Reporting & Notification
Filtering & Blocking
Installation & Support
Best Internet Filter Software
How to Choose Internet Filter Software
At Top Ten Reviews, we have been comparing internet filters for 15 years. Recently our reviewers installed each internet filter program on test computers in our lab as well as their own home computers, smartphones and tablets. They even involved their kids in testing so we could get a child’s point of view on the software as well as a parent’s. After 120 hours of testing and research, Qustodio is our top pick for internet filter software because it is easy to use, doesn’t bog down the computer or cell phone it’s installed on, includes a good number of filter categories, provides detailed activity reports, and has time controls.
Best Overall Internet Filter Program
We believe Qustodio is the best internet filter software overall because it records your kids’ chat and email messages for you to read later. It also makes it easy to quickly block unsavory content by activating up to 29 filter categories. In addition, you can set time limits so your kids can’t access to the internet when they need to focus on school, homework and chores. Qustodio also captures screenshots of the websites your kids visit so you can see what they see. This was one of the easiest programs to install and use, and it’s compatible with smartphones, so you can monitor and filter internet content on your child’s cell phone, too.
Best Value Filtering Software
Net Nanny provides decent protection and only costs about $40, making it a good value. The program’s best feature is its profanity masking, which conceals swear words online and keeps your children from typing them into search engines or chat messages. Net Nanny also has 18 filter categories and time controls. The activity reports include screenshots of the webpages your kids visit, so you can see exactly what they see.
Best Internet Filters for Mac
Witigo is one of the only internet filter programs that is compatible with Mac computers. Since it also works with Windows computers and Android smartphones and tablets, you can use one program to cover all your family’s devices. Of the program’s 27 filter categories, our favorites are those for chat and instant messaging. These prevent kids from accessing popular apps, such as Skype or Lync. It also disables instant messaging features on websites, such as Messenger on Facebook, as well as chat rooms on gaming sites. When you enable these filters, your kids can still play games or post on social media sites, but they can’t chat with people, making it more difficult for cyberbullies and online predators to contact or harass them.
How We Tested Internet Filter Software
After installing each program, we activated all the filter categories then purposely attempted to access dangerous sites, including those with pornographic content and information about alcohol and suicide. All the programs did a good job of blocking these types of content.
We then had our children enjoy some computer time with the programs installed on their machines. We didn’t tell them that we’d downloaded the programs onto their computers, which gave us a good chance to see if the sites they visit often are blocked by the applications’ internet filters. Most of the time, the programs blocked inappropriate sites and left the fun, safe sites alone, but that wasn’t always the case.
The biggest problem we consistently saw was that a few programs let some online game sites slip through the filters while blocking others. Some software blocked all gaming sites, even when we set permissions to allow our kids to visit family-friendly and educational ones.
Through our testing, we learned that programs with more internet filter categories make it easier to block mature content and leave age-appropriate sites open for access. All the programs have a whitelist where you can add sites you’re okay with your kids visiting, as well as a blacklist for webpages that are strictly forbidden.
We also looked closely at the programs’ time controls. Each software lets set when your kids can be on the internet and alerts them when their time is up. Qustodio makes it the easiest to set limits – you can set it to allow your kids to be online during certain time frames, such as for a few hours between after dinner and bedtime. You can also limit their screen time during those hours. For example, you can set a four-hour window during which they can access the internet but only allow them to be online for a maximum of two hours during that time.
What Is Important When Selecting Internet Filter Software?
Reporting & Notification Features
All the internet filter programs we reviewed have customizable reporting and notification features. However, only the best of the bunch let you choose when and how you are notified. For example, some can send real-time emails and texts to let you know your child is participating in questionable activities so you can put an immediate stop to them.
Activity Recording Features
One thing that sets the best internet filter programs apart is the inclusion of activity recording features. The most effective programs store information about visited websites and online searches as well as record keystrokes to create a complete record of how your child uses the internet. Some can also track social network activity and email. Additionally, the best of the best capture screenshots and webcam and microphone activity to keep you fully informed of what your kids do on the computer.
Filtering & Blocking Features
How good a filter program is depends a lot on how well it blocks offensive websites and filters content based on age-appropriate criteria. All the software we reviewed let you blacklist URLs and whitelist others. Some can also identify websites that contain certain types of content, including pornographic and violent material. Only a few filter programs block social media platforms like Facebook.
Although we found Qustodio to be the overall best program, software like SpyAgent may be a better fit for your family because it has impressive filtering and blocking settings. Additionally, McAfee and Norton Family are both made by established brands with excellent reputations, and they are compatible with cell phones as well as computers.