Windows parental controls, interesting features but….

by Oliver Brushfield-Smith on March 24, 2016
With so many people using mobile devices these days on platforms like Android and iOS (Apple), it might seem like good ol’ Microsoft Windows has lost some of its shine. We all know that’s not true, there are Windows computers in most households, there’s a PC in the study, a laptop in the kitchen or an old tower lurking under the stairs.

“85% of desktop devices run Windows.”

These devices are everywhere and kids usually have unrestricted access to them, they are shared between the whole family. So how do you manage your kids time on them and make sure that they don’t over indulge?

Introducing Microsoft Family Safety

Since Windows 7 and Vista there have been parental controls built into Windows, that allow us parents to schedule usage, control what games are played and block the apps that we don’t want to be used.

Family Safety is part of Windows Live Essentials but it can be used independently if you don’t want to use all of the features live Live Mail and Movie Maker. So it’s available for free to pretty much anyone that has a Windows license and a Live account, which is a good start.

Getting going

The first thing that you’ll need to do is log into the Family Safety web portal, which you can do from any web browser, although there are reports of the web portal not working very well on browsers that aren’t from Microsoft, which is an age old problem with various Microsoft products.

Once you’re logged in and have created a parent’s account you’ll then need to create a Windows Live ID for your kids. This seems a little excessive if you’re setting up an account for a toddler, however if you’re a Windows only household then a Live ID won’t be a problem and allows you to track usage across all devices. If not then it’s just another account to remember the username and password for, plus you’ll need to give up some personal details like your child’s birthday and a contact number.

Microsoft account

You’ll then need to create a user account on the device that you want to monitor using the Live ID that you created for you child.

What’s under the hood?

Family Safety seems to be a mix of Parental Control and Monitoring tools, that allow you to see what your child’s online activities are and also block access to devices and content.

Recent Activity

On the first page you can see an overview of your child’s activities on their device, showing the web pages visited, apps and games used and the general usage of the device. You can also enable weekly email reports to be sent to you.

Microsoft family security Recent activity

Web Browsing

Blocking of inappropriate websites is enabled by default and if you click through to the Bing SafeSearch settings you can choose what level you prefer – Strict, Moderate or turn this feature off completely.

Microsoft family security Bing Settings

With broad strokes like this there are bound to be websites that slip through the net, so you have the ability to whitelist and blacklist websites that you choose.

Loopholes

  • Only available if your child is using Microsoft browsers, either Edge or Internet Explorer
  • Some content slips through the gaps, but that is the case for most web filters.

Apps, games and Media

Set the age rating for apps that your child can access through the Windows Store. Of course this doesn’t stop kids from going to other stores and media websites that kids can get access to unsuitable content from.

Microsoft family security App, media and games

You can also choose which apps and games are blocked permanently on this page.

Loopholes

  • Only works for apps that you’re signed in with, can be evaded for non signed in applications.

Screen Time

Perhaps taking inspiration from Screen Time Labs, Windows have decided to include their version of the Daily Limit. You can set the hours between which your child can use their devices each day, and also set a maximum amount of time they can use the device during those set hours.

Microsoft family security daily limit

Loopholes

  • Settings changes have a lag before they take effect, they are only polled every 60 minutes. So can be difficult if you change the settings frequently.

Purchases & Spending

The Windows Store isn’t the most popular of stores, but if it’s something that your kids are using then you can give them a budget and add money into their account.

Loopholes

  • Doesn’t prevent purchasing from other online stores

Find your child

A location feature is also included for parents of kids with Windows mobile devices. Allowing you to see where their devices have been and at what time.

Microsoft family security Find your child

Xbox Privacy Settings

With 3 settings; Everyone, Friends or Block you can decide how private your kids’ Xbox live accounts are. From here you set the levels for their video communication, content sharing, viewing other peoples profiles and also control what information is shared with other Xbox users.

Xnox parental controls Privacy online safety

The Conversation

As you know, here at Screen Time Labs we believe that including kids in the conversation of parental controls is essential. It’s also an ongoing process, it’s important how kids are told that they have been blocked and it’s a conversation so there should be a way for their voices to be heard.

family-safety-time-up

To this end Family Safety has a number of different messages that inform kids what’s happening and why, also there are options for them to request more time if they believe they have been unfairly blocked.

family-safety-lock-out-warning

Verdict

If you’re already using lots of Microsoft devices in your household then it makes sense to enable Family Safety. But as with most Microsoft products the features work best with other Microsoft products but can be glitchy when trying to monitor or restrict apps or games from developers or sources other than Microsoft Store.

The features sound and look good but there are reports that when field tested with real live children they don’t fair well, and loopholes are easily found.

Have you field tested Family Safety? What are your good points and bad points?