Best Internet Filter Software of 2018

Nicole Johnston ·
Internet Security & Appliance Editor
Updated
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We spent 120 hours researching and testing internet filter programs (with the help of our children) to learn how they work on both traditional computers and mobile devices. We love Qustodio because it is easy to install and use, includes 29 filter categories, and has flexible time controls. There’s even a GPS tracker if it’s installed on a cellphone. Plus, it didn’t slow down the devices we used it on – computer, laptop or cell phone – so the kids didn’t notice when it was running.    

Best Overall
Qustodio
Qustodio works on both computers and smartphones, and it has 29 filter categories and useful time controls. The detailed parent reports include screenshots of the websites your child visits, as well chat and text messages they’ve sent and received.
View on Qustodio
@Qustodio
Best Overall
Qustodio
Best Value
Net Nanny
Net Nanny isn’t as expensive as other internet filter programs, but it still includes 18 filter categories and profanity masking that covers foul language on websites and blocks them from being typed into messages.
View on Net Nanny
Best for Mobile
Surfie
Surfie has both a desktop and mobile app, so you control what your children are seeing online, who they are chatting with and when they have internet access, regardless of the device they’re on.
View on PureSight
Product
Price
Overall Rating
Value
Filtering, Blocking & Monitoring
Recording & Alerts
Email Alerts
Text Alerts
Summary Reports
Chat Reports
Screenshots
Remote Reporting
Social Network Activity
Chat Activity
Websites Visited
Email Sent & Received
Online Searches Performed
Filter Categories
Anti-Cyberbullying
Social Network
Time Management
Website
Online Search Filtering
Chat
Games
Pornography
Profanity Masking
Individual User Profiles
Setup & Configuration Wizard
Searchable Knowledgebase
Telephone
Live Chat
$54.95 Affiliatewindow
9.6 9 9.8 10
29
-
-
$49.99 Norton
9.3 10 10 8
-
-
47
$59.90 Viglink
8.3 7.5 9.3 8
-
-
18
-
-
$39.99 ContentWatch
7.7 8.3 7.3 7.5
$
$
-
18
$69.95 Cleverbridge toptenreviews
7.5 6.5 7.8 8
$
10
-
-
$44.99 ImpactRadius
6.4 5.3 6.8 7
-
-
35
$49.99
6.3 4.3 7.5 7
-
N/A
-
-
Best Overall
Qustodio is our top pick for internet filters in part because it is easy to install on both computers and smartphones. It’s also simple to use.
You can access each child’s profile from your phone and adjust their access and time allowances; you don’t have to be at a computer or on the device itself to adjust the settings. Qustodio has 29 filter categories to quickly and easily block websites and content children don’t need to see. The time management controls let you control timeframes for internet access (so your child can’t get online when they are supposed to be asleep or at school), and they also let you control how long kids can stay logged on during allowed times. For example, if your kids are allowed online between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. on school nights, you can set Qustodio to kick them off after an hour or two, controlling overall screen time. Qustodio records a lot of details about what your children do online and provides a detailed report. While other programs simply tell you when your child has accessed their email account or chatted with someone through an instant messenger program, Qustodio captures the whole conversation. You can also tag words and phrases, such as “come alone” or “don’t tell your mom,” so if someone sends a message with these phrases, you will know.
Pros
  • 29 filter categories
  • Includes anti-cyberbullying tools
  • Records chats
Cons
  • Doesn’t have summary reports
  • Limited support options
  • More expensive than other programs
Qustodio
Read the full review
Best Value
Net Nanny is one of the cheapest internet filter programs we tested, but still includes the most important protection tools to block dangerous content online.
There are 18 filter categories to help you quickly restrict access to websites about pornography, drugs and alcohol, suicide and gore. The program sends an email alert if your child enables a proxy or privacy server to hide their internet searches. One of the most unique features of Net Nanny is the profanity blocker that masks swear words on websites so your child can’t see or read them. It also prevents children from typing these words into search fields and chat messages. You can set it to change the funny words or symbols as they’re typed, or the program can completely erase the word. Net Nanny sends a notice through the parent reports when profanity was typed or blocked from being seen. Net Nanny includes time controls to block kids from the internet when they should be asleep, at school, doing homework or chores. Because you can set up an account for each child, older children can be given longer time limits for school projects, online games or streaming videos. The biggest drawback of Net Nanny is that some important tools, such as social media monitoring, chat message capturing and text notifications for parents, require you to purchase a separate program that works alongside the Net Nanny internet filter program.
Pros
  • Cheaper than other programs
  • Masks profanity
  • 18 filter categories
Cons
  • Social media tools cost extra
  • Doesn’t have text alerts
  • Doesn’t restrict chat messages
Net Nanny
Read the full review
Best for Mobile
Surfie is compatible with both Android and iOS cellphones and tablets, plus it has a Windows computer version. All versions let you filter and block web content you don’t want your children exposed to.
It comes with 18 filter categories that make it easy to block related websites under each category, including pornography, violence and online gaming. But you can also whitelist sites that you are okay with your child visiting, even if they fall under a filter category, or blacklist specific pages that don’t fall under a watched group. On top of web filters, Surfie lets you control when your child has internet access and how long they can be online, even on cellphones. One of the best features of Surfie is its keyword monitor that alerts you if someone sends your child a test, email or instant message with words or phrases that tend to be red flags. These include several programmed phrases such as “don’t tell,” “are you home alone?” and “give me your phone number.” But you can also add your own keywords, and Surfie will shut down the program your child is using and internet access when one of them is used. It also works in reverse to monitor what your child sends, prohibiting them from using your tagged keyword and from sharing personal information online. All email, instant messages and text transcripts are recorded for you to read.
Pros
  • Works on both Android and iOS mobile devices
  • Word and phrase monitoring
  • Monitors social media activity
Cons
  • Doesn’t snap screenshots
  • Isn’t compatible with Mac computers
  • No direct customer support
$59.90PureSight
Read the full review

