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Monday, June 21, 2010


As much as it goes against my professed disapproval of those "Crackberry" phone addicts who can't put work down for two seconds, I did just get a Droid.  For those of you who don't know, there are basically three levels of cell phones:  regular phones (lowest level), smart phones (middle level), and pda phones (highest level).  Droid is a pda phone that rivals the iPhone, running a myriad of possible apps and delivering high-speed access to my e-mail and the internet.  I hate to admit it but I love it so far.  It does so many cool things, I can understand why people are waiting two months to get one...and why every teenager wants one.  It's got an 8 megapixel camera and a camcorder, it plays mp3's and video, it's got GPS built in, and it has an app for pretty much anything you would want to fact, I am posting this article from my Droid, not my computer.  It's electronic candy for adults.

Although it's unlikely that most parents would run out and purchase a Droid for their children (especially at its $500 price), I felt compelled to share some observations about the Droid, in case anyone has recently come into money and felt like their child deserved such a device.

First, let me restate my position on kids and phones:  No child needs a smartphone or a pda.  Texting and calling family and friends does not require Internet capabilities or a data plan on the phone.  If your children or the post-teens at Verizon are telling you otherwise, they are pulling a fast one one you.  Most basic phone services will allow your children to call or text.  So my best advice is don't get s Droid or even an Internet/data enabled smartphone of any type for your kids.

Now, with that out of the way, the Droid does do a lot and is a very useful business tool.  But it does pose some threat to kids that every adult should know about before they hand their phone over to their kids to play a game or especially before they buy one for their child.

Back on February 25th, I posted an article that praised Apple for taking all objectionable apps off of its iTunes store.  It's still that way and Apple continues to deserve kudos for it.  Droid, however has it's own version of the iTunes store it calls the Apps Market or Marketplace.  In fact there are several different sites you can download Droid apps from, unlike iTunes that only allows apps downloaded through iTunes.  The Marketplace has not removed objectionable apps and there is a veritable department store full of bad apps that can be downloaded: pornography, sex-based video games, hate-based apps and games, violence/vandalism-based apps, I even found a "Neo Nazi Quote of the Day" app.  Some of these apps require a credit card to purchase but most do not.

Keep in mind, apps have nothing to do with the Internet.  Yes there are a few safe browser apps that will run on the Droid and make your child's internet experience safer while online via the Droid.  But apps don't run through the Internet.  They are their own self-contained program that will ignore the filters you set up for the safe browser you install.  If you were to install something like SafeEyes on the Droid, then porn sites may be filtered out while your child is browsing the Internet.  But they can close the browser and open the "hottie of the day" app and look at all the naked pictures they want.  And if they know what they are doing, they can install the app, look at the pictures, and uninstall it when they are done, leaving no evidence for you to find on the phone.  Free apps can be downloaded over and over again, as can most paid apps, once you have purchased them.

So give it some thought before you give in and buy your kid a Droid... or even hand your Droid over to your kids to play a game.  I love m ine.  But my kids won't get one until two things happen:  1. They are 18 and 2. They can pay for it themselves.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Strategy for a Safe House - Follow Up

Thanks to the reader yesterday who posted the comment about the latest NetGear wireless router.  The fact is that the latest routers by both NetGear and Linksys have much improved parental controls.  If you know what you are doing and can figure out the router interface and protocols, you can definitely set either of these routers up to do almost the same thing that iBoss does.  The benefit is that both of these routers will be considerably faster than the iBoss.  The downside is twofold - first, you need to be a little more technical (or patient and good at following bad directions) to set them up and second, the routers by NetGear and LinkSys don't receive the filter definition updates from iBoss.  If you read my February 14 posting on the iBoss, it receives the same filter definition updates that most schools get and it is updated by iBoss regularly.  That's a huge plus.  You can make your own lists on the NetGear and LinkSys routers but think about how time consuming that task would be (to research and build lists of objectionable keywords and countless sites you want blocked).

But if you are savvy enough and speed is an issue for your home network, these other wireless routers may be an option for you.

Thanks again to the anonymous poster.

Just for kicks, here is how iBoss compares to other routers in terms of speed.  I know NetGear isn't listed but it's pretty close to LinkSys:

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Strategy for a Safe House

A friend recently called me and asked me to help him create a strategy to keep the online experiences of his children safe no matter what they were doing in his house.  Not a small task.  Depending on their lifestyle, it could be time consuming and expensive to really lock everything down.  Before I started suggesting anything, I gathered some information.

