Parental Controls ... For Mobile Phones? You Bet

Posted by: Olga Kharif on August 16, 2005

It’s a strange inconsistency. Today, nearly all Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and cable companies let parents control which Web sites and programs their children can view. Yet, with a few exceptions, parental controls aren’t available on mobile phones.

Sure, parental controls are offered through a handful of wireless services targeting kids and tweens. Phones with parental controls include Firefly and TicTalk, which even allow parents to restruct whom their children can call. Another service, described here, allows parents to restrict minutes of use. But shouldn’t parental controls — particularly those relating to content — be available on all cell phones? After all, with all the family plans carriers offer, most kids end up using regular phones.

Fortunately, parental controls for regular phones could be coming soon. I just talked with start-up called RuleSpace, which hopes to see its software, allowing for parental control of mobile content, to be released commercially in the fourth quarter of this year. “We have talked with or been approached by all the major carriers in the U.S.,” says James Dirksen, the company’s vp of operations. He expects parental controls to eventually make it onto all data-enabled phones. And I wouldn’t be surprised if he is right.

Though RuleSpace is small, it's well known in the parental controls market, so Dirksen knows what he is talking about. RuleSpace controls 70% of the market for so-called categorization software, which tells filters what kind of content (say, innocent or porn) a given Web site has. Parents use the filters to specify the types of sites they don't want their children to view.

Though the Portland, Ore., company only employs 10 people, its customers include Yahoo and BellSouth.

And RuleSpace's bet is that as more phones become capable of accessing the Web, parents will demand that parental controls are a standard part of their service. "We are coming up into the perfect storm at this time," Dirksen says.

That makes sense: Look around, most kids nowadays don't leave the house without their mobile phones. Many of them blow their allowances on upgrading to the latest mobile gadget, allowing for texting and Web surfing. Parental controls are long overdue.

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Reader Comments

Scott

August 22, 2005 05:54 PM

How about instead of trying to control your kids with gadgetry that they are 10x more likely to understand than you, you actually spend time with them educating them on what's out there and that there is some content that is not suitable. What you think kids of our generation didn't have access to Dad's or the the neighborhood Dad's stash of porn mags? Same material, different media, same silly approach to social control. Sex is not the problem, and sexual content should not be viewed as evil. What needs to be understood is exploitation and it's harm in society.

Annie Parks

September 12, 2005 02:06 PM

With the crime rate nowdays I see a child having a cell phone as a way to connect to parents or 911 in case of an emergency especially for kids walking to and from school.

linda shelton

September 13, 2005 04:27 PM

the kids now use their cell phones as therapists instead of going to the parent chosen "therapist".
what a hoot! they believe in friends rather than professional healthcare people and their (parents)!

Richard

September 15, 2005 05:55 PM

There are two main points to consider with mobile phones for children - teenagers:

1) Kids want to belong - they don't want some naff-looking phone that screams, 'dork!' or whatever. (Firefly and TicTac are suitable for under 6's - no half-respectable 7 year old would be seen dead with them) In other words, it should be possible to apply parental controls to ANY phone, since modern kids want the latest, not the naffest.


2)Kids can be bullied by phone. Text messages or silent or anonymous calls. There seems to be a storm of controversy approaching because kids (with modern phones note, not naff Tictac or Firefly) will soon be able to access the internet, porn, etc.

Bullying is a problem that has been completely ignored by the industry for years! It's long overdue that parental controls at the most basic level (who you can or can't phone to/receive calls from (whitleist/blacklist)) should be on phones.

It's nothing to do with parents not watching their kids or being bad parents.

It only takes one close friend of the child to leak a phone number to another child, or an ex-friend to turn unpleasant, for everything to go wrong - and the adult will never know about it. Silent bullying.

RD

August 28, 2006 06:03 PM

Content is not the only problem. Kids can create incredible financial hardship for parents very easily with both cell phones and land lines. I know of a grandmother who has had to pay a bill in the thousands of dollars for calls from her teenaged granddaughter to a boyfriend in Europe. The child constantly sneaked downstairs to use the phone while her grandmother slept. The phone company insisted on being paid, and none of the land or cell phone companies would provide a way to block international calls from being made.

It's all well and good to say that the parents should have raised the kid better, but her screwed-up mother and father are why she lives with her g'mother in the first place. Meanwhile, this very elderly lady has opted to have no phone at all in her house. I agree that technological fixes don't normally work on kids's behavior, but this grandmother is trapped in a situation not of her own making and really needs someone to help her while she tries to straighten out her grandkid.

