Product Review: Skydog Parental Controls

by admin

When I used to work in IT I had the chance to marvel at some state-of-the-art server based monitoring and blocking software for coporations.  I was impressed with the level of control offered and the way the service was constantly updated with classifications relevant to the control of inappropriate content at the office or jobsite.

At the time, family was still in my imagination.  But I thought to myself, “Is there anything like this out there for home use?”  At the time, I was disappointed.

Since then, I have been watching and waiting for a solution to come out that is not PC based.  We have always had multiple computers in our home, from the day we got married.  Those computers have always shared an internet connection through some kind of hub.  But I had never been able to filter internet content upstream of everyone until I finally discovered Skydog.

Image Courtesy of Skydog

Here is the short form of this review: Skydog is nothing less than a must-have for every family which seeks to keep their children from inappropriate and/or dangerous content on any platform from iPads and tablets to PCs to laptops to any other internet-connected device.  It is ridiculously easy to set up, and affords unheard of control to parents over the use of the internet on all devices connected to the network.  FURTHER: it enables you to completely stymie unauthorized connections to your home network unless you SPECIFICALLY approve of them.  This control can even be operated remotely via your smartphone or any internet-connected device, anywhere in the world. 

When I first ran across a reference to Skydog, I started getting excited.  I had been frustrated for years at the prospect of software which must be installed on each computer or device individually.  It struck me as a pain to keep updated, easy to circumvent for computer-savvy children, and moreover incredibly expensive to support, having to buy copies for each machine separately, PLUS learning and implementing a completely different program, again  individually on each mobile device and tablet.  I knew my kids were starting to reach the age where this was going to be an issue.  What finally triggered an all-out search was the arrival of a new member of the family, a 15 year old boy who needed a fresh start.  It became imperative that I find a solution.  Even our router which came from our internet provider (and every aftermarket router I had tried from major names like Netgear, Linksys and others) offered only rudimentary controls that were not only cumbersome and impossible for the novice to use, but it was pretty much either internet on, or internet off.

When I read about Skydog’s features, including router-based time controls, bandwidth throttling on a per user basis, internet-based configuration and adjustment, and content screens that are easily adjustable, including website white and blacklists, I was to put it mildly, in disbelief.  I tried immediately to verify if I was reading the claims of the product right.  I watched reviews of the product from news organizations and tech websites.  It all looked on the up-and-up.

So I talked it over with my wife and we agreed to go ahead and order it for $150 direct from the company, despite having to order from the States, which piled on an extra $30 in shipping charges.  If it did what it was advertising, it would be worth every penny.

It arrived only days later.  The packaging was so nice I actually thought about doing an unboxing video.  But my good taste got the better of me and I failed to record anything.

The only thing I had to do to my existing internet connection (cable modem/router) was go into its settings and turn off the wireless radio.  That allowed me to make the Skydog the only wireless option.

I used the exact same settings and password as the old router, so pretty much all the devices were able to pop right onto Skydog.  Then I set to work with the easy job of creating user profiles for all my kids and my wife (mine was there by default).  I invited my wife to be an admin so she had the ability to change settings too – invite went by email and my wife had zero questions about the process so she must have found it very straightforward.  Each user profile was set up by wizard so it was just next, next finish.  Only thing that would have been easier would have been to create a custom time control map, and then simply apply it to all my kids instead of having to re-set up the map for each child, but considering how easy even that was, I am not complaining.

The next step was identifying each device on the network.  If they have a “name” it autopopulates, but lots of devices don’t.  For example, our network printer.  All I had to do was track down in each device its current IP and I was able to tag them appropriately and attach them to each user.  A small complaint is that you can’t attach each control profile to different user accounts on the same device – this would be a great addition to future versions, because on my main PC each of my children has their own login, and since they each have different permissions in terms of when they are allowed to use the internet, it would have been even easier to say “if child A logs into this PC then use this set of internet restrictions”.  But as it is, it’s not much hassle to just reassign a device temporarily if a child needs to use it, so I don’t mind that.

Once that was done, the last step was just adjusting the unassigned device permissions to “no access”.  That secured my home network so that even if someone was able to guess the network password (which most people tell me is unnecessarily complex anyway), they would not be permitted to access the internet anyway, so sucks to be them.

Other than the small complaints I have mentioned above, these are the only other concerns I have:

  • This system does not control internet access through 3G, 4G or LTE cel networks.   It only manages Wi-Fi access devices.  If your kids have a cel phone with a data plan, they can always use that to access otherwise blocked content.  However… you still could make them use some kind of mobile device-based blocker, or simply don’t give them a data plan!
  • Websites with a variety of appropriate and inappropriate content cannot be controlled beyond simply blocking access.  For example, Netflix, Youtube.  Granted, each of these sites has SOME native content filters that can be used voluntarily… but that’s the key.  A child with half a brain who wanted access to inappropriate content could always turn off those restrictions.  To this concern I would say this: Skydog does not eliminate the need for teaching your kids the reason for the controls it offers.  We as parents still need to teach our children why they should be self-controlled and that we as parents are here to help.  These controls are meant to help keep them from temptations that they don’t need exposure to, not to eliminate the need for self-control.

That last point is perhaps worth repeating.  While I consider this tool to be an absolute Godsend and I recommend any family with multiple internet-connected devices in the home buy this immediately, I must once more say: Skydog does not eliminate the need for us to parent our children and teach them why it is good to abstain from the sites that you can control, and limit their time online.  That said, there is nothing I have seen that comes close to the value-for-money and ease of use that Skydog offers.  Buy it immediately.  Then send me $5 as a thank you for saving you years of headaches, grief and expense.

You’re welcome. 😉

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