McGruff SafeGuard (Windows only; free 30-day trial; pricing) is a parental monitoring program that was created by the National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) and ParentsOnPatrol (POP). The word “McGruff” makes most people think of the giant crime-fighting dog, McGruff the Crime Dog, and for the record, yes, McGruff is still taking a bite out of crime. In fact, though a lot of parents and older teens are probably familiar with the NCPC’s endless efforts to teach children how to handle everyday situations like bullying and peer-pressure, what they might not know is that they also puts an intense focus on online safety education. The NCPC facilitates this education and advice through their website, and now with McGruff SafeGuard, they’re bringing their years of safety experience into homes all over the country.
The McGruff SafeGuard is sort of a cross between a web-based program and a computer-based program. What that means is you download and install a very small file to your computer and this file acts as a shortcut to the McGruff SafeGuard dashboard on their website. This shortcut and be installed on up to six different computers, allowing you to access your dashboard from either one. From the dashboard, parents can monitor things like their child’s emails, web browsing history and search engine phrases, and for older teens, recent Facebook conversations.
It’s hard to imagine what a McGruff monitoring solution would be without a few useful safety tips. One unique feature that separates McGruff from other monitoring programs is their “Kidsaurus”, which contains popular acronyms and Internet language that parents might encounter when looking through their children’s messages. Like a thesaurus and dictionary, it defines the terms and gives them alternative meanings so parents can better understand their context within the message.
Stability and Design -
The folks at NCPC make it easy for parents to navigate the McGruff SafeGuard dashboard with a well-designed user interface that includes clearly labeled tabs and buttons, and a logical layout that makes navigation very straightforward. Details like this can make all the difference for parents who don’t have a lot of time on their hands to learn complicated software solutions.
Though there weren’t any major technical problems with the software, our review team did encounter a couple of minor errors. The first being a Run-time error 384, which was triggered when an attempt was made to minimize the McGruff SafeGuard window. This bug wasn’t a deal breaker, but it could become mildly frustrating for parents who are trying to multitask between monitoring their children and getting work done on the computer.
The other concern is that their warning system may be a little too sensitive. During our testing, we received a warning that “our child” had used the acronym “ACE” in an email, yet upon checking the offending email, the word “ace” was in lower-case and in a sentence that didn’t have any other offending words near it. The sensitivity (or inaccuracy) of this feature could possibly swamp parents with tons of unnecessary violation warnings.
All of that being said, it was nice to see that McGruff SafeGuard updates monitoring logs almost instantly, compared to the 24-hour delay that you see in a lot of similar programs. McGruff SafeGuard managed to correctly log all passwords and usernames from Gmail and Facebook, show a full (and accurate) list of browsing history, record Facebook chat messages and show the amount of time spent online.
Blocking Websites –
From the McGruff dashboard, parents can sort through visited websites quickly and easily. Each website visit is marked with a time stamp, the number of times that website was visited, the URL of the website and the name of the child who accessed it (granted you have more than one child account on that computer). Additionally, parents can block, set alerts and view the actual website directly from the dashboard. This feature is yet another example of how McGruff really streamlines the monitoring/blocking process for parents who have little patience for complex software programs.
Time Limits –
The time-limit function was also very intuitive. Instead of allowing a set amount of hours during the week, McGruff SafeGuard gives parents the option to set time limits for each day of the week, allowing computer usage to revolve around their child’s schedule. And since the program is web-based, parents can also change time limit settings from other computers, making the entire process even more convenient.
Email and Keylogger –
Monitoring emails is a breeze. McGruff works will all email providers, including Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, AOL and more. Parents can see when the email was sent, who it was sent to and the contents of the message. For parents with older teens on Facebook, McGruff makes it easy to monitor their private messages and Facebook chat sessions.
McGruff SafeGuard also has a keylogger feature which stores all passwords by recording keystrokes, allowing parents to easily access password-protected accounts like Gmail or Facebook. The keylogger shows which website they were using at the time of logging, and any relevant usernames and passwords. This is also a great way for parents to determine when their child or teen has changed their password or username, or if they’re using duplicate accounts on a social network.
For parents who are looking for a reliable parental monitoring program, McGruff SafeGuard is a solid choice. All of its features work well, the user interface is simple and easy-to-use and you can access the dashboard from literally anywhere. Unique features like Kidsaurus also make for a nice, helpful addition to a program like this, offering parents some topics of discussion at the dinner table. The creators of McGruff SafeGuard have integrated their expansive knowledge of children’s online safety into this program, and it’s nice to see that they give parents 30 days to experience it in its full glory. So head on over to their website and give it a try!