Julie

February 14, 2007 01:41 PM

There are some kids who need to be restricted from talking to or texting to their friends because of being grounded or whatever, but the parents still want their child to be able to call 911 and their parents. Having a cell phone us a privilege in large part, and sometimes kids need to lose some privileges.

Chris Brightwell

April 9, 2007 01:39 PM

I'm really not looking to spam or self-promote here, but I'm concerned about the dangers facing kids with mobile devices. I work for a company that has a product that addresses these issues... a service that allows you to monitor your child‘s calls, email, text messages, and instant messages, and alerts you to any suspicious activity and from people not on the approved contact list. I'd like to hear your thoughts on whether or not this product would be helpful in these cases. You can email me at: cbrightwell@eagency.com. Here'a a link to info about the product, called RADAR - Your Kids' Mobile Watchdog. I'd appreciate you letting me know if you feel we're on track.

http://www.mymobilewatchdog.com

jeff

September 10, 2007 05:57 PM

I disagree, we need to monitor kids less and not restrict what they can view. I let my daughter spend time with who ever she wants after all she is 16 now and i let her do as she wants. I dont keep an eye on the guys she dates, weather or not she has sex is of no care to me, in fact i promote it to her in hopes she will become sexually active and healthy. as to the phone content, as long as she doesnt break the bank i dont care. i think this article is trying to make parents into control freaks.

slpncat

September 13, 2007 08:35 AM

To the guy above who doesn't want to be a control freak. Yeah, you want kids to learn responsibility and have some control of their lives. But setting limits is important for kids to learn to be responsible and not take advantage of parents and others. Kids raised without rules and limits. Rules and limits are relaxed as they demonstrate the responsibility needed to operate independently. The time to mentor, monitor, and set limits is now before they are 18, on their own, out of reach and you aren't there to guide. This is your chance to give them the knowledge they need to operate independently. It's you JOB.

queenmumofscrap

September 28, 2007 12:59 PM

Teens being what they are, no matter how well you raise them, you can't watch them 24/7. I had a Disney phone and plan for my teen that didn't look dorky. Unfortunately, they have canceled their mobile service as of 12/31/07. The parental control I wanted most was the ability to set the times he can accept and make calls (with calls to and from myself, my husband, and 911, available anytime). For example, not during school hours and not between the hours of 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. This solves the problem that a lot of parents have with their kids staying up all night calling or texting their friends. So I'm shopping for new service with that feature. So far, I have a couple possibilities, but if anyone knows of any, please post. Thanks.

Curt Howe

November 8, 2007 12:52 PM

I think it is awesome that companies have the technology to track their kids cell phones, espcially the company www.mymobilewatchdog.com as they aren't just selling a product, they intereact with their customers and give a lot of helpful information. I know some kids are pretty responsible and may not need to be monitored, but a lot of kids are untrustworthy when they are away from the parents which is sad but true.

Stephanie

November 23, 2007 01:42 AM

i think a child should be able to have that type of freedom. Its good to monitor your kids, but seriously, get a life, its called trust.

mike

December 2, 2007 01:15 AM

First, Having the ability to know what your kid is doing and with whom is extremely important. If you think otherwise you are a fool and a large part of the problems we face in our world today. Let them do what they want is nothing more than anarchy and would destroy the world we know. It does not stop with teens. They learn this in their youth and then it continues through life with irresponsibility.
Second, Sexual promiscuity is a terrible problem in our world today. Porn in any form is dangerous and will destroy the lives it touches. This article is not about that but the comment that sex is ok and that porn is ok is one of the stupidest things I have ever heard. Wake up people!

Chris

December 6, 2007 09:57 AM

Agreed with Mike above. Porn is a most insidious problem that eats a persons mind to pieces. Allowing a child of 14 to get into this is sending them to the trash heap! It is bad enough for adults to deal with porn and remain decent human beings - kids just do not have the maturity to do so. For the love of your children - cell access to porn is a no no.

Shay

December 6, 2007 04:53 PM

I gave my daughter all the trust in the world. She is extremely responsible, reliable and I never dreamed i would have any problems with giving her a phone. Unfortunately, two recent incidents really opened my eyes to what having control really means. It's not deprivation but rather protection. You see, she gave her number two a man who is a registered sex offender, who was posing as a 14 yr old boy online. He convinced her that he just had a deep voice. If i had been smart, he would have never have been able to call her nor she him. I expected that she may eventually run into online predators but personal contact...that is scary. The second incident was a boy sending porn to her. She opened it during class and that prompted the school to call the police. Now I have locks on her phone and contact list. She can only call those i approve and no one that isn't on her contacts can call her. Now i really do know who she is talking to.

chad

December 10, 2007 03:24 PM

shay, what service are you useing? this is exactly what I need for my kids.

