Parental control solutions are only effective if they cover all of a child’s devices and activities. Thankfully, Net Nanny has expanded beyond its internet-filter roots and offers new tools for blocking apps and restricting a child’s screen time. These capabilities work fine, but the web filters are subject to easy workarounds and the service is missing geofencing tools, too. Furthermore, competitors offer a better value in terms of the number of devices they cover.
Pricing and Platforms
Net Nanny’s starting tier costs $39.99 per year, but it only lets you monitor one desktop device (macOS or Windows). Net Nanny also offers two family protection passes: the five-device plan costs $54.99 per year and the 20-device plan costs $89.99 per year. Net Nanny does not offer a free trial of any kind or a feature-limited free version.
For comparison, Qustodio costs $54.99 for a five-device plan, the same as Net Nanny, and Mobicip costs $49.99. Boomerang is cheaper at $30.99 per year for 10 devices. Norton Family Premier ($49.99 per year) and Kaspersky Safe Kids ($14.99 per year) offer the best value, since they can monitor an unlimited number of devices. If you are looking for a hardware-based solution for managing all the devices on your home network, Circle Home Plus is one option, albeit a pricey one. The Circle Home device costs $129 on its own and you need to pay $10 per month thereafter to maintain all its monitoring capabilities.
Net Nanny is available on Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, and Fire OS (Kindle) devices, which is standard for the category. Note that Net Nanny offers two apps on mobile platforms. One is used to install a monitoring profile on your kid’s device and the other is for parents to make changes to restrictions and monitor activities. You can also make changes to configurations via Net Nanny’s web interface. Qustodio and Kaspersky Safe Kids match its platform support. Mobicip goes one step further by offering Chromebook support, but Norton Family Premier notably cannot manage macOS computers.
Installing Net Nanny
To get started with Net Nanny, you first need to sign up for an account, a process that requires an email address and payment information. The next step is to download the monitoring app on every device that you intend to track. I tested Net Nanny on a Lenovo IdeaPad 320 running Windows 10, a Google Pixel running Android 10, and an iPhone XR running iOS 13.
The Windows installation is simple. Just download the installer, launch the app, and sign in. Next, you need to follow the prompts for assigning each user account to a child profile. The app lives as an icon in the notification tray area. Right-clicking on the icon gives you the option to view basic stats on screen time, manually sync with the Net Nanny servers, or launch the parent’s dashboard on the web.
To monitor an Android device, download the Net Nanny Child App on your child’s phone, sign in to your account, and select the appropriate child profile. Then, you need to tap through and give Net Nanny all the permissions it requests, including app usage, location, device admin, and content tracking using VPN permissions (this is not a true VPN that encrypts traffic), as well as approve a certificate install. Net Nanny also tells you to manually enable SafeSearch in the Google App, but this is not an optimal implementation since that setting is not locked behind any passcode. If you are considering installing Net Nanny on a non-admin profile, consider that you can’t configure an Android device to boot into that specific profile. In other words, a parent would need to sign in and then manually switch to the child profile after each restart. Net Nanny does support a multi-user setup though, so a parent can maintain an unrestricted account for themselves while monitoring their child’s account on the same device. Qustodio and Kaspersky Safe Kids do not support this feature.
To install the child app on an iPhone or iPad, download the Net Nanny Child app from the App Store and log in to your account. Next, assign the device to a child. Then, enable push notifications, location permissions, and follow the steps to install the MDM profile. That’s it.
Note that Net Nanny includes an Uninstall Protection option you can enable from the parental dashboard. On Windows, macOS, Android, and Kindle devices, this option prevents your kid from uninstalling the app without entering the account password. On iOS, you can use the built-in settings to prevent your child from uninstalling the app. If your child removes or otherwise disables the monitoring app, parents will get a notification.
Net Nanny’s Parent Dashboard is where you manage parental control settings, but it is surprisingly difficult to find on Net Nanny’s home page. The interface itself is visually overwhelming with cramped elements and there’s no clear guidance or flow for setting up initial rules. Annoyingly, all the configuration rules pop out in windows, instead of bringing you to a full-screen page. I didn’t experience any feature-breaking issues, but it looks less sophisticated and is less intuitive than Norton Family Premiere’s portal, for instance.
You navigate Net Nanny’s interface via icons in the top menu bar: Overview and ones for individual child profiles. On the right-hand side of the menu, you can access Net Nanny’s App Advisor to discover popular apps your kids may be using, as well as add child profiles and manage your installations. Unfortunately, you have to go back to the main Net Nanny site to manage your subscription. There is not an option to enable two-factor authentication on your account either, which I would like to see.
