Test: Parental Control Apps for Android
The age at which children have a smartphone with Internet access is not dependent on their age or their skills. Many children under the age of 10 are confident in the use of a mobile device. Rather, it is the parents who decide from what age a child should have access to a smartphone. Through phone calls, text messages, chats, and emails or websites, however, children can be approached at any time without parents necessarily knowing about it. Many security apps protect not only against all types of viruses, but also offer several parental control functions. But are these really sufficient in competently keeping children out of harm's way? The team at AV-TEST compared 3 well-known security apps to 3 special parental control apps. This is only possible to a certain extent, as the special apps have many more functions. The following products were tested and compared:
- The parental control apps ESET Parental Control, Kaspersky Safe Kids and Norton Family
- Security apps with parental control functions: F-Secure Mobile Security, Quick Heal Total Security and Trend Micro Mobile Security
Filtering by categories
The parental control functions of security apps are mostly limited to the filtering of links and websites. That is also the common denominator allowing comparison of the apps. They simply use keywords sorted by categories. They vary in number depending upon the program. The test evaluated the filtering of over 6,900 websites in the following categories, even if an app did not specifically offer filtering categories:
- Sex, nudity, pornography
- Chat rooms and forums (all)
- Dating and meeting sites
- Illegal data exchanges and file sharing
- Entertainment games (all)
- Shopping sites and auctions
- Weapons and ammunition
The apps were supposed to filter out the inappropriate websites at an average of 80, preferably 90%. In the counter sample, all apps were tested with 3,000 definitely child-appropriate websites. These sites were also supposed to be correctly detected at an average rate of 90, preferably 95%.
For comparison, each profile offered in the apps for seven-year-old children was selected. The special parental control apps offer three or four pre-configured profiles.
The results achieved by the apps were impressive. They all reached the required rates of filtering. Especially in the areas of sex, weapons and gambling, there were very high blocking rates. The manufacturers could hardly attain more precise blocking, as otherwise they would in turn block appropriate sites at a high rate. This so-called overblocking is something the manufacturers are supposed to and want to avoid.
Special functions for parents and children
With the detection of links and websites, parental control for normal security apps is usually considered a done deal. For the special parental control apps, this is where the actual functions begin.
Users of the parental control apps can tweak the filtering even more by establishing additional categories or blocking URLs. It is true that the app from ESET may not offer a search engine protection, such as Kaspersky Lab or Symantec. But these can be blocked by ESET by means of categories.
The use of the Internet, apps, or the entire mobile device can also be controlled. Kaspersky Lab offers the most in this area, whereby it does not regulate Internet access. All apps can also block applications. In terms of monitoring activities within the Facebook app, ESET comes up short. The other apps compile reports on this usage. Many parents also want to have access to the mobile device remotely, i.e. at home or in the office, and possibly control it like an administrator. This is a feature offered by all apps, along with quick location of the device on a Web-based map.
None of the apps, however, interfere with telephone calls. Thus, no call blocking is possible for incoming or outgoing calls.
Reports as telltale signs
Even if parents do not directly intervene, the apps record in great detail the current activity on the device. All apps record the websites visited. And the sites forbidden but launched anyway are logged by the apps. The applications from Kaspersky Lab and Symantec even store the search history.
While all protection apps block the use of other apps, Kaspersky Lab goes even a step further: if an attempt is made to launch a blocked app, this is noted and mentioned in the report. If free apps are used on the device, then the ESET and Kaspersky Lab apps painstakingly record this in the report, along with the day and duration of use.
To avoid having to comb through the reports for improper use, all the apps offer a complete overview of forbidden activities, a feature popular with parents.
Protection or special app?
Parents can quickly answer the question as to the proper app on their own: is it sufficient for them to filter websites or are they seeking very comprehensive monitoring of an Android mobile device? The filtering of websites is excellent on all apps. But only on the special parental control apps does it provide what many parents actually mean when they speak of parental control. By means of online user accounts, the manufacturers offer quick access to the device. Thus, the user receives an overview of the smartphone or tablet, even allowing live intervention. Depending upon the product, the usage time of an app, the Internet or the entire device can be controlled.
The parental control apps are indeed recommended, as children carrying such a device may be accessible 24 hours a day – for everyone. In order for parents to know that the apps provided comply with a certain security standard, AV-TEST certified the parental control apps of ESET, Kaspersky Lab and Symantec. Other comparable apps will surely also be certified in the near future.
Parental control software: certificate for ESET, Kaspersky Lab and Symantec
In order to provide easier orientation for users or parents in the jungle of parental control apps, the AV-TEST Institute certifies the apps that comply with requirements and pass the test.
The tested apps have to achieve the required 80% filtering performance. For suitable websites, however, the blocking rate is not allowed to exceed 10%. For certification, however, they are required to meet several additional criteria. For instance, there must be various profiles for children of various ages and the program has to support the parents during installation. As an additional function, users have to be able to regulate usage time for the device or Internet access. A running parental control app is not allowed to be stopped or uninstalled. An additional important feature is the reporting function with a total overview.
The products ESET Parental Control, Kaspersky Safe Kids and Symantec Norton Family pass all the test criteria and thus receive from AV-TEST the certificate "APPROVED Parental Control Android 07/2016".