Monitoring your child’s digital activity is responsible parenting. It’s not an invasion of privacy or a reflection of lack of trust between you and your child. It’s a safety necessity.
Spector Pro ($99.95) is a monitoring solution for Windows 7, Vista, XP and Apple OSX, brought to you by SpectorSoft. The software is extremely comprehensive and utilizes key-logging, website tracking, social media monitoring and chat/IM logging, among other useful features that can give parents a comprehensive look into their child’s computer activity.
The most popular sites that children and teens are using these days are predominantly social networks and sharing websites such as Tumblr, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. Unfortunately these websites were not created with youth safety, privacy or age-appropriate content in mind simply because they were created for an adult audience. For example, on Tumblr you can find creative recipes for cookies, and then two clicks later come across hardcore pornography. The days of being able to tell if a site is appropriate for your child based solely on its URL are long gone. Because of this, parents need a deeper look into the sites their children are a part of so that meaningful family discussions can be created around the issues and the best preventative practices can be implemented.
Tracking Websites Visited -
To help this process, Spector Pro gives parents the ability to track every website their children visits on that computer. Websites are broken down into sub-domains, letting parents know exactly which profiles or blogs their kids are looking at. The list of viewed websites is easy to read and parents have the option to block specific websites directly from the list, making it very easy to have full control over the sites their children can visit. If parents want further control, Spector Pro allows them to block individual sub-domains versus the entire website domain, e.g. mail.google.com versus google.com.
As you can see, Spector Pro gives a very detailed analysis of every website visited, including the browser used, duration, date and time, and of course the URL.
Key Logger -
Spector Pro also uses a key logger to track anything that’s typed on the computer’s keyboard, including usernames and passwords that their children use online. When it comes to social media tracking, this information is extremely helpful because not only does it allow the parent to log into their child’s social media accounts without having to ask them for their account information, it allows them to see if their child is using multiple accounts as a way to avoid other attempts at parental monitoring.
The snapshot feature takes screenshots every 30 seconds by default, and loops them together for a video on your child’s activity so you can see exactly what your kids are doing online. Through the settings menu, this feature can be set up to take screenshots at any interval, with the option to choose from black and white or color playback. We found that setting the screenshot interval to 10 seconds and color made it easier to follow the on-screen activity. The default setting caused the video to appear disjointed, and the black and white made it hard to see everything clearly.
Stealth Mode -
During installation, parents get the option to enable something called Stealth Mode. This essentially hides any indication that the software is running on the computer (think taskbar icons and program/application lists). The only way parents can access the Spector Pro dashboard is by entering a very specific hot-key sequence on their keyboard followed by their password — both of which are configured during setup. This process makes access to the Spector Pro dashboard very secure.
It’s important to note that enabling Stealth Mode essentially shifts the whole process of “parental monitoring” to actually spying. That’s because hidden monitoring software, like Spector pro in stealth mode, is considered spyware, whereas parental monitoring software lets the user know they’re being monitored, thus possibly having a positive influence on their normal online behaviors.
You can choose to use stealth mode, or not. Perhaps you’ve experienced repeated incidents with your child online, and you know you need to utilize this capability to help ensure they have a safe online experience. If you have a child on the other hand who hasn’t had these issues then utilizing this functionality may not be necessary. It’s a parenting decision.
A tool that most parents will find useful is the blacklist. In case you don’t know, a blacklist is essentially a list of words that you, the parent, want to be alerted to when they’re used. If you’ve been teaching your children that disclosing their full name, address and phone number online is not okay to do, for example, the blacklist will alert you any time these specific words appear in their online activities.
By default, Spector Pro will scan every program on your computer for these words, making the alerts a little confusing sometimes. That said the alerts are very informative, just like every other feature of the software. It just helps to pick-and-choose the programs you want scanned for these words. During our testing we narrowed it down to only programs that access the Internet, like Skype, Steam and Google Chrome, and the feature worked great.
Email and Chat/IM Monitoring -
If there were any concerning aspects of Spector Pro, it’s in its ability to monitor some of the more popular ways kids communicate (hint: email isn’t one of them). Though the email monitoring feature worked wonderfully, we all know that kids these days don’t really use email to communicate with each other. Instead, they use Facebook chat, Twitter and chat applications like Skype, so it’s easy to see why parents would find the Chat/IM feature that much more valuable. Unfortunately, this is probably Spector Pro’s biggest weakness.
During our testing we learned that the Chat/IM feature does not monitor Facebook chat sessions or Twitter direct messages (Facebook chat messages are essentially seen as Facebook private messages). We’re not exactly sure why this feature works this way, but it seems like a curious oversight on their part, especially since the rest of the software is so competent.
Spector Pro is a very comprehensive, well-made monitoring solution that’s jam-packed with features that parents will find very useful. The software’s interface is intuitive and very user-friendly, making it easy for parents to navigate and manage. Data is updated in real-time, which is a nice perk compared to other monitoring solutions that claim to update in real-time but actually take a few hours to a day to update. The Chat/IM tracking feature could use a little bit of work, but that’s no reason to not consider Spector Pro as a solution for your family; in fact, you should highly consider it. Monitoring your child’s online activities is responsible parenting.
You can buy Spector Pro for Windows and Mac, right here.
eBLASTER – For Parents on the Go
SpectorSoft also offers a product called eBLASTER, which has all the same monitoring features as Spector Pro, but without the need to log into a dashboard to review activity. Instead, eBLASTER will send you easy-to-read activity reports (hourly or daily – depending on the time interval you set) to an email address of your choice. The “set-and-forget” advantage of eBLASTER is handy for parents who are always on the run but want to make sure their child has a safe online experience at home.
You can see a sample activity report and buy eBLASTER for Windows or Mac, right here.