What to Know about Bark, Circle, NetNanny & More
Insights about internet monitoring from social media researcher Jacqueline Nesi
TGIF everyone! First, a quick reminder that my 20% off sale ends on Tuesday!
I am in Atlanta at the annual convention for the Society for Personality and Social Psychology. It was a little iffy as to whether I’d make it — my flight was scheduled to arrive yesterday at 1pm and finally, after many delays and dramatic twists, ended up arriving close to 9pm.
This was annoying for two reasons. First, I was invited to the conference because I won the society’s 2022 Excellence in Science Journalism Award for this article I wrote for The New York Times about raising antiracist kids. And yet… due to the flight delay, I missed the award ceremony and reception entirely. Wah-wah.
Second: On a whim the other day, I did a crazy thing for an introvert. The conference has its own app and attendees can suggest social meet-ups outside of the conference. After discovering that there’s a karaoke bar just a few minutes from the conference hotel (Yes, I’m one of those people— please don’t unsubscribe), I suggested a meet-up at the bar last night at 8pm. Even though I literally know no one at the conference, to my shock and delight, 25 people RSVP’d yes, and then….. well, thanks to Delta Airlines, I was two hours late to the damn thing. But I made it! And sang some Amy Winehouse. It was amazing.
I’m excited for the rest of the conference — if I learn anything cool that relates to parenting, you’ll be the first to know about it. And I’m also excited to be sharing a Q&A with you today with one of my favorite Substackers and researchers,. She writes the fantastic , which is all about navigating technology with kids. Dr. Nesi, as you may remember, featured prominently in a newsletter from last year on things your kid should know before getting a phone.
For today’s newsletter, I reached out to her to get her thoughts on parental control products like Bark, Circle, MmGuardian, Net Nanny, FamilyTime and Qustodio. I am always seeing ads for these products, and I vacillate between “OMG I really need this!” and “Are these companies stoking parental fear for financial benefit?”
Thankfully, she had some incisive thoughts. Here’s our interview.
First: How do these products work? Do we know whether they actually do what they say they'll do in terms of monitoring screen use and detecting things like bullying and instances of self-harm? Are some products "better" than others?
The way this type of software typically works is that you connect your child’s devices and any of their accounts you’re planning to monitor (social media apps, email), and then it’s essentially always running in the “background.” Depending on the software, it allows you to do a range of things: set screen time limits, block certain websites or content, track their location, and monitor the content of things like emails and messages. Typically, if they’re monitoring content, these apps will also alert you when they detect something potentially problematic — like signs of cyberbullying or mention of self-harm or drugs and alcohol. Which software is “better” really depends on what features you’re looking for (and price you’re willing to pay!)
These types of products definitely offer some ability to detect problematic content, but they’re far from perfect. A few issues are:
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