Circle with Disney Gives Parents Total Overlord Powers

Porn on Tumblr, less than savory “comedy” videos on YouTube, GTA 5—these are but a few of the monsters under the “keep kids safe online” bed that keep parents up at night. But trust me—you don’t always know where danger lurks.

I recently found my 13-year-old looking at an Instagram site with the handle “Crazysexxxyhardcore.” And I was shocked. It’s Instagram, I thought. Innocuous, cat-pic-oriented social media that seems a lot safer for middle school kids than Facebook or Twitter—right? RIGHT?

Wrong. The parental controls that I had put on my kid’s iPad did nothing to block risqué Instagram sites—and there are plenty of them out there. In fact, he and his friends turned out to have a long list of completely inappropriate Instagram feeds to look at, snicker at, and take poor social and empathetic cues from.

On top of the fact that we don’t always know where the danger lies, doing parental controls at the device level is so…annoying. And as just described, native options are often ineffectual. On top of that, add-on parental control apps are annoyingly complex—and what kid only has one device these days anyway? The family laptop, iPads, iPod Touches, other tablets and smartphones, not to mention the Xbox and streaming devices—today’s modern household is a digital minefield and given all of the other stresses of life (school, work, family, dinner), it all seems pretty overwhelming.

So, how to best control these portals to porn and uber-violence (and softcore but totally horrible Instagram sites)? A box called Circle with Disney hopes to be a contender. It’s a $99 parental control gadget that lets parents reign supreme over their kids’ online activities—at the Wi-Fi level.

That’s brilliant.

It connects to the home network and from there, sees and monitors all—all devices, all websites and apps, and all time spent on those sites and devices—and parents can set filter profiles by age, app and category.

It also allows some cool robot-overlord stuff, like the ability to cut off internet access for specific devices or individual people. A bedtime feature allows parents to set sleep and awake times for devices, so even if kids sneak their phone to bed—well that’s too bad for them.

Parents can also set time limits on specific sites or categories. And it can log the time across access types—so if your daughter spends 15 minutes on the Facebook mobile app, and 45 minutes on the desktop website, Circle still sees that as an hour on Facebook. When a set time limit is reached, Circle sends the parents a notification, wherever they happen to be—and they can then go on to remotely disable access or allow more time.

It’s not all bad news for kids: The MyCircle dashboard contains Disney content, such as videos, articles, photos and games, which are always accessible. I can hear the unenthusiastic “Yay” now.

Of course, if kids aren’t using Wi-Fi, but instead are using mobile broadband to get their surfing on, Circle won’t see it. But, early next year Circle Go will let parents control iOS devices outside the home, connecting via 3G or 4G LTE.

Ha-ha! Let the parental domination commence.

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