Can limit child's browing to 400+ curated sites, requiring parental permission for any others. App Sleeper can hide almost all apps. Can block all internet access. Reports photos posted on social media.
Easily disabled. Some features didn't work in our testing, or didn't work properly. On wake, App Sleeper puts apps in alphabetic order and removes apps from folders. No category-based content filtering. Expensive.
- Bottom Line
ForceField gives iPhone-wielding parents a degree of control over their children's activities on iOS and macOS devices, but some features didn't work correctly in our testing, and its pricing is way out of line with the competition.
If your modern kids are all about their devices, a parental control system that worships the desktop is outmoded and irrelevant. ForceField focuses strongly on mobile devices, with apps for both parent and child. It's iOS-centric (there's no Android app), though it can cover a child's Mac account too. While it does some things well, I also ran into features that didn't work in my testing, and the price is way out of line with the competition.
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For $11.99 per month, you get two parent accounts and one child account, with no limit on the number of iOS devices for the child. Each additional child costs $3.00 per month. That's expensive. For 12 months of the service, you pay $143.88. The only costlier iOS parental control tool I've reviewed is Xnspy (for iPhone), at $149.99 per year. Many similar tools cost less than $50 per year.
Editors' Choice Kaspersky Safe Kids (for iPhone) protects any number of children on any number of devices for just $14.99 per year. That's right. For $14.99, you can use ForceField to track two kids for a month. Or you can use Kaspersky Safe Kids to track any number of kids for a whole year. And where ForceField covers only iOS and macOS, Kaspersky adds Windows and Android protection.
Getting Started with ForceField
Not surprisingly, your first step is to go online and sign up for an account. I suggest you take the product for a 30-day free trial spin, to see if it's what you want. During the signup process, you can add contact info for a second parent and add your child to the account. I did this online, but you can also do it from the ForceField iOS app.
There's a guided setup option that walks you through initial configuration steps. If the steps seem at all daunting, concierge installation help is available. You can schedule a call with a ForceField installation expert who will walk you through all the necessary steps. I installed the parental app on an Apple iPhone 6 with no trouble. It's the child app that might send parents calling for help.
Child App Installation
For testing purposes, I installed the child app on my Apple iPad Air. To install the app on the child's device, you don't just go to the App Store. Rather, you go to a special URL where a wizard walks you through all the necessary steps. First, it asks you to confirm that you have the device's unlock code and the child's Apple ID login credentials. Later on, you'll also need the child's social media credentials. Note, too, that you must use Safari for this process. I tried to do it using Chrome, and it got stuck.
Like Kaspersky and Familoop, ForceField uses mobile device management, or MDM, to control the child's iOS devices. While MDM originated to allow businesses to control company devices, it's also quite effective in a parental control setting. The wizard warns that you have to go through a series of warnings and prompts to get MDM activated. You must also enter the device passcode during the process.
Once the MDM profile is active, the wizard takes over the installation process. You do have to confirm the installation and provide the appropriate Apple ID credentials. Removing Kaspersky's MDM profile requires a code that you get from your account online. ForceField offers no defense, though you do get a notification if your child disables ForceField by removing the profile.
On first launch, the ForceField child app warns that use of the App Sleeper feature can cause your apps to appear in alphabetical order on the home screen, and may remove them from their folders. This is an annoying occurrence, but it happens when you use MDM to remove access to apps. FamilyTime Premium (for iPhone) exhibited the same problem when I turned its app blocker on and then off. The behavior is on Apple, not on the apps.
So just what is App Sleeper? When invoked, it hides the icons for all apps except a few that come with iOS. In testing, I found that only these apps remained: Calendar, Photos, Contacts, Clock, Maps, Home, TV, Notes, Reminders, Settings, App Store, Messages, Mail, and Music. I couldn't even take a screenshot of the home screen.
The purpose of App Sleeper is to limit distractions during times when the child should focus on something important, such as homework. From the parent app, you can manually invoke it at any time, and wake the apps when homework time ends. You can also set a timer so that apps wake automatically after however many hours or minutes you choose.
If you wish, you can set a daily App Sleeper schedule, either for each day individually, for every day, or for school nights. The scheduler lets you define a single time-span, meaning you can't, say, set it to activate during the homework hour and again during bedtime.
In testing, App Sleeper was completely effective. Any apps other than the chosen few became totally unavailable. An iPad with just those basic apps present is pretty darn boring, and not a distraction at all.
ForceField doesn't attempt traditional category-based content filtering like what you get with Kaspersky, Familoop, Net Nanny (for iPhone), and others. If that's what you were looking for, ForceField isn't for you. But it offers its own take on browsing control via its own proprietary browser.
