If you're a parent or grandparent, you know the struggle to keep the kids from getting into things they shouldn't online. We've talked before about filtering your entire network using OpenDNS, or Windows' Family Safety features, but those don't cover everything.
OpenDNS only deals with websites, not apps or YouTube videos, while Windows' parental controls only apply to Windows and other Microsoft products. When you have a whole range of gadgets at home, including video game consoles and streaming media gadgets, each with its own parental controls, or no parental controls, trying to get everything set correctly is enough to drive you crazy. However, there might be a solution.
That solution is a small white cube called Circle from a company called Circle which is, interestingly, supported by Disney. It connects to your Wi-Fi network and provides a single set of parental controls for every gadget that's on the same network. You just have to tell Circle which gadgets your kids use, and you can set what they can see, what they can download and where they can go.
You can use the presets for certain age groups (pre-K, Kid, Teen) or customize your own with specific blocking categories or specific apps and sites. Whatever you set will work across any gadget, from tablets to video game consoles.
Not only can you block sites and apps, you have universal control over when each gadget is active. So, if you don't want your kids on the Internet or watching TV after 8 p.m., you can have Circle block all their gadgets on a schedule. There's also a general pause button you can hit that will freeze every gadget if the kids are throwing a tantrum, or you just want a gadget-free family meal time.
It isn't just blocking; you can also see how long everyone has been online and exactly where they've been spending their time. So, if your kid was supposed to be doing online research and instead was watching YouTube videos, you can see it.
Of course, kids have a long history of getting around parental controls, so Circle blocks some of the usual attacks. It doesn't have a power button, and it has an internal battery so it keeps going if the kids unplug it. Also, if it does get unplugged, or messed with in any way, it sends you an alert so you know something is up.
Of course, Circle is still new, so it has some things it can't do yet. For example, setting it up and controlling it requires an iPhone or iPad. Android and Web-based controls are still in the works.
Circle only works on a single network at a time, which in homes with dual-band routers or multiple networks isn't ideal. It also doesn't support multiple users per gadget, so if you share a tablet with a kid, then you'll be restricted to their settings. Circle is working on way to support multiple users per gadget.
Circle also doesn't do anything for cellular. So, a kid with a smartphone can get around it just by switching off Wi-Fi. Circle does say it's exploring a 4G option, which would probably be turning the unit into a cellular hotspot.
However, if you have younger kids, Circle could be just the gadget you've been after to keep them safe without driving yourself insane trying to figure out the parental controls on a dozen gadgets.
A single Circle unit costs $99, which is actually very reasonable for what it does. However, given some of its drawbacks, you might consider holding off until the next generation is released.
What do you think? Is Circle the product you've been waiting for? Let us know if you'll be buying one in the comments.