Windows 8 to monitor children’s computer use

Windows 8 will offer weekly monitoring reports on children’s online activity, to make it easier for parents to keep an eye on what their offspring get up to on the web.

Windows 8 to monitor children's computer use

Microsoft said its Family Safety system would “monitor first”, rather than focusing on filtering and software-based restrictions, which family safety programme manager Phil Sohn said could be complex to set up and hard to manage.

“The end result was that many parents abandoned family safety products and returned to in-person supervision only – a tactic that has become less effective as computers have gotten more mobile,” he said in a post on the Building Windows 8 blog.

Glancing over a teenager’s shoulder can be awkward for both parents and kids

In Windows 8, parents create an account using a local username or Microsoft login, then simply tick a box to indicate it’s an account for a child. They’ll then receive via email a weekly report summarising their child’s computer activities. The reports and settings are web based, so can be altered and managed from any device, while the settings will follow the child to any computer they use the login with.

Parents will also be able to add restrictions to limit what their children see online, with each account having separate rules via several different default filtering levels.

The Family Safety system also lets parents restrict the amount of time children spend on the PC, block games that are above a certain rating level, and track and manage Windows Store downloads.

Safety or spying?

The announcement comes amidst a wider debate on keeping children safety online, with the Government being pressured to roll out a network-level filter to block pornography.

Sohn admitted Microsoft’s “monitor first” system wouldn’t be perfect for all parents, but said it would “lead to more family conversations about online safety”.

Microsoft noted it still recommends moving computers into public space in the house to better keep an eye on kids, but admitted that’s difficult in homes with multiple or mobile computers. “And glancing over a teenager’s shoulder can be awkward for both parents and kids.”

While many commenters on the blog post welcomed the tool, others said that the monitoring system appeared to be little more than digital snooping. “You call it parent control, I call it spying,” said one.

“One simple thing that is missing here from the discussion: trust,” said another. “If you don’t trust your own child, what kind of relationship do you have?”

We’ve asked Microsoft if child accounts are visibly different in any other way, and if anyone using such an account would be alerted to the monitoring at the time of use, but have yet to hear back.

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