The Overview section shows the Family Feed on the left-hand side, which is an ongoing list of notifications about a child’s activities, including search terms, blocked sites, app installations, and screen time schedules. In the center of the page, there’s a map with pinpoints marking the current location of each monitored child. You can’t view location history from this screen, but you can browse around the map and perform quick monitoring actions like pausing device or internet time or enabling a time schedule. For the full range of settings, click into the child profile icon in the top menu.
In the child profile section, you still see the Family Feed in the left-hand corner, but the middle sections change. At the top, you can see how much time a child has used their device and how much they have left. Additionally, you can choose which time schedule is in effect. The menu option on the right-hand side with the three bars is where you configure the rules. Among those are daily screen time allocation, internet filters, website blocking, app blocking, a profanity filter, a force Safe Search option, and app removal protection. In the center of the child profile page, you can also see an overview of searches, current and historical location, screen time usage, YouTube activity, and a running list of blocks and alerts. Net Nanny does not offer any geofencing tools, something that Locategy does. Geofencing tools allow you to monitor when your child leaves or enters a geographic region you define on a map, such as your house or a school.
Net Nanny separates web filtering capabilities into three different areas: Net Nanny Content Filters, Custom Content Filters, and Block or Allow Specific Websites.
Starting with Net Nanny’s filters, you can set each of the pre-created categories to Allow, Alert, or Block. Allow lets a child access the site and does not record the instance. Alert also lets the kid browse to the site, but it records the instance. The Block setting prevents a child from accessing the site and creates a record of the activity. Among the 14 pre-configured categories are Anime, Death/Gore, Drugs, Gambling, Mature Content, Porn, Suicide, and Weapons. Other parental control services offer a far greater number of preconfigured options, including Proxies, VPNs, File Sharing, and Social Media categories. While it’s true that parents can set up custom Content Filters (as I discuss below), I would prefer if Net Nanny preconfigured more options. Besides, some parents may not even know what additional categories they need to block manually.
Setting up a custom Content Filter is a bit confusing. When you hit the Create a New Filter Button, the top field is for the name of the custom filter, not the term you want to filter. To add terms to the filter, hit the plus button below it, enter the phrase, and then hit Add. Initially, I thought that the Filter name was the word that I wanted to filter. The good news is that filter words are not restricted by Mobicip’s ridiculous five-character minimum requirement. You get the same monitoring options: Allow, Alert, and Block for each of your custom categories. Blocking or allowing individual websites is simple. Just add a website to the Always Block or Always Allow categories via the plus button.
I tested Net Nanny’s web-blocking capabilities primarily on a Windows 10 desktop using Chrome, Brave, and Edge. Net Nanny says its filtering is browser-independent and in my testing, I confirmed that it blocks categories and individual sites in each of those browsers. I did run into some pretty easy workarounds though. For instance, installing a free VPN extension in Chrome allowed me to browse without restrictions, as did the Private Tab with Tor option in the Brave browser. Note that Net Nanny’s filtering technology recognizes context. For example, if you block the Gambling category, your kid can still access the Wikipedia entry about gambling, but won’t be able to access any actual gambling sites. Net Nanny also successfully blocked offending sites on Android and iOS using the Chrome and Firefox Focus browsers.
You may notice that Net Nanny flags some strange URLs, such as a Google API site and others related to the Amazon Cloud Front content delivery network (CDN). Net Nanny does a good job explaining why this may occur. Essentially, some URLs it picks up are not true web pages and may just carry advertising data or be used for tracking.
I set up a custom web filter called VPN, and added the terms VPN and Proxy to the list to test this feature. This worked as intended for the most part, with Net Nanny blocking access to all those sites that involved those terms. However, the Firefox Focus app on mobile and Chrome on the desktop with the same VPN extension allowed me to get around these filters.
Net Nanny saves searches from Google, Yahoo, Bing, and YouTube. That means privacy-focused search engine DuckDuckGo is beyond its control. You can block the DuckDuckGo site if this is an issue. In testing, Net Nanny successfully saved searches on each site. You can lock Safe Search on those same services. The Net Nanny profanity filter successfully filtered our explicit words from a song lyrics site in Chrome. Expletives just appear as strings of pound signs (#). Again, the mobile Firefox Focus web browser broke all of these features. Net Nanny did not record my searches, it did not lock Safe Search, and profanity still appeared on the same page I used on Chrome. If you discover an app that breaks Net Nanny, you can always just block it.
Screen Time and Schedules
Net Nanny’s screen time feature allows you to either set an overall cap on device usage for the current day or for multiple days of the week. When a kid’s screen time expires, you can choose to either pause internet access on the device or lock them out of the device entirely. Note that screen time applies across all of a child’s monitored devices. This is a useful implementation since it ensures that a kid can’t just switch devices to get around restrictions.
