This week, Trend Micro announced the introduction of its new tool, Online Guardian, which offers to keep children safe online. OSS had the opportunity to speak with Trend Micro’s Product Manager and Developer of the product, Laura Martinez.
Laura has two kids of her own, now ages 14 and 17. She is well acquainted with the challenges of being a parent in the social media age, as she shared during our interview. I asked how Trend Micro had become interested in developing Online Guardian. Laura shared her story of a cyberbullying incident that happened in her home.
“I happened to peek over the shoulder of my daughter, who was 10 at the time,” explains Laura. “I was surprised to see that the chat conversation in which she was engaged seemed really mean.”
Laura tried talking to her daughter about the incident, but needed to look at the chat logs to get to the detail of what had been said between her daughter and her friend, another 10yo girl. The mean-spirited tone of the chat surprised Laura, who realized then that she needed to find a better way to monitor and protect her child online.
Trend Micro, Laura’s employer, was supportive of Laura’s motivation. She volunteered for their Internet Safety for Kids and Families program, which enables Trend employees to help train kids and parents on the safe use of the Internet. Laura’s experience with that program helped her to talk to 100′s of parents, hear their concerns, and write the requirements for the product which eventually became Online Guardian.
What Specific Needs Did Laura Identify in Her Discussions with Parents?
Laura was surprised at the level of education – and lack of knowledge – among parents about the Internet and social network sites, like Facebook.
“Parents told me over and over, that they weren’t concerned about Facebook ‘because I’ve friended my kid,’”says Laura. “They don’t realize that their kids are likely really tech-savvy. And the kids can block their parent – and any friend on Facebook if they want – from seeing some of their activities. So, just friending your child doesn’t solve the problem of monitoring their activities online.”
Laura also said that parents were concerned with their kids’ ability to disable monitoring software, because the kids know technology better than they do. The speed at which computers could operate while being monitored, also emerged as a huge concern.
“Machine performance is a big factor in whether a monitoring tool is usable,” explains Laura. “Many parents told me that they tried monitoring software, but that they had to remove it because it was slowing down their computer too much.”
Even Good Kids Can Be Lured Into Facebook Too Early
Laura shared a first-hand experience that she had when testing Online Guardian, of how useful the tool’s social network search capability can be. On a whim, Laura entered the email address of her daughter. To her surprise, her search revealed an unknown Facebook account.
“My daughter was really smart, so she’d used a different last name and blocked the account so that I couldn’t see it,” says Laura. “Finding the account allowed me to have a conversation with my daughter before any real problems could happen.”
What Makes Trend Micro Online Guardian Different?
According to Trend Micro, Online Guardian includes “more extensive” reporting on the top five social network sites, including Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, YouTube, and Flickr, than other filtering tools offer. “My experience with my own daughter proved to me the value of this reporting capability,” says Laura. “Online Guardian even reports on the stuff which is private in a child’s account.”
The software agent is built to be “super light” so it doesn’t slow down the computer. It is also tamper-proof; even if a child is smart enough to reset a system’s Windows Registry keys the product keeps working. The agent will self-restart and thwart any attempts by a child to disable its operation.
“We also license differently, by child rather than by computer system,” says Laura. “A parent can install an Online Guardian agent on as many computers as they need, to monitor a child.”
So, if a child goes online from many different locations – such as at home but perhaps also at an after-school location, or from grandma’s house - then Online Guardian can be installed there, as well. The software is licensed to protect up to five children, each with an individual profile.
Additional capabilities provided in the product include:
- Keyword filtering which is customizable by the parent (note: only the words “porn” and “weapon” are filtered automatically by the software)
- Black- and white-listing of web site URLs, selectable from 27 categories and organized for parents into five major categories and age-groups to make it simple
- Easy-to-read snapshot reports summarizing daily online use by children, which are available online to enable remote monitoring for working parents or for those traveling
Online Guardian is available now from Trend Micro, and retails for $49.95 for a one-year subscription protecting up to five children. Trend Micro also offers a free 30-day trial.
The reaction to Trend Micro’s introduction of Online Guardian by parents is reportedly “super excited.” “We’ve been inundated with interest,” says Laura. “The high level of interest proves there is a real need.”
- Online Social Savvy “Round-Up” report, which has been updated to include Trend Micro Online Guardian is located on our Resources page.
- Trend Micro’s recorded demonstration for Online Guardian
- Trend Micro’s Internet Safety for Kids and Families blog
- Online Guardian product web page and download site
- Trend Micro’s Family Internet Safety and Citizenship Site (mediatechparenting.net)