Here are the specs on his family/house:

  • He has 4 children that range in age from 9 to 17
  • He has 5 computers in the house - his machine in his office, his wife's machine in the kitchen, the "family" computer in the family room, and each of the two high school age children have a laptop for school.  All connect through a wireless network
  • 3 kids have cell phones (2 of them smartphones with the data plan)
  • He and his wife have cell phones (both smartphones with the data plan)
  • All kids have an iPod Touch 
  • They have a PlayStation 3 and an X-Box 360 in the basement which connect to the Internet via their wirelss network
  • They also just bought a new flat-creen TV with wireless Internet capability

Here are the challenges in a situation like this:
  • The school-provided laptops do not permit the installation of any parental control software or reconfiguration by the parents.
  • The older kids take their laptops into their bedrooms to do homework
  • The video game consoles (which can connect to the Internet just like a computer) offer no filtering or monitoring options.
  • The kids friends often visit with their own laptops, cell phones, iPod's etc.
  • The smartphones with data plans allow Internet access but do not have any content filtering capabilities
Given these circumstances, my friend said "what can I do to make the house as safe as possible?"  The hard part is controlling the devices you have no control over - school laptops, friends' iPod's, etc.  Software can help with some of these devices but smartphones and video game consoles do not have parental controls and the school laptops are hands off. 

Here's what we came up with.  The iBoss Router, which I reviewed back on February 14, is a key component in the strategy for my friend's house.  This single device will control the Internet content for everything that connects to the Internet in that house using the traditional internet.  This includes the family computers, the school laptops, the iPods, and the video game consoles.  The great thing about the iBoss is that it is one device to configure instead of many and it is a "locked box" so to speak that is out of the reach of tech savvy kids who might be able to figure out how to get around some settings.  So instead of installing software on each computer and each iPod, you can control the majority of content filtering in one place.  Of course my friend could still take the time to install monitoring/filtering software (like NetNanny or K9 Web Protection) on his computers and similar apps (like Mobicip) on the iPods if he wanted to be extra sure (which I recommended he do as well).  And the best part is that the iBoss offers protection for the video game consoles - protection that isn't available anywhere else.

We went about setting all that up.  We got the iBoss, configured it, and turned it on.  Worked great.  We also installed K9 web protection and turned Windows parental controls on for the home PC's and installed safe browser apps on the iPods.  After all that effort, things seem to be working well.  He and I tried very hard to find objectionable content online and it was a considerable challenge.  And the cool thing was, any bad stuff we did find, we could specifically add to the "blocked" list in both the iBoss router and the software we installed.

The downside?  Yes there was one.  The internet connection offered by the iBoss is slower than a traditional router and it did have an effect on the gaming experience.  Kids who game can tell you that when they are playing online, a slow connection will ruin the experience.  "What do we do about that?" my friend asked.  My answer - tell the kids to live with it or bring the video games up out of the basement and put them in a more public area.  Those are really the only two choices that I know of.

Now on to the smartphones.  There is nothing that can be done to lock down smartphones that have a data plan unless those smartphones are iPhones or Droids (in which case a safe browser app can be installed).  These particular smartphones were not so he was out of luck.  When he asked me what he should do about it I answered with my standard answer..."why does a kid need a data plan?"  He answered "so they can text."  At that moment I knew he fell victim to the same trap many parents fall into.  You don't need a data plan on a cell phone to text.  Those teenagers who work at Verizon will say you do in order to make a sale.  Your kids will say you do so they can get the internet and e-mail.  But you don't.  Most standard cell phones have packages for voice, text, and data and you can choose which of those three you want.  My friend was a little perturbed that his kids pulled a fast one on him and he assured me that he would be canceling the data plan (and saving himself a good deal of money - more than enough to pay for the iBoss router).

All in all, he was very pleased with the results.  It's been 3 weeks and everything seems to be working smoothly.  The teenagers aren't happy about their lack of cell phone internet but I'm sure they will manage.  I made it through high school when there were no such thing as cell phones - I think they will survive.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Thanks to the Catholic Telegraph

Thanks to the Catholic Telegraph for their recent article about my presentations at John XXIII in Middletown.

You can read it here.