How Well Can Kids Get Past Parental Control Software?

"GMA" teamed up with a group of kids to try parental control software products.

ByABC News
November 14, 2016, 8:21 AM

— -- Who knows more about technology in your home: the children or the parents? That’s one of the questions ABC News asked a group of nine to 13-year-old children who took part in “Good Morning America’s" software challenge.

Parental control software companies claim they can block inappropriate content that may be sexually explicit or violent. “GMA” designed an experiment with Eric Klopfer, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Director of the MIT Schiller Teacher Education Program, to find out whether children could get around these controls.

The 10 children tried out two of the best-known software blocking products: Qustodio, which on its website claims to be the “Internet’s best free parental control app," and Net Nanny, which costs $40 for one device. Children were given half an hour to get to a site “GMA” had blocked--RoboFun--which is the name of the school helping with the experiment.

First, the children tried Qustodio. One of the girls, Lindsay, found a proxy site which allows users to bypass filters like parental controls. She got to the blocked site and word spread quickly to the other children.

If one child figures out how to get around blocking software, “all their friends are going to find out as well,” Klopfer told ABC News in an interview that aired on Monday.

But the second program, Net Nanny, stumped the children.

“I think they would have figured that one out too,” Klopfer said, had the children been given more time. “Some of them were on the right page, literally the right web page.”

“GMA” also checked the software programs’ abilities to block inappropriate content. Both programs allowed “GMA” to access the site of a violent video game popular with teens. Cyber security expert Theresa Payton confirmed GMA’s results.

“The way these software products work is they will block the things they know to block based on the settings you gave them, “ said Payton. “But they’re always going to be in catch-up mode.”

Following ABC News' experiment, Qustodio said in a statement that it will now block the proxy website the children used in the experiment, as well as the violent game, saying that in general these sorts of issues are detected and corrected quickly.

The statement added, "It's important to note that we have a second layer of protection." If a child is able to access a proxy site, "our advanced technology will still block attempts to access inappropriate content."

Net Nanny told ABC News that it "performs well because of its unique technology. Unlike most filters, Net Nanny doesn’t block a website based on its URL —- that’s the equivalent of judging a book by its cover, it said. Instead, Net Nanny’s technology analyzes the content on every page to determine if it meets the safety criteria set by the parent."

"In today’s digital world, parents are facing a balancing act of epic proportion," the statement from Net Nanny added. "They want to let their kids embrace technology in healthy ways within limits, yet also make sure family values transcend device, app or platform."