Why Trust Us?

We are parents and know the importance of protecting children from online threats, dangerous content, cyberbullies and too much screen time. Over the last 15 years we have tested and reviewed parental control software, including internet filters and cell phone monitoring programs, that offer great tools that lets parents to know what their kids are up to in the cyberworld.

As part of our research, we subscribe to news outlets and security bloggers that focus on internet security, online privacy and parental control, so we stay on top of the dangers lurking online and changes in the industry. We are interested in how well the tools of these programs help parents keep children safe online, and we enjoy the opportunity to thoroughly test these programs so we can give you good – and safe – internet filter options.

How We Tested

We tested each internet filter by downloading it to both out test lab computers and to our home computers used by our children. We tested the filter categories by purposely attempting to go to sites we knew fell under these categories, including pornography, news outlets, drugs and alcohol, and sites on suicide. For some of the filter categories, such as social media and online gaming sites, we waited for our children to try and access them during their allotted computer times.

It became clear that a program was effective when we heard the frustrating grumbles of kids as they tried to access blocked social media or gaming sites or when their allotted screen time was up and they were blocked internet access.

You can bypass the blocks on a specific website by entering the parent password. This lets kids access a site while still blocking others under the filter category.

We tested time controls in a similar way. We first set short limits on our test computers to get a feel of how each program works, then took the programs home to test in a family environment. All the programs let us block large chunks of time and those with individual profiles let us set time limits for each child. The programs notified kids when their time was up and blocked them from accessing the internet afterwards.

We were really impressed with Qustodio’s time controls because it could both block out times when children couldn’t be online, such as during school hours, and also set a time limit once they were online.

What to Look for in Internet Filtering Software

Blocking and Filtering
When we tested internet filter software, we looked at exactly what each program blocked. This included the number of filter categories, if websites slipped through the cracks and if the program included a blacklist where we could add specific site URLs to block. We gave extra credit to programs, such as SpyAgent and Norton Family, that include tools designed specifically for tracking activity on social media and for blocking cyberbullying. Other programs have tools, such as screenshots and social media blocking, that can be used for similar purposes, but these require you to be more proactive for it to be effective.

Activity Recording and Parent Notification
It seemed to us that anything a program recorded would also be reported to the parents, but we found this isn’t necessarily the case. Some programs only report the date and URL of a site a child visited by our children but don’t record more information than that. The best programs, including Qustodio, record and report in-depth information about how long your children are on specific websites, both sides of chat messages and words they search for in search engines. You can also see if your kids attempted to go to a blocked site and which activated filter category restricted their access to it. Some programs take screenshots while your child is online so you physically see what they saw during their computer time.

Notification is just as important as reading activity reports. We appreciated when a program, such as McAfee, sent us a text message as soon as our children attempted to access a restricted site. Other programs, such as Surfie, sent us email notices when our kids typed tagged words, such as “alcohol” or “home alone,” into search engines or in chat messages. Being notified quickly is important for stepping in and stopping your children from getting into a dangerous situation.