kind of time scheduling, applying a weekly schedule or daily limit to Internet or device usage. In Safe Kids, this feature is extremely flexible. For each device, you can simply monitor usage, set a daily maximum, or define a weekly schedule for when the device may be used. You can also choose whether to block use of the device outside allowed times, or simply display a warning. When time is up, the child gets a one-minute warning to shut things down.
For iOS devices, there's no option to actually block access. The only option is a warning. In testing, I found that the warning was a simple, unobtrusive notification. This feature is definitely more powerful on other platforms. Note, too, that usage limits must be configured in the online console.
Safe Kids can block use of applications matching 14 categories and can block, allow, or time-limit specific apps—but not on iOS. The only application control feature that works in the iOS edition is blocking use of apps based on several age-related rating systems.
Where Is My Child?
If you know where your child's smartphone is, you probably know where the child is. Tapping a link in the center bottom of the parent app's display quickly displays your child's location on a map. Easy!
Better still, you can use Safe Kids to help ensure that your kids are where they're supposed to be, using the Allowed area feature. An Allowed area is a circular region that you define by dragging and sizing on the map. You also list the times when the child should be within this region. For example, you could draw a circle around the school and fill in the school schedule. If the child crosses the boundary of an allowed area, or doesn't show up in that area when it's time, you get a notification.
A similar geofencting feature in FamilyTime worked fine with devices having cellular connection, but not with Wi-Fi-only devices. In testing, Safe Kids worked either way.
You get a notification through the parent app any time your child crosses a geofence, ignores a warning that time's up, tries to visit a blocked site, tries to uninstall Safe Kids…the list goes on and on. If you're drowning in alerts, you can trim the list of events that trigger them. By default, you also receive these alerts via email. Those who mainly use the parent app should probably turn off redundant email notification.
You have more control over alerts in the online console. You can discard those you've dealt with, or clear the entire list. The console is also the only place you can view an activity summary or dig in for detailed reports. Yes, you can log in to the console from your iPad, but it doesn't fit very well on an iPhone.
Clearly a Winner
Kaspersky Safe Kids is the best parental control tool I've seen for iOS. It doesn't limit the number of child profiles or devices, and the same app serves as a monitoring tool for parents. Kids can't uninstall it, unlike some competing products. It has a few limitations, like the inability to enforce time limits and the lack of call and text monitoring, but it's more complete than the competition.
Kaspersky Safe Kids is a new Editors' Choice for iOS parental control. It joins existing Editors' Choice uKnowKids Premier (for iPhone) , a very different product that doesn't attempt to control children's activity, just monitor it.