Showmax Now Supports Parental Controls

Showmax in South Africa finally launched support for parental controls. It is live on the website as well as apps on mobile platforms. Availability on Smart TVs may take some time to come depending on the TV manufacturer.

To enable parental controls on Showmax, you’ll need to log into your account and create a profile for your child or children and select an appropriate age category for them. You’ll then need to protect the adult account (yours) with a PIN code so they can’t get into that profile. You’ll need to enter this PIN code whenever you access Showmax with and adult profile.

Step-by-step instructions on how to set it up is in the Streaming Services Section of the How-To area.

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Review of OpenDNS Personal

Many of the solutions available to protect ourselves and our families from internet threats (security, inappropriate content etc.) are quite expensive. There are however a few free ones and OpenDNS Personal happens to one of these. It is relatively easy to set up, but does require you to make changes to your settings on your internet router. We’ll explain how to do this generically, but the actual screens and terms on your specific router model may be slightly different.

What is it?

OpenDNS is a fairly major provider of DNS services on the internet. DNS stands for Domain Naming Service and is essentially a giant phonebook for the internet. When you want to go to a website, you type the address in your browser, such as http://www.techparents.net. Your computer then queries this giant phonebook called DNS to find the actual IP address (similar to a phone number) of the computer hosting this website. DNS responds with the information requested and your computer connects to the server and the website appears. DNS is critical to the functioning of the internet and means you can just type in a friendly website name rather than remembering something like 72.47.224.101 (this site’s IP address).

OpenDNS Personal is kind of like a filtered phone book. It had built-in categories which you can elect to block from your home based on your personal preferences and it also blocks known-bad sites used by bad guys on the internet to steal information or infect your computer with a virus or malware. If your computer attempts to look up the address of a blocked or bad site, you’ll get a message saying that the site was blocked and why.

The service has 3 levels, 2 of which are free and the 3rd is a US$20 per year subscription. We’ll go through the 3 levels and discuss whether you need the paid option or not. *Spoiler Alert* (You don’t!)

Does it work?

It does work and works pretty well provided you understand the limitations of what it can and can’t do.

What it DOES do:

  • It does block connections to known bad sites thereby helping keep your you, your family, and your computer safer.
  • It does block access to sites in blocked categories such as pornography, hate speech, gambling etc.
  • It does provide basic reports on what sites have been visited (with OpenDNS Home), which have been blocked and why. If you’re seeing a lot of blocked sites, it might mean your computer is infected with something nasty and you should get help.

What it DOESN’T do:

  • It doesn’t protect you or your devices when they’re not on your home network (such as on 3G or on another Wi-Fi network).
  • It’s not always up to date. New sites pop up all the time and keeping the OpenDNS database up to date is a big job. It is possible that a bad site may exist for a while before being categorised.
  • It is an all or nothing setting. It blocks access to selected sites for ALL devices on your network. It has no concept of adults vs. children or different users in your home.
  • It can’t see pages or content in sites, only the site itself. This means you can block YouTube entirely but you can’t block certain videos with YouTube.
  • Provide details reporting of content being viewed by different people.

Is it easy to set up?

The setup process is fairly easy, but there are some technical bits. There are also 3 options to choose from, Family Shield, Home and Home VIP.

Family Shield

Family Shield is the simplest and easiest option to set up and use. It is a predefined set of rules designed specifically to block adult content. It doesn’t do the other security and identity theft blocking options and it doesn’t allow any customisation of the rule set. It requires no account to be set up and just works. You need to log onto the admin portal of your router (usually http://10.0.0.1 or http://192.168.0.1) and login with your admin username and password. You’ll then need to find your DNS settings and change them to the Family Shield name servers. Instructions are detailed at the OpenDNS Site and contain generic instructions as well as specific instructions for some routers. There is a link to this page later on in this review.

This is probably the best choice for most people who want a free and easy service with no complications and it does a good job of protecting children from adult content.

OpenDNS Home

OpenDNS Home is similar to Family Shield but supports a fully customised rule set (you can define which site categories are blocked and are not blocked) and is far more granular. It also supports reporting so you can see if any bad sites are being requested and can address this either with your family or potentially it may be caused by some kind of virus or malware you’re infected with.

OpenDNS Home is a lot more technical to get working and requires you to create an account and set up your rule sets as well as change your router’s DNS settings in the same way as Family Shield. The additional benefits of being able to block sites other than just adult content might be worth the additional effort depending on how comfortable you are with this kind of thing. This is the package I’ve been using for the past two months and it has worked very well. There is one serious consideration you need to keep in mind before choosing this option regarding dynamic IP addressing and a mechanism to update the service when your address changes.

