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Parental Controls ... For Mobile Phones? You Bet

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| Hey Kids, There's a Revolution in Retailing ?

August 16, 2005

Parental Controls ... For Mobile Phones? You Bet

Olga Kharif

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.

01:25 AM


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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.

Posted by: Scott at August 22, 2005 05:54 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.

Posted by: Annie Parks at September 12, 2005 02:06 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)!

Posted by: linda shelton at September 13, 2005 04:27 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.

Posted by: Richard at September 15, 2005 05:55 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.

Posted by: RD at August 28, 2006 06:03 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.

Posted by: Julie at February 14, 2007 01:41 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: 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.

Posted by: Chris Brightwell at April 9, 2007 01:39 PM

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