Friday, March 03, 2017

Circle with Disney parental controls and Internet filtering - thumbs up!

Circle with Disney parental controls and Internet filtering receives my enthusiastic thumbs up after one week of use at my home with two adults and three kids. Previous solutions we tried (OurPact, taking devices away, scolding, etc.) had mixed success. My kids would play on their mobile devices and game consoles all day long if I let them.

My need was for an automated solution with the following requirements:

1. The ability to set time usage limits for each child and their associated devices (e.g. 2 hours per day), bedtime "Internet off", content and app filters.

2. Easy for BOTH me and my wife to use, support for multiple devices (iOS, Android, Mac, PC, Xbox, Playstation, etc) with no requirement to install software on each device.

3. Finally, I preferred "one time purchases" rather an a monthly subscription fee. I'm cheap and prefer to keep costs low.

I looked at a variety of hardware and software solutions, including purchasing a new wi-fi router (e.g. Synology RT2600ac) but ultimately I decided on Circle with Disney for $99 on Amazon ($90.37 after $8.63 off sale).

Circle with Disney is a small white box that connects to your home network via wi-fi or Ethernet cable and installed and managed via a free iPhone or Android app. Installation and configuration was fast and easy. I created a profile for each child and then associated their devices. This was a bit tricky because it wasn't always easy to tell which device was which. A few tips:

  1. For iOS devices, open Settings > General > Wi-Fi Address (MAC address) which is also displayed in Circle
  2. I have two wireless networks, 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz. While Circle can manage both, when Circle is first configured it must use the 2.4Ghz network. Devices on the 5Ghz network didn't show up. Moving the device to the 2.4Ghz network temporarily allowed me to see the device and associate it with a child. Once configured, the device could connect to either network

Out of the box, Circle manages Internet access via wi-fi and not cellular. However, for an addition $9.99 monthly subscription (in-app purchase), you can manage cellular access as well. Thankfully, cellular access in our neighborhood is poor and discourages the kids from using it. Circle also won't limit access to downloaded content. For example, if my kids downloaded a video or music, Circle wouldn't limit usage.

While Circle isn't perfect, it has helped me gain control over my kids Internet usage and I recommend it.


Likes
  • Inexpensive ($99) and no subscription fee for wi-fi and wired Ethernet device management  
  • Easy to use. I set bedtime for my kids (weekday and weekend schedule) and time limit for each child for the day
  • "Insights" provides details on how much Internet time each child has used and time spent in each app
  • Everything is controlled from a mobile app that is used by the parents
  • Nothing to install on devices
  • The ability to give "rewards" for more Internet time or a later bedtime for each child
  • The ability to associate devices with children. All other devices can be unmanaged and have unlimited access
  • Content and app filtering
  • The ability to manage all devices including smartphones, tablets, PC's Xbox and Playstation.

Dislikes
  • It was hard to identify some devices and not all devices immediately displayed in Circle. Switching my devices to the 2.4Ghz wi-fit network did the trick. I sometimes needed to resort to looking at MAC address. However, this is a one-time process for each device.
  • Some devices like an Xbox are used by multiple people and can't be shared
  • $9.99 a month subscription to manage cellular usage (wi-fi management is free).  AT&T charges the same $9.99 monthly fee for 10 devices.
  • No warnings when the kids are running low on Internet time - disconnect is immediate. Kids can check their quota at http://mycircle.meetcircle.com

How it works
Circle poses as the gateway using a technique called “ARP spoofing” or “ARP poisoning" which allows Circle to monitor all traffic on the home network automatically and without special configuration. Learn more



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