Trend Micro gives parents an Online Guardian

The niche market of parental control tools is finally growing up, and services offered by NetNanny, Symantec, and now Trend Micro aim to help parents guide and control their children's online presence.

Trend Micro has created an Online Guardian that it says will help parents monitor and control the online activity of their children. Debuting today, Online Guardian for Parents continues the revamp of Trend Micro's home consumer security line that started last fall with its cloud-based Titanium security suites. In fact, Online Guardian leverages the same cloud-based, proprietary database called Smart Protection to extend rapid-response protection to Web site monitoring.

Trend Micro's new Online Guardian dashboard.

(Credit: Screenshot by Seth Rosenblatt/CNET)

In addition to standard parental control features such as URL filtering, instant message monitoring, identity data protection, an online time manager, a Web-based control panel, and per-child user profiles, Online Manager's social networking guards separate it from the current competition like Norton Online Family and NetNanny. Parents can use Online Manager to monitor pictures and video viewed on YouTube and Flickr, but the program's best social networking tools come from its Facebook app.

Parents can use the Online Guardian Facebook app to monitor public wall posts, including photos and videos, as well as private, nonpublic posts, and get reports on mobile device Facebook activity.

However, because the Facebook monitoring depends on an app, it is possible for the Facebook user to simply disable the app, which will then prevent reporting. "The child can uninstall the app," admitted Laura Martinez, Online Guardian's product manager at Trend Micro, but she cautioned that there are several safeguards that will keep parents in the loop. "Online Guardian's browser logging will keep track of browsing history, and the Guardian will automatically notify parents if there's been no Facebook activity detected for seven days." She agreed that it's an imperfect solution, and said that it likely will be addressed in future versions.

For right now, Trend Micro Online Guardian remains a desktop app, with its dashboard only accessible on mobile devices via the browser. Martinez said that the first revision to the program will introduce iPhone and Android dashboard apps, although there's no word yet on how Online Guardian will mesh with Trend Micro Mobile Security, the company's Android app, which already offers limited parental control features.

Online Guardian is available as an unrestricted 30-day trial, after which a one-year license retails for $49.95. That's $10 more than NetNanny, and while it's the same MSRP as Norton Online Family Premier, Norton Online Family Premier retails for $29.99 for a one-year license, and also has a free basic version.

Update 3:55 p.m. PT Tuesday: Corrected pricing information for Norton Online Family.

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