Smith

December 29, 2007 11:21 AM

Shay,
What service are you using? I too have a 14 year old daughter with similar problems with Myspace & Facebook (sexual predators)!!!! I recently discovered & need to do something now with cell phone, but don't know how or what. This is exactly what I need for her.

Michelle

January 18, 2008 01:13 PM

Does any one know if there is a mobile phone with parental controls and GPS? Disney offered this but they're out of service.

cathy

February 21, 2008 08:04 PM

What service is providing parental controls? AT&T was going to but it did not last a month. Any other company's?
Thanks for any info.

liz annon

October 9, 2008 11:25 AM

I will never get my teen a phone unless I can have call block that works with ALL numbers, not just some of them like what happens with call block on landlines (refuses to block most cell phone numbers). I also would need to limit number of minutes a day- not week - along with text messages, also could call me even if she has used up her minutes. I also need a way to access every number called in, called out, every text messages sent or received, and a way to record phone messages. I have a seriously troubled kid (adopted and came to me this way at 8 so don't trash me for my parenting or lack there of) and it takes every tool I can use to keep track of her and to anticipate and head off trouble.

bob

October 23, 2008 11:38 AM

NO PARENT SHOULD BE ALLOWED TO VIEW THE CHILDS TEXTS IF THATS WANT THEY WANT THEN CANCEL TEXTING IT WOULD BE SO MUCH EASIER BECASUE IF YOU ARE STUPID ENOUGH TO READ THEIR TEXTS THEN YOU ARE NOT A VERY GOOD PARENT YOU SHOULD JUST SUCK IT UP AND LET THEM BE A TEENAGER, LIFE IS SHORT LET THEM LIVE THEIR LIFE AND JUST BACK OFF!!!!!!!!!! MY GOD.............

Peter

October 23, 2008 08:46 PM

Bob looks like you are a teenager. Wait till you have teenage kids, then you will understand what all are talking here. Till then have fun.

Omar

December 11, 2008 09:57 PM

we are building a service where you manage who your kids can call and recieve calls from, specify time of day when they can use the phone(not during school and late at night etc) and what type of content and games they can download from the web onto their phones.

It is the responsibility of the parents to protect their childern, according to a recent Pew research 32% of kids (1 out of 3) have been contacted by someone they don't know because of their online presense.

DeWayne

February 15, 2009 11:33 AM

To Bob only a teen or a pervert wuld say a thing like that.

Guru

March 5, 2009 12:04 AM

None of these are 'complete' solutions. They my block some and leave out other (i.e block calls but not SMSs and MMSs) or leave web filtering which is a growing concern of parents due to increased abusers. Srusti Mobile (www.srustimobile.com) provides complete solution. It can be customized to suit individual parent's requirements (in other words level of trust they have on their kids and neighborhood they live in).

They can even simply monitor all calls/SMSs/MMSs and website the child visited on daily/weekly and monthly basis.

More advanced features include event generation on certain type of calls i.e. from a number outside US.

Wouldn't be great to give our children freedom they deserve but let them know you know what they are doing at all times?

joeNam

April 9, 2009 12:49 AM

MobiZim is parental controls for mobile phone company. They recently announced their beta at http://www.mobizim.com.

It is quick and easy to use and you can manage all of your phones from one place, over the web, regardless of the cell phone company. Even if you have one phone from one company and the other from another. Try it. Http://www.mobizim.com

mike

April 22, 2009 12:01 PM

i want to now about my kids and control his phone

HAHAHA

April 30, 2009 02:14 AM

Ok..I am 13. I rely on my cell. I understand trying to monitor your kids cell. But dont look at there texts. There is stuff u can do that doesnt involve reading all the texts. Trust me you will ruin your relationship if you are to overpertective. the kid might just do stuff t piss you off. My parents do NOT trust me. They jump to conclusitions that are absolutly stupid.
They assume I am up to stuff that if i actually did would give me nightmares. Ok so my friends mom recieves the messages if they have swearing, or anything bad. I dont know how but she does. But remember they doactually use there friends as support. Friends almost always want whats best for them. I lied to my parents and my friends advice was to tell the truth. So trust them, but if u arent open minded. They will lie to u. most likely.My pareents are control freaks. But we worked out a deal.. kinda .. it sucks for me still.. but its better then before.