The first setting under browsing rules determines whether the child can use Safari. ForceField makes it very clear that if you allow use of Safari, it can't track or control your child's browsing, so be sure to disable Safari. Once you do so, Safari simply vanishes from the child's device. For total control and monitoring, you will have to uninstall Chrome and any other browsers from the child's device. Even then, a resourceful child could evade control by, for example, posting a link in the Facebook app and then going to that link within the app.
This requirement to use a proprietary browser is very common in iOS-based parental control systems. Norton, Net Nanny, and a few others include detailed instructions telling parents how to disable other browsers using Restrictions in the Settings app; ForceField doesn't. Familoop Safeguard (for iPhone) is a rarity; because it installs a VPN, it can filter all web traffic. Qustodio also offers VPN-based filtering, but it's an awkward, separate installation.
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Once you've eliminated other browsing choices, your child will have to use ForceField to get online. At the lightest level of control, without invoking the Blocking feature, you can force YouTube Restricted Mode on, and force Safe Search in Google, Bing, and Yahoo.
With the Blocking feature turned on, any time your child tries to visit a website for the first time, a warning appears instead, with a link that lets the child request access. This immediately generates a notification in the parent app, with a preview of the page and links that let the parent tap to allow or deny access. Once you approve a site, the child can visit it freely.
ForceField also comes with a library of more than 400 curated, child-friendly, educational sites. By default, it doesn't block these, though you can set it so that even the curated sites require parental permission.
There's one more level of browsing control, and it's brutal. With one tap, you can cut off all internet access in the ForceField browser. This doesn't affect any other apps, just ForceField. From the app's menu, the child can send a request for online time. This request generates a parental notification, from which parents can deny the request or allow it for a specific time.
In testing, though, I found that this feature didn't work. Even when I granted the request for time, the child app didn't respond. My contact at the company verified that this is a known problem.
Activity Report and App Report
ForceField's Activity Report simply lists all sites your child has visited. Instances of the URL my.forcefield.me, which represents the ForceField home page, dominated the list in my testing. I suggested to my company contact that they consider suppressing that URL from the report.
Parents can tap any URL in the list to see the site. Or they should be able to. In testing, I found that tapping an URL actually opened a different URL from the list. My contact at the company said the most recent app version fixed that bug and suggested that I update. She later verified that the bug was still present, however.
Tap App Report in the parent app to view a list of all apps installed on the child's device. You can tap an app to see it in the App Store, but that's it. There's no option to block or uninstall a particular app. To be fair, that level of app management doesn't seem to be possible under iOS; it's more an Android thing.
You might think the Photo Report would display photos snapped by the camera app, but that's not what it does. Photo Report very specifically lets you see any photo the child posts on Facebook, Google+, Instagram, Twitter, or Tumblr. To enable it for a given social media network, you must have the child's login credentials for that network. If a clever child removes the ForceField app, that's the end of photo reporting, though you do get a notification of the child's chicanery.
Once you've configured access to one or more social media networks, the Photo Report displays a newest-first list of all the photos your child posts. But photos are all you get; you don't get to see the description, or who's tagged. The social media feature in Kaspersky lets parents see all posts, not just photos.
What's Not Here
The option to monitor or block calls and texts is common in Android parental control systems, but not under iOS. Like most competing products, ForceField doesn't offer that feature. uKnowKids Premier (for iPhone) does monitor calls and texts, but it does so after the fact, by reading them out of iCloud.
Geolocation, on the other hand, is a handy feature found in many iOS parental control products. Qustodio, Norton Family Parental Control (for iPhone), and Xnspy are among those that let parents check on their child's location.
Kaspersky, Familoop, and FamilyTime take the concept a step further, with full-scale geofencing. Parents can define areas like home and school, and get an alert when the child enters or leaves one of these geofenced areas.
ForceField is a spiffy iOS-focused parental control tool that lets parents exercise a degree of control over their child's device and internet use. However, in testing I encountered features that didn't work, or didn't work correctly. Those need work. The pricing model could use some work as well. I can't get over the fact that for the same $14.99 price you could cover two kids for one month with ForceField, or unlimited kids for a year with Kaspersky.
That difference is even more significant because Kaspersky Safe Kids (for iPhone) is our Editors' Choice for iOS-based parental control. Our other Editors' Choice is the very different uKnowKids Premier (for iPhone), which manages unusually detailed monitoring by mining the child's iCloud data.
Neil Rubenking served as vice president and president of the San Francisco PC User Group for three years when the IBM PC was brand new. He was present at the formation of the Association of Shareware Professionals, and served on its board of directors. In 1986, PC Magazine brought Neil on board to handle the torrent of Turbo Pascal tips submitted by readers. By 1990, he had become PC Magazine's technical editor, and a coast-to-coast telecommuter. His "User to User" column supplied readers with tips… More »
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