Useful Apps to Aid Parental Control in Linux

So, you have a machine running Linux which is also used by kids. We all know how the Web may be dangerous, especially for youngest of Internet fans. But do you know how to shield your Linux system and control what your kids do online?

Even though there are many Linux distros especially aimed at children, this article will focus on how to get your current “adult” distro kid-safe, complementing a previous Make Tech Easier article.

linuxparental-kidspc

An important aspect of kids’ computer usage is the amount of time they spend in front of the screen. A limitation and control of kids’ computing time is vital to avoid future addictions, and let’s face it, kids need to play with real toys, exercise, and so on.

timekpr is a program developed to track and control the computer usage time of a system’s accounts on a daily basis. It allows this limitation to be set both as a “green” period of the day (setting a period of time in which that specific user may use the system) and/or as an amount of hours per day. Unfortunately, timekpr is not available for ubuntu 11.04+ yet, even though its creators expect to provide a new release by August 2013.

Surfing on the web requires lots of care and responsibility even to adults. Kids are curious and have a natural tendency to explore, so it is no wonder that they end up visiting dangerous or less appropriate websites (not only in a content point of view, but also dangerous to the system’s security). In order to prevent these kind of situations, there are several programs available, usually called “parental control” programs.

linuxparental-nanny

Gnome Nanny will help with parental control in Linux and is probably the most well-equipped and user-friendly program available. Specially directed to infant control, it helps define separate rules for different users. It has a tabbed interface divided in “PC use time”, “Web browser”, “Mail client” and “Instant messaging”.

The first feature presents the same functionality as timekpr, so if you want a full suite, Nanny is probably better to fulfill your needs. The second feature is probably the most important, giving the possibility to establish which sites are forbidden and which allowed, either by hand or by downloading lists available online. As far as the site informs, the latest (and unstable) Nanny version was released back in 2010, so its development probably ended back then. It is also reported that Nanny works only with three browsers, Epiphany, Firefox and Konqueror, so if you use other browser I recommend that you test Nanny’s effectiveness.

linuxparental-dans

DansGuardian is another program, this one designed for web content filtering, using several methods such as phrase matching and URL filtering. It is also more tailored for running on servers, which is specially useful for schools, libraries and such. The great advantage provided by DansGuardian in comparison to other software is the previously mentioned filtering through phrase matching; sometimes pages with bad content do not have addresses revealing such content. DansGuardian searches pages for “bad” words such as “hate” or “pornography”, providing a much more effective content filtering.

linuxparental-wcc

Finally, WebContentControl is a different kind of program, since it is made to, with its GUI, take control and help users configure other programs – specifically, DansGuardian, FireHol, and TinyProxy. Besides controlling these apps, it provides an easier way to start/stop filtering, backs up configuration files, only changes what is really necessary, and provides SSL filtering.

Now, back to you, how do you configure your computer to restrict Internet access for your kids?

Image credit: Baby With Notebook Portable Computer by BigStockPhoto

4 comments

  1. As seems to be so often true with Linux distros, these apps look marvelous in the review and screenshots and do precisely what I need. Then you go to the developer page and get a bunch of “about PPAs,” “sudo this and that,” etc that no one other than a developer can understand. I am a Windows programmer and have been since the beginning. I hate it. However, at least the average person can install a program…I know this because I write installer packages.

    What is it about Linux that the folks can build wonder distros that find all sorts of hardware and do a better job than Windows in many cases of configuring and such, but nobody can seem to develop a “click to install” routine or even a right click to map a network drive?

    Excellent job on the review, but it’s like an unfulfilled promise. “Some assembly required…” is an understatement here.

  2. Hi David, I have not tried the software suggested in this article yet, but in general, you are correct: linux stuff is made for developers & by developers. It’s the “for developers” part that’s really a problem. I see two reasons for this: (1) there simply isn’t a large enough market to support all the nice packaging… linux is a TINY part of the personal computing world, while it is nearly a monopoly in the developer / web world. (2) So much of the software that runs on linux is also built using the open source model, or at least its spirit. That being said, open source is a great way to build wonderful software quickly (and to catch bugs quickly), but it is not a great model for direct-to-consumer revenue generation. So, the “for developers” aspect is further emphasized.

    My 2 cents, Mike

  3. Sorry, and one last comment: once you perform sudo apt-get install a few times, you start to realize that it isn’t actually nearly as scary as it might appear at first. Lots of things “magically” happen in the background, so that often that one simple line is all that you need. (“Often” being more than 50% of time, but by no means every time.)

  4. David, installing software in Linux is usually VERY easy: if not you are doing it wrong. You open the installer, search for the software, click install. It downloads and installs it for you.

    If you want to install dansguardian on Ubuntu, all you do is open the software centre, search (i.e. type “dansguardian in the search box), and click “install”.

    Dansguardian does need configuration, but that is because what it does is complex.

    Adding a PPA and and then installing is easier than downloading and installing software on Windows or Mac, and is used in exactly the same circumstances – when software is not in the app store/software centre (or, in the case of Windows 7 and below, because the OS does not even have this!).

    Both MacOS and Windows (I think Windows 8 has an app store?) have copied the Linux way of installing software, with the big exception that you are not allowed to add extra software sources.

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