Best Monitoring Software of 2018

Nicole Johnston ·
Updated
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We spent 120 hours testing monitoring software on our test lab machines and on the computers, laptops and mobile devices in our own homes. As we evaluated, we looked at each program’s time control features; checked how effective its filter categories are; and browsed its summary reports for information that can keep kids safe from cyberbullies, online predators and harmful content. Based on our testing, we believe Qustodio is the best computer monitoring program because of its excellent safety tools, how easy it is to install and use on multiple devices, and the detailed reports it provides parents, including two-way transcripts of chat and instant message conversations.     

Best Overall

Qustodio

Qustodio is easy to install on computers, tablets and cell phones. It has 29 filter categories and captures both sides of your child’s chat and instant message conversations.
View on Qustodio
Best for Cyberbullying

Surfie

Surfie alerts you when your child gets a message that contains tagged keywords, such as “don’t tell” or “you’re dumb,” so you can crackdown on cyberbullying and online predators.
View on Surfie
Best for Mac

ContentBarrier

ContentBarrier is specifically designed for Mac computers and laptops. It lets you block inappropriate websites and set time limits for when your child can be online.
View on Intego

Product
Price
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Overall Rating
9.5
8.8
8.4
8.2
8.2
8.1
7.4
Filters & Monitoring
9.8
9.8
10
8.3
8.3
9.8
9.8
Activity Recording
10
10
8.5
7.5
8
8
5.8
Reporting & Notifications
10
7.5
5
8.3
9.3
7.5
5
Installation & Support
5.8
5.8
10
9.5
5.5
3.8
7.8
Filter Categories
29
18
47
18
10
27
23
Time Management
Cyberbullying
$
-
Social Network
$
Online Searches
Gaming Restrictions
Instant Message/Chat
$
Websites Visited
Online Searches Performed
Social Network Activity
$
Email Sent & Received
-
-
-
Chat Activity
Photo & Video Activity
-
-
-
Cell Phone Tracking
$
$
$
-
Text Alerts
-
$
$
-
-
Summary Reports
Screenshot Logs
-
Chat Reports
-
$
-
Licenses Included
3
3
10
1
1
3
3
Setup & Configuration Wizard
Searchable Knowledgebase
-
Phone Support
-
-
-
-
Live Chat
-
-
-
-
-
Windows 10
-
Windows 8
-
Windows 7
-
Mac OS
-
-
-
Best Overall
Qustodio has 29 filter categories, and when you choose one, the program blocks your kids from accessing any site with that type of content. Categories include pornography, violence, weapons, drugs and alcohol. It also has categories such as online shopping, gambling and games, so you can keep your kids focused on more educational content.
If a site you’re okay with your kids visiting is blocked, you can add the URL to Qustodio’s whitelist, and the software unblocks it while still restricting access to other pages in the category. Likewise, if there is a site you want to block that doesn’t fall under a category, you can add it to the blacklist and Qustodio won’t let your kids access it. On top of blocking content, the program comes with time controls. These tools let you block when your kids can be online so they can focus on getting chores or homework done and aren’t up late browsing the internet. You can also set exactly how much time they can be online in one sitting. If you install Qustodio on your child’s cell phone, you can use it to track where they are. You can also capture every text your child sends or receives and disable text ability completely from the Qustodio app. There is also a panic button – if your child finds themselves in a dangerous situation, such as if they get lost on the way home from school, they can hit the button and the program sends you a text message with their exact location so you can get to them quickly.
Pros
  • 29 filter categories, including one for online gaming
  • Time controls limit when and how long your child can be online
  • Easy to install on all devices
Cons
  • Other programs cost less
  • Limited tech support available
$49.95Qustodio
Read the full review
Best for Cyberbullying
Surfie lets you tag keywords and phrases, such as “don’t tell” and “home alone,” and if someone sends them to your child through email or instant message, the program notifies you so you can stop the conversation.
This feature can also be used in reverse, so you can block your child from sharing personal information such as their full name, birthdate or address. The program has specific social media monitoring tools that show you what your child posts on both their own wall and their friends’ walls, as well as videos they watch and images they see. You can also monitor their friends’ social media accounts, and if they post anything inappropriate you don’t want your child see, you can step in and block them. This also works with online gaming site chatrooms, where your child may be talking with complete strangers while playing. This monitoring program lets you completely block social media and online gaming sites so your kids can’t access them at all. It also allows you to disable chat and instant messaging features on these types of sites – when you do, your kids can visit the webpages but can’t talk with anyone while there. Surfie has 18 filter categories, so you can instantly block sites about topics such as pornography, violence, suicide or drugs. You receive an alert when your child attempts to visit any of these sites or if they search with keywords related to any blocked category.
Pros
  • Monitors words and phrases in chat conversations
  • Comes with multiple licenses to monitor several devices at once
  • Has 18 filter categories
Cons
  • Doesn’t send text alerts
  • Doesn’t take screenshots of online activity
  • No live support available
$59.90Surfie
Read the full review
Best for Mac
Several monitoring programs are compatible with both Windows and Mac operating systems, but we’ve found that the Mac versions tend to be more difficult to set up and not as effective as the Windows versions. ContentBarrier, however, is specifically designed for Mac computers and laptops, so it is much more powerful and effective at monitoring your kids’ online activity.
ContentBarrier lets you block access to websites based on content by selecting categories such as gambling, sex, alcohol and racism. You can also block specific websites and search terms by adding them to the program’s blacklist. With this Mac monitoring software, you can disable all chat features or choose to block your kids from typing or receiving messages with dangerous words or phrases such as “come alone,” “phone number” or “don’t tell.” If someone your child chats with uses one of these words or phrases, ContentBarrier automatically shuts down the chat program and doesn’t allow access until you, the parent, allow it.
Pros
  • Designed exclusively for Mac
  • Includes 23 filter categories
  • Includes time controls
Cons
  • Not compatible with mobile devices
  • Doesn’t record chat conversations
  • Emails are not recorded
$39.99Intego
Read the full review

