Parental Controls ... For Mobile Phones? You Bet

Parents can already control Web sites and TV programs their children view. Next up: parental controls for mobile phones.
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.

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