But the real test of Parental Controls is web filtering. In our review of many other products containing parental control features, we have yet to find a fool-proof web filtering solution. I won't keep you in suspense; HND is no exception.
I set up a custom rule that contained filters for the Alcohol/Tobacco category then Googled "Marlboros". Google returned links to sites related to Marlboros, such as PhilipMorris' corporate website or the Wikipedia page on Marlboros. It also returned links to general tobacco-related sites. But clicking on a link to cigoutlet.net produced the message in Figure 6. So while I could see links to "banned" sites, I couldn't access them.
Figure 6: Parental Control Category Block message
As I continued to test HND's web filtering, however, I found weaknesses. I set up a computer with the predefined rule for Young Teen (13-15) restrictions. I then went to that machine, opened a browser and typed "porn" in a Yahoo.com search and received a list of numerous adult sites. The good news is that clicking on any of the links returned an HND Website Blocked page, as expected.
However, when selecting Images or Video instead of Web results to my search on porn, I was presented with images and video links that I wouldn't want my 13-15 year old to see. In other words, the Young Teen level blocked access to porn sites, but not objectionable images, videos or even link descriptions that I wouldn't want my child to see. Not good.
Changing the restriction to the Kids level (under 13) blocked the entire search results for Images and Video links, presenting the Website Blocked page shown in Figure 7. This made me think that perhaps I would just use the Kids level for my Young Teens, as the Young Teens level appears ineffective, at least for my requirements.
Figure 7: Blocked Image search results
This illustrates the general problem with all Parental Control solutions, i.e. finding the balance between excessive and ineffective filtering. For example, I have two middle-schoolers who frequently use the Internet for school projects. In the past, I've often had to turn off excessive web filters to let them get to legitimate sites to complete their projects.
The downside to excessive filtering is you'll disable it so your kids can do their homework and you'll either forget to turn it back on or leave it off as you're sick of them asking you to turn it off so they can get their homework done. Either way, a disabled filter is ineffective.
One of my kids recently did a school project on the Pyrenees mountains, so I checked to see if the Kids level would have limited her research. I found I was able to get to sites on the Pyrenees mountains. But if I clicked a link to learn more about Great Pyrenees dogs at the akc.org website, I was hit with a blocking message stating a violation of the Society/Lifestyle category (Figure 8). I would call this an example of excessive filtering.
Figure 8: Excessive web filtering
On the other hand, a simple Google keyword search on the word “boob” from a PC with the Kids level restriction returned numerous links advertising sites catering to those whose interests matched the word, with detailed descriptions of what one would find on those sites. For example, one link advertised “This site is dedicated to huge boobs and pictures...” I tried the same search using a custom rule blocking all 32 categories and still got the same results. I would call this an example of ineffective filtering.