Why Trust Us?

Top Ten Reviews has been testing monitoring software for 15 years, establishing ourselves as experts in the field. We stay on top of changes in the industry and keep an eye on the evolving threats online by subscribing to news outlets and online blogs that focus on internet security. We test, evaluate and review monitoring software several times a year, so we know the programs very well and understand how they work with new technologies.

Also, I am the mother of 10 children and grandmother to four. Keeping my children safe is my top priority, especially while they are online where so much information, both good and bad, is easily accessible. I use internet monitoring software at home, installing it on computers, laptops, cell phones and tablets. It is a great tool to help springboard good conversations with my kids about personal boundaries, cyberbullying and why restricting screen time is so important.

How We Tested

We downloaded each monitoring program onto several test computers, both in our on-site lab and on our personal devices at our homes. This gave us a good idea of how each program works in real-life settings. We also installed programs on our children’s devices, then sat back and waited for the sounds of frustration as they attempted to access sites, such as Facebook and Steam, that we purposely blocked. This let us see how well each software’s filters work.

Through our testing, we learned that the more categories a program has, such as the 47 included with Norton Family, the easier it is to block more specific content so websites you feel are okay remain accessible. For example, programs with more categories let us specify that we wanted to block mature games, not all online games.

As the children came upon popular sites that were blocked, we tested the programs’ whitelists and quick access features. Sometimes the kids sent a quick message through the monitoring program asking us to allow access to a specific website.  We received this message through email or text alert and could then grant temporary or permanent access. We, the parents, took care of testing how well the programs filtered content in particularly unsavory categories such as porn, violence, gambling and suicide.

All the programs we tested let you block access to the web during specific times of the day, such as bedtime or when homework and chores need to get done. Witigo also lets you decide how long your child can be online. For example, you can set an access time from 5 p.m. until 8 p.m. but also limit your child to an hour of online activity within that time frame. We tested all these time control features to make sure they worked properly.

Finally, we looked at the activity reports and evaluated how in depth they go. Some monitoring programs simply list the websites your child visited and the search terms they used. Others provide much more detail and include screenshots of the sites your kids visit, lists of blocked search terms entered, and both sides of chat and instant message conversations.

Which Monitoring Program Is Right for You?

There are three main things to consider when buying monitoring software: what the program blocks, what it records and how much information it reports to parents. Here’s what you need to know:

Filters & Monitoring
The easiest way to block inappropriate content with monitoring software is to select filter categories. Programs typically include filters for topics such as pornography, drug use and suicide. The best applications also include filters for online gaming, shopping and news sites.

Some monitoring programs, such as SpyAgent, have tools specifically designed to monitor social media activity. These tools are useful because social media sites are often tagged as safe, but you can’t always control what your children see or click on when they visit them. Social network monitoring features don’t allow your kids to click on links, disable chat features, and capture what your kids and their friends post.

In addition, the best monitoring software includes time controls. These features let you block access to the internet during times when your kids should be at school, in bed or doing homework. Some programs also let you set time limits so your kids can only have an hour or two of screen time a day.

Activity Recording
We preferred software that does more than list the websites your children visit and the search terms they use. The best programs let you know when your kids use chat programs, look at photos or videos, and view sent or received email messages, including any attachments. The most useful application also track your child’s cell phone use so you know when they text and where they are.

Reporting & Notifications
There are monitoring programs that simply record and display a basic list of the websites your kids visit, but the best ones give you much more detailed information. For example, they may tell you what times your kids were online, how long they spent on certain websites, search terms they used, and any videos or images they viewed on pages such as Facebook and YouTube.

Our top pick, Qustodio, takes screenshots of the sites your child visits so you can see exactly what they saw. It also records both sides of your child’s online chats. If the program is installed on their cell phone, you can also see their text conversations to ensure they aren’t sharing personal information or engaging in inappropriate behavior.

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