On Windows, I tried both the pause and block internet settings. If you try to launch an app, while your device is paused, a large Net Nanny Window pops up and prevents you from using it. This worked both for regular Windows apps and those installed from the Microsoft Store. For the pause internet setting, I found a workaround. If I enabled a VPN extension in Chrome prior to the Net Nanny pausing internet access, I was able to browse the web and without any of the filters in place. From a monitored Android device, I was also able to download and install a new app from the Google Play Store with only a Wi-Fi connection.
For iOS devices, both the Pause Device and Block Internet settings do the same thing. You can still launch apps, but they won’t be able to connect to the internet. Net Nanny sends a clear notification on Windows when the monitoring status changes. Once you run out of time on Android, Net Nanny prevents you from launching any apps except for the phone and default messaging app.
Unfortunately, to restrict the hours in which a child can use their devices, you need to head to a separate area (the top bar on the page with the calendar icon). When you hit the edit schedule button, you see a schedule with blocks of time. By default, these are all set to the standard permission. If you click on a slot, you can select to either block internet access or pause the device during that time. You can drag the selection box up or down to expand the applicable setting for that day, but you can’t copy the same settings across days. Net Nanny needs to consolidate its time limit and time scheduling tools in one place.
On Windows, the schedule took effect quickly and switching the time zone was not enough to skirt Net Nanny’s restrictions. Net Nanny successfully enforced the chosen restriction settings for those times outside the allowed schedule on test mobile devices too.
Net Nanny supports app blocking on Android and iOS devices. A pop-up window gives you the option to block both Android and iOS apps from a list, but there are some caveats. For one, you can only block iOS apps that appear in the predefined list. Qustodio also has a preconfigured list of iOS apps that can be blocked. Also, blocking an app on iOS just prevents it from connecting to the internet, so children can still launch and use offline apps. A parent might want to consider using iOS’ built-in screen settings to better restrict app use. On Android and Kindle devices, you can add any app you want to the list. One other limitation is that there is not an easy way to see which apps you’ve blocked. Net Nanny requires you to scroll down the list or manually search for app names.
Net Nanny’s app blocking worked as advertised during testing. On Android, if your kid tries to open a blocked app, Net Nanny prevents it from fully launching and returns to the lock screen. Kids can tap the resume device usage now notification to get back to the home screen. However, this implementation is problematic if you don’t have a lock screen password. I got caught in an endless loop of not being able to press the resume browsing notification or close the offending app before getting sent back to the lock screen (I had to launch the camera app first and close the blocked app to get around this). I would prefer if Net Nanny simply displayed a notification over the screen. I would also like to see a feature similar to Mobicip‘s whitelist-only app option, in which you restrict a child to only launching those apps you choose.
Net Nanny on Mobile
As noted, Net Nanny offers separate child and parent apps. All the apps look and function similarly regardless of the platform you choose. To help parents avoid any confusion as to which app they should download, I would prefer Net Nanny to offer a single app with a child or parent mode you select during setup. Qustodio and Kaspersky Safe Kids handle device setup in a single app.
Net Nanny’s Parental Dashboard interface actually looks better on the smaller screen size. The main screen of the parental app shows the Net Nanny Family Feed, with an icon for the App Advisor on the left and other account settings on the right. To configure restrictions, click on a child’s profile icon above the Family Feed. You get all the same customization options as on the desktop here.
The child app on iOS just shows the current rules (Regular, Paused, No Internet) along with the screen time remaining (the Android version also has an Enable Unrestricted Mode button for parents). In the upper right-hand corner, parents can manually sync the app with the servers or disable the Net Nanny protection. There’s no panic button here, which would be a good safety feature to add. A panic button lets a child quickly send their location (potentially along with a message) to a group of contacts that the parent chooses. As mentioned, kids can still access the phone and messaging apps, even during paused mode, which is a necessary safety precaution. Norton Family and other apps do a better job of explaining what rules are in effect.
Net Nanny’s Next Step
Net Nanny has expanded beyond internet filtering capabilities, with app-blocking and time-management features, which work fine in testing. We also appreciate the ease of its setup. However, some web filtering tools need to be locked down further and the web interface needs an overhaul. You can also find other services that support an unlimited number of devices for a far cheaper annual price. Qustodio is our Editors’ Choice pick for parental control software, thanks to its excellent apps and customizable features.
Web filters defeated by VPN, Tor.
Disorganized web dashboard.
Relatively few preset web filters.
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