For parents who have made the conscious decision to allow their kids or tweens to use Facebook, there are several monitoring solutions out there that can help you keep an eye on their activity and, more importantly, keep them safe. Figuring out which one works best, however, can be a pain.
Below is an in-depth look at three Facebook monitoring solutions that the Yoursphere editorial team tested out. If you haven't invested in a monitoring solution yet, trust that it's a great tool to use in conjunction with the online safety discussions you have with your children.
Think of Facebook monitoring software as another tool on your Internet-safety belt; but keep in mind that software will never replace parental oversight and education. Parental involvement is, and always will be, the first line of defense when it comes to raising our kids to be responsible digital citizens.
GoGoStat Parental Guidance -- Mobile app and website (Free)
The GoGoStat Parental Guidance mobile app (iPhone and iPod Touch) and website are very easy to use. The dashboard on both fronts is very user-friendly, and once everything is set up, checking your child's profile is simple and convenient. From either the app or the website, you can see everything your child is posting on Facebook. Additionally, you'll receive email alerts if they, or one of their friends, post concerning language. However, where GoGoStat falls short is in the set up process.
Set up is lengthy and requires your child's approval because the app is directly tied to their Facebook account. When you sign up as a parent, you are required to provide the email address that your child uses to log into Facebook. Your child will then get an email that contains a link. That link sends them to Facebook where they are required to log in, grant the app permission to their profile, and confirm you as their parent. If your child decides they want to change their Facebook password or delete their account, this will completely stop all monitoring of their account. Even worse, there is zero notification about this to the parent.
Later, GoGoStat sent us the following message, saying that they do notify parents of password changes: "While it is true that Parental Guidance is unable to provide the parent with notifications on their child's Facebook activity when the child changes their password, the application does detect this and sends the parent an email notifying them of such, with directions on how their child can fix this from their Facebook account."
It's also worth noting that your account only updates once every 24 hours, so you won't know what your child posted today until tomorrow. In our test, we didn't get an update for more than 24 hours. The issue was fixed upon contacting GoGoStat's customer service department. Obviously, this is a huge drawback to parents. After all, the whole point of using a software solution is to be up-to-date 24/7.
GoGoStat informed us that the reason we didn't receive an update for more than 24 hours was because we didn't receive the password-change email, which contained necessary next steps.
Mary Kay's Rating: 2 out of 5 Stars
Eye Guardian -- Website (Free in Beta)
Just like GoGoStat, Eye Guardian is very well designed and easy to use. Signing up is a cinch, and because the software is Web-based, you can conveniently access it from any computer.
Once you've signed up and synced your child's profile (more below), you can view any photos that they've sent or received; you can look at their messages, their friends list, their privacy settings, and even the groups/pages that they like. In addition, you'll receive email notifications when concerning language is used on their profile. In our testing, Eye Guardian didn't miss a beat when it came to reporting. Also, if your child deletes a message or status update, it will still appear on Eye Guardian, which is always nice.
You need to know your child's Facebook email address AND password in order to sync their profile with your Eye Guardian account. If you were the one who created their Facebook profile to begin with, then this isn't a problem for you. However, just like GoGoStat, if your child decides they want to change their Facebook password, Eye Guardian doesn't let you know; the notifications just stop. The program can be a little unresponsive at times; however, the software is still in its beta phase so hopefully these issues are ironed out in the final product.
Mary Kay's Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars
ZoneAlarm Social Guard -- Software program ($19.99/year)
The Good: Unlike GoGoStat and Eye Guardian, Social Guard is a software program that you must install on your computer. Once you've downloaded it, installed it and synced your child's account, the software constantly runs in the background, scanning your children's profiles. (Note: Your child is not limited to accessing Facebook on that specific computer. Social Guard successfully monitors your child's account no matter where or what device they access Facebook from.)
Social Guard's parental monitoring solution was the most comprehensive one we tested. Not only does it flag concerning language and tell you why it was flagged, but it checks for dangerous links, it looks for evidence of cyberbullying, and it even looks at the age gaps between your child and the people they're talking to. Like the other products in this review, email notifications are sent to you when concerning language is detected. In addition, you can add specific words that you want the software to flag.
It seems like neither of these software solutions were able to get around the Facebook password requirement. So yes, during set up, Social Guard requires you to enter your child's Facebook email and password in order to sync it with the program. On the other hand, if your child changes their Facebook password or deletes their account, you will be sent a notification. It's also worth noting that, since Social Guard is a software program and not Web-based, you can only access it from the computer you installed it on. It would be really nice to have a mobile version of this product.
Mary Kay's Rating: 4 out 5 Stars
This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.