Sam

May 22, 2009 07:04 PM

I tried MobiZim and found it very easy to use. Works great on my Windows Mobile Phone now waiting for my Blackberry Pearl support because that is what my daughter wants.

Like the fact that I can review the phone content from anywhere over the web.

Kidsafe Online

June 2, 2009 12:04 PM

Trusting and educating our children are a MUST. BUT it takes under a second for a kid to text or send a pic before they even think about it. Kids from 9-14 do not make good decisions all the time. We know they are not mature enough to always think first. Reaction time on a mobile phone is immediate. We need to view and approve messages from our young kids before they get into trouble. Then they say it was a mistake and they are sorry. Technology today doesn't always allow enough time for kids to click in their morals. We have good kids and we want to trust them but they make mistakes. Mobile phones should have controls for the younger kids. After 16 it is hard to restrict or monitor everything a child does. Thats when PARENTS need to keep communication lines open and repeat the safety rules of online communication! EVERY carrier should have controls for phones we hand our 8-15 year olds!!!!!!!

Tech Mom

June 30, 2009 12:55 PM

There are few companies that provide parental controls on mobile devices. Mobicip(www.mobicip.com) is one of them that provides web based parental control solution for iphone and iPod touch users.

Tech Mom

June 30, 2009 12:57 PM

Parental controls are now available for mobile devices. Mobicip(www.mobicip.com) is one of the companies that provide web based parental control solution for iphone and iPod touch users.

Daniel Neal

August 6, 2009 05:39 PM

I recommend you take a look at kajeet, www.kajeet.com, the safest cell phone service for kids. We developed kajeet just for kids (including our own), and have won 3 parenting awards in the past 3 months. It is the only contract-free cell phone with parental controls (always free) and a GPS kid finder ($9.99/month, first month free). You can determine who calls or texts, when they can do so, who pays for what, and which services are permitted. Plans start at $4.99/month with no contract, no termination or activation fees, no roaming or data charges. Best, --Daniel Neal, CEO & Founder, kajeet Inc.

Bruce

September 25, 2009 08:19 PM

omg. I'm not so worried about sex and stalkers. I just need the 14 1/2 year old to get her homework and studies done and stop being so distracted by all the outside influences. I plan on using it as a control tool. Yep, I'm the MOM, and it's because I said so! No phone after 6 pm, no texting, no computer or TV after 6 pm. I can't be on her ass 24/7. I'd rather not fuss and fight. So we'll just keep neat and oh, so tidy. Parental controls on cell phones? It's a good thing!

SASA

October 18, 2009 03:35 PM

i am a 17 year old and truth is i do things behind my parents backs. but hey thats human nature right.... i know all of you did too(mostly). Although,respectfully to a few incidents i am responsible, i am very successful and i stay on top of things. Obiously i give my parents little reason to distrust me and so why wouldnt they? i feel that its important to let your kids make thier own misakes as long as it doesnt interfer with their safety. alhtough i do do stuff behind thier backs really in the end its the childs choice of how to handle themselfs and being overprotective really only deters them. it IS really true that it takes away from the relationship as a whole i know, it can really change the way the child looks at the parent, making them suspicious of everything the parent is doing to interfer with their life; and vice versa. And towards the peson saying porn and sex is bad...... i think it is also part of human nature, at a certain age of course. the younger population should be protected but certian privilages should be freed as they mature to show that you are acknowlaging thier maturing nature. they wil thank you and feel you trust them to a certain point. sex isnt bad and you should educate your children about it if you are ever suspecting anything so at least they are prepared if they ever chose to do it. depending on your views stress what you want..... but just know that being overprotective... trying to catch them doing something wrong... will not only ruin your relationship...it will make them dispise you for it..it can just teach the kids to learn different ways of decieving you. therfor they might not want to tell you stuff going on in thier life, fearing youll use it against them or likewise conclude something of it, making a gap between yall. its not worth it. just talk to them about how you feel and most likely they will do what they can to accomidate you, build a good relationship of trust. simple as that.

SASA

October 18, 2009 03:39 PM

and scott......good job :) i couldn't have put it better....

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BusinessWeek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, Douglas MacMillan, and Spencer Ante dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. One of the first mainstream media tech blogs, Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.

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