Parental controls are features which may be included in digital television services, computer and video games, mobile devices and software. Parental controls fall into roughly four categories: content filters, which limit access to age inappropriate content; usage controls, which constrain the usage of these devices such as placing time-limits on usage or forbidding certain types of usage; computer usage management tools, which enforces the use of certain software; and, monitoring, which can track location and activity when using the devices. Another feature of parental controls is the ability to blocking rating, such as Parental Advisory, TV-MA for TV, R and NC-17 for MPAA, and M and AO for ESRB.
Content Filters were the first popular type of parental controls to limit access to Internet content. television stations also began to introduce V-Chip technology to limit access to television content. Modern usage controls are able to restrict a range of explicit content such as explicit songs and movies. They are also able to turn devices off during specific times of the day, limiting the volume output of devices, and with GPS technology becoming affordable, it is now possible to easily locate devices such as mobile phones.
Several techniques exist aimed at creating parental controls for blocking websites. Add-on parental control software may monitor API in order to observe applications such as a web browser or Internet chat application and to intervene according to certain criteria, such as a match in a database of banned words. Virtually all parental control software includes a password or other form of authentication to prevent unauthorized users from disabling it
Techniques involving a proxy server are also used. A web browser is set to send requests for web content to the proxy server rather than directly to the web server intended. The proxy server then fetches the web page from the web server on the web browser's behalf and passes on the content to the browser. Proxy servers can inspect the data being sent and received and intervene depending on various criteria relating to content of the page or the URL being requested, for example, using a database of banned words or banned URLs. The proxy method's major disadvantage is that it requires that the client application to be configured to utilize the proxy, and if it is possible for the user to reconfigure applications to access the Internet directly rather than going through the proxy then this control is easily bypassed. Proxy servers themselves may be used to circumvent parental controls. There are other techniques used to bypass parental controls.
Computer usage management method, unlike content filters, is focused on empowering the parents to balance the computing environment for children by regulating gaming. The main idea of these applications is to allow parents to enforce learning component into the computing time of children, where children must earn gaming time while working through educational contents.
Parental controls on mobile devices
The increased use of mobile devices that include full featured internet browsers and downloadable applications has created a demand for parental controls on these mobile, smart devices. In November 2007, Verizon was the first carrier to offer age-appropriate content filters as well as the first to offer content-generic content filters recognizing that mobile devices were used to access all manner of content from movies and music to short-code programs and websites. In June 2009, in iPhone OS 3.0, Apple was the first company to provide a built in mechanism on mobile devices to create age brackets for users that would block unwanted applications from being downloaded to the device.
Mobile device software enables parents to restrict which applications their child can access while also allowing parents to monitor text messages, phone logs, MMS pictures, and other transactions occurring on their child's mobile device, to enable parents to set time limit on the usage of mobile devices, and to track the exact location of their children as well as monitor calls in and out and the content of texts in and out.
Methods to bypass parental controls
Several methods of bypassing parental controls can be used.
- If the filtering software is located locally within the computer, all Internet software can be easily bypassed by booting up the computer in question from alternative media, with an alternative operating system or (on Windows) in Safe Mode. However, if the computer's BIOS is configured to disallow booting from removable media, and if changes to the BIOS are prohibited without proper authentication, then booting into an alternative operating system is not available without circumventing BIOS security by partially disassembling the computer and resetting BIOS configuration using a button or jumper, or removing and replacing the internal button cell battery.
- Using external proxy servers or other servers. The user sends requests to the external server which retrieves content on the user's behalf. Filtering software may then never be able to know which URLs the user is accessing, as all communications are with the one external server and filtering software never sees any communications with the web servers from which content really originated. To counter this, filtering software may also block access to popular proxies. Additionally, filtering systems which only permit access to a set of allowed URLs (whitelisting) will not permit access anything outside this list, including proxy servers.
- Resetting passwords using exploits.
- Modifying the software's files, and
- 'Incognito/InPrivate' modes with the 'image' tab: Users, parental control software, and parental control routers may use 'safe search' (SafeSearch) to enforce filtering at most major search engines. However, in most browsers a user may select 'Incognito' or 'InPrivate' browsing, enter search terms for content, and select the 'image' tab to effectively bypass 'safe search' and many parental control filters. See below for router based considerations and solutions.
Filtering that occurs outside of the individuals computer (such as at the router) cannot be bypassed using the above methods (except for 'Incognito/InPrivate' modes). However,
- The major search engines cache and serve content on their own servers. As a result, domain filters such as many third party DNS servers, also fail to filter the 'Incognito/InPrivate' with 'image' tab.
- Most commercially available routers with parental controls do not enforce safe search at the router, and therefore do not filter the 'Incognito/InPrivate' with 'image' tab.
- Safe search may be enforced at a DNS server or router. For google, for example, see https://support.google.com/websearch/answer/186669?hl=en. Similar options also exist for Bing and Yahoo. Techno-savvy users may use dd-WRT on a compatible router to enforce safe search at the router. However, this requires specialized knowledge beyond most end users expertise.
- Less knowledgeable users may purchase easy to install routers that automatically enforce safe search, in addition to other parental controls.
Video game systems that have used parental controls
- PlayStation 4
- PlayStation 3
- PlayStation 2 (only for DVDs)
- PlayStation Vita
- PlayStation Portable
- Xbox 360
- Xbox One
- Nintendo DSi
- Nintendo 3DS
- Wii U
Operating systems with parental controls
Below is a list of popular operating systems which currently have built-in parental control features:
Example routers with parental controls
- Linksys (E1200)
- Blocksi Router (includes enforce safe search)
- HomeHalo (HHR1)
- Netgear Nighthawk (R7000)
- Asus (RT-N53)
- iBoss (IWF-RRN12)
- D-Link (DIR-880L)
- Kibosh Router (includes enforce safe search)
- pcWRT Router (includes enforce safe search)
- David Burt
- Internet censorship
- List of parental control software
- Motion picture rating system
- Television rating system
- Videogame Rating Council
- Retina-X Studios
- "Effects of authoritative parental control on child behavior" (PDF). University of California.
- Seltzer, Larry. "Turn Your Windows Home Server Into A Proxy Server". Retrieved Sep 26, 2008.
- "How to Bypass the Parental Control Time Limits in Windows 7/Vista/XP". Retrieved September 6, 2012.
- Szczys, Mike (2014-07-06). "Brute force attack Xbox 360 parental controls". Hack A Day. Hackaday. Retrieved 2014-08-09.
- "Set up Parental Controls". Windows.microsoft.com. Retrieved 2013-09-17.