Thursday, July 8, 2010
PC Pandora Review
First, what is PC Pandora? It is software that invisibly monitors and records computer activity and content (like a Tivo for your PC) and offers administrators (or parents) some controls for blocking objectionable content and sites.
I have to say that I didn't feel qualified to review the product alone. My only experience with PC Pandora is in a corporate setting among my company's clients. From that perspective I can tell you that as a tool for stealthy monitoring of daily computer activity, it does it's job extremely well. In the three companies where I know it is being used, the employees don't even know it's there. The only comment from the administrators (and I wouldn't call it a complaint) is that their large employee base requires them to purchase great amounts of storage (hard drives) to save the records and data created by the software. But they were prepared for that going in so it's certainly not a negative against the manufacturer. One company in particular saved themselves a great deal of money in legal fees after an employee tried to sue for wrongful termination. The records produced by PC Pandora allowed them to prove the employee spent over 3 hours a day on non-work related websites (mostly MySpace). So from a corporate perspective, PC Pandora is great, but keep in mind that the goal in the corporate world is not to use the software to block sites and content like a school or parents would (corporate firewall and network security software usually takes care of that).
Because of my lack of experience with this product in regard to children, I asked around and discovered that one of my colleagues, a technology coordinator in a suburban Dayton, OH school district, is using the tool in her district. She was more than willing to share her opinion about the product. Here are her comments (thanks Angela):
"Our initial purchase of the software was unfortunately due to a suspicion about a teacher, not any students. There was a rumor circulating and eventually a complaint from a parent that one of our teachers was sending inappropriate e-mails to students and accessing inappropriate websites on a classroom computer while children were present. Our first attempt to investigate without the Pandora product revealed nothing. However, the teacher was known to be tech savvy and could have very easily deleted his browsing history. We installed Pandora and recorded the PC for a month without the teacher's knowledge. The data revealed no inappropriate e-mails sent to students (from that machine) by the teacher and though the computer did attempt to access several offensive websites, none of the attempts were made using the teacher's login credentials and many of the attempts were made when a substitute teacher was present.
Given our success with the product for that particular case, we decided to try it in other applications. Our standard content filtering software does a good job blocking bad sites, however, for various reasons, there were a few machines in the district that seemed to ignore the filters put in place and allowed students to access offensive material on a regular basis. In some cases is was due to students' technical know-how and in others it was the age of the computer that made it incompatible with our security software. So we thought we'd try Pandora and see what happened.
The filtering/blocking features worked ok but didn't filter as much as we would have liked. One of our biggest problems is kids accessing chat sites at school and most of the popular chat sites couldn't be blocked by Pandora for some reason. We also found the interface for administering the controls a bit confusing. In addition, we discovered that if a website is a secure HTTP site (which many members-only pornography sites apparently are), Pandora couldn't filter them out either.
Overall, my opinion is that if you are looking for a tool to quietly monitor what's happening on a PC, there is no better product than Pandora. But if you want to filter/block content, there are several better options."
PC Magazine offered a similar review to Angela's. You can read it here: http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2247334,00.asp.
Here is a link to PC Pandora's website: http://www.pcpandora.com/.