RealTime IT News

Microsoft Plans Free Parental Monitor

UPDATED: Microsoft wants to be your Internet protector. The software giant Monday announced this summer it will release Windows Live Family Safety Settings, a free Web-based service allowing parents to keep tabs on what their children are doing online.

The announcement comes at a time when online communities, such as MySpace.com, have recently come under attack with calls for increased monitoring. Blake Irving, corporate vice president of MSN, acknowledged in a statement that online safety for children is a crucial issue facing families today.

The filter service, first introduced as a beta test in February, will become part of Microsoft's Web-based Windows Live offerings, which bring together e-mail, instant messaging and other online applications.

The concept is designed to compete with Google and Yahoo, which already offer Internet-based applications.

As internetnews.com previously reported, Microsoft has launched its Office Live service, as well as Live Search.

Windows Live Family Safety Settings includes four components.

Microsoft XP Service Pack 2 or Vista users will be able to set "allow," "warn" or "block" for a number of categories through filters. The settings, which can be adjusted by parents, go into effect when a user logs in.

Child experts, including those from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), will offer parents guidance on setting age-appropriate limits.

Parents can track a child's computer activity through reports.

And finally, contact management enables parents to create "allow" lists for Windows Live Mail, Windows Live Messenger and Windows Live Spaces.

"Our business is technology, and we would never claim to be authorities on child development," Ryan Hamlin, general manager of Microsoft's Technology Care and Safety Group, said in a statement.

Hamlin added that Microsoft has brought in the AAP and others to help.

Windows Family Safety Settings will compete with LookSmart's CyberPatrol and NetNanny, along with security applications from Symantec, McAfee and Trend Micro.

Despite the support from outside, one analyst isn't totally convinced.

"I'm kind of skeptical about its ultimate usefulness," Joe Wilcox, a JupiterResearch analyst, told internetnews.com. Wilcox said research shows a small percentage of parents install filtering software and often disable the feature when nagged by their children.

Microsoft wants to tie the parental control in with its other Windows Live components, said Wilcox. But unless the software firm offers more than existing products, "standard fare isn't going to be enough."

(JupiterResearch and internetnews.com are owned by Jupitermedia.)