Can K9 keep porn off your kid’s iPad or iPhone?

Posted in iPhone download, iPhone News by admin. Published January 31st, 2011

Can K9 keep porn off your kid’s iPad or iPhone?

If the schools that my kids attend are anything to go by, it seems that high on Santa’s list this Xmas just gone was an iTouch, iPhone or iPad depending how well off the parents were. That’s understandable, they are just as attractive as gadgets for kids as they are to adults.

But along with the never ending supply of free games, educational apps and the like comes the small problem of unfettered access to the Internet and all that brings with it. While adults may well have the family PC protected by parental control software to filter unsuitable content from their kids screens, the same is unlikely to be the case with a smartphone or tablet device. So how can parents keep porn, and other unsuitable online content, off the iPhone and iPad? One solution is provided by the same company, Blue Coat, that has been supplying a free and hugely popular desktop parental control solution for some years now in the form of K9 Web Protection.

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Blue Coat tells me that the app utilises the same cloud-based WebPulse service that provides desktop users with up-to-the-moment protection from objectionable content and threats by continually categorizing new and evolving content driven by the real-time online experiences of more than 70 million users. On a typical day the WebPulse service identifies over 110,000 pages of new or previously uncategorized pornography and adult content.

I installed the K9 browser app and immediately tried to access some porn sites, both well known and less so, without altering any of the default settings. All the porn I tried to access was immediately blocked. Having tested many parental control software solutions in the past, I know from experience that many can be bypassed by simply turning off Google SafeSearch and then querying the Google Image search engine for sexually explicit material. Not so K9, no Google Image searches were allowed, not just for sexual content but any content at all as the entire Google Image search facility is blocked.

There were a few inconsistencies that we found with K9 for iOS. Some drug awareness and education sites were allowed, while others were blocked under the ‘illegal drugs’ category. The online pharmacy sites we tried were also allowed. Gambling help sites were allowed, but online betting services and casinos were blocked. Race hate site blocking was pretty hit and miss, so while the ‘white power’ sites we tried to visit in the US were clocked, the racist UK British National Party site was not.

Likewise, some parental control software gets a bit too strict when it comes to sites that provide educational or medical advice about things such as breast cancer. However, a quick test confirmed that sites dealing with breast cancer were not blocked, so thankfully K9 is not using a simple keyword blocking system. However, sites dealing with sex education were blanket blocked, including relevant entries on Wikipedia. While some parents might not want their children referencing such material, others will be shocked to find that sex education and pornography are treated as one and the same thing: unsuitable.

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It is possible to report a site for review by clicking the on-screen link, which reveals the categories the site has been blocked under and provides a form to complete with your reasoning why it should be reclassified. But you cannot configure which categories should apply to your childs browsing activity based on age or parental choice, as you can with the desktop product. In fact, you cannot really configure much at all.

You can opt to clear the browser history after 7, 14, 30 or 60 days. You can choose whether to accept cookies or not, and whether cookies should be automatically cleared each time the browser starts. You can toggle the annoying dog barking sound when a site is blocked, although thankfully this is off by default. But that is pretty much the extent of the K9 browser configurability.

When it comes to configuration, the truly concerned parent is going to be doing most of it outside of the K9 app itself. Indeed, you need to lock down iOS itself if you want to prevent your kids accessing the stuff you don’t want them to. So, for example, while the K9 app will block access to YouTube if your kids try and get to it through the browser app itself, if they fire up the native iOS YouTube app (which is installed by default courtesy of Apple) your kids can view whatever they want thank you very much. The same, of course, applies to websites accessed via the default Safari web browser. K9 does provide a link which offers to help you disable these apps, which involves getting stuck into the iOS password enabled ‘restrictions’ settings but there is no in-app ability to change these settings.

Oh, and talking of downsides, an advertising bar in the free version takes up a fair bit of screen estate, based at the top of the browser client. This is particularly problematical with the iPhone version as the screen is not exactly enormous to start with! Of course, you can remove the adverts with an in-app purchase but that costs $2.99

The trouble with simplistic parental control solutions is that they tend to offer an all or nothing approach to the problem of unsuitable content. The desktop version of K9 is popular not only because it is free but, I suspect, as it provides a great deal of flexibility to the parent when it comes to controlling the precise nature of content categorization on a child by child It’s even possible to temporarily override the filtering if your childs needs access to a particular site for a homework assignment, for example.

Sadly, the K9 Web Protection Browser for iOS is the complete opposite and goes for the ‘all’ approach with absolutely no flexibility built in. This may work for the very youngest of children, although one wonders why they might have an iOS device anyway, but not for the kind of age range that are more likely to be in possession of an iTouch, iPhone or iPad. By locking down access to the native apps and severely restricting access via the web, those gadgets lose a lot of their usefulness as an educational tool and appeal as an entertainment device.

To answer the question posed in the title of this review then, yes, K9 can and does keep porn off your kids iPad or iPhone. No doubt about that. But until Blue Coat introduces a degree of granularity in the controls it imposes, and puts the choice of acceptable content categorization in the hands of the parents, I cannot recommend it.

[Thanks: http://www.daniweb.com]

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