Dynamic IP Addresses

Home internet access services usually use what is called a dynamic IP address. This is the address (think phone number) assigned to your particular connection so that traffic can find its way back to your computer when you’re downloading something from a website. Every device on the internet has an IP address. Internet Service Providers have a limited number of these addresses and assign then dynamically to their clients as they connect and disconnect. They also automatically change them every day or so for various reasons. The problem is that OpenDNS uses your IP Address to know who you are for reporting and to apply the rules you’ve set up etc. Whenever your IP Address changes they don’t know who you are anymore. The solution for this is to install a little piece of software on a computer in your house that detects when your IP Address changes and updates the OpenDNS service. This works very well provided you have a PC or device on your home network that is on most of the time and is able to update the service. If your IP Address changes and it isn’t updated timeously on the OpenDNS service, you will have problems which may be tricky to resolve if you aren’t familiar with networking.

Some routers do support automatically updating OpenDNS and if this is configured correctly you should be fine. Most people don’t have a PC on all the time (especially with the cost of electricity today) so it’s important to find out if your router can manage the updates. If it can’t this is probably not the right solution for you.

OpenDNS Home VIP

OpenDNS Home VIP is the US$20 per year subscription service which adds the following features to the free OpenDNS Home package.

  • Increased quota on whitelist/blacklist (50 Domains)

    You can now whitelist or blacklist sites. Whitelist means you set up a list of allowed sites and everything else is blocked. This is not really a practical solution as the admin overhead is significant and you’ll be more frustrated than anything trying to manage this. 50 is also not a lot of sites when considering the entire internet.

  • 1 year of statistics

    You are able to go back a full year and see what sites have been accessed and blocked. The usefulness of this in a home environment is questionable.

  • Whitelist Only

    See above regarding whitelisting.

  • Enhanced Customizations of Block & Guide Pages

    You can customise the page that is displayed when someone attempts to access a blocked site.

  • Ad-Free Guide/Block Page

    No advertising is displayed on any block pages.

We really don’t see that these features are worth US$20 per year when the free options are so capable.

Set Up

How much you have to actually do to set it up depends on which option you choose. The simplest one is the Family Shield which only requires that you change your DNS server settings on your router.

OpenDNS have quite comprehensive setup guides online explaining how to make the required changes on a variety of common router brands. Follow this link to see if your router is listed or use the generic guide if it isn’t.

Once you’ve done this step, you’re good to go. Your home internet connection will not allow any adult content.

If you prefer the OpenDNS Home or VIP options you’ll need to set up your account, create a network (connection ID) and configure your particular blocking rules. Instructions for this can also be found on the site OpenDNS site here.

Review Summary

In summary, we found the OpenDNS service to be extremely reliable, very simple to use and a good solution for a basic 1st line of defence to help protect your home network from bad content. The OpenDNS Home option is nice for those who are a bit more technically inclined and offers more options for blocking different categories and getting some basic reporting which could help in finding anything suspicious on your home network.

You will need more layers of security in order to properly control devices and keep them safe and we’ll be reviewing some of these other options in the future. We don’t recommend paying for the service as the free options are quite sufficient for most people. You may need to pay for additional layers of protection so we recommend sticking to the free version of OpenDNS.

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General Internet Filtering solutions for the home

We’ll be doing full reviews in the coming weeks of these products, but for now it might be helpful for people who are looking at potential internet filtering and reporting solutions for their home to check them out. They both look pretty good, but we’ll highlight the pros and cons of each in the full reviews.

OpenDNS Home and Family Shield is a free service that allows you put a constantly updated category based filter for internet traffic on your router or specific devices in your home.

Norton Family Safety is either a free or paid service depending on which features you need (premium features currently going at R400 per year), but looks very interesting. Some features are only available in other countries or on specific devices unfortunately, but we’ll highlight those in the full review as well.

Please leave a comment and let us know if there are any other products of interest we could potentially review.

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Video and Computer Game Rating Systems

Unfortunately, video and computer games are still seen as “kids” entertainment by many, especially those of the older generations who didn’t grow up with them. I’ve spoken to many parents who let their young children play Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty because they’re “just video games”.

The video game industry is at least twice as big as the movie industry in monetary terms, and they generally haven’t been appropriate for children for many years, starting in the 80s with the Leisure Suit Larry series to name a common example. Even then, although the themes were very suggestive, the graphic quality was so bad plus what was generally accepted by society was quite different so the potential damage was significantly less.  It is a very different story now with games like Grand Theft Auto where the protagonist is expected to perform violent acts, partake in drugs and prostitution and assassination activities, evade police,  and generally cause havoc and unrest. Adults and older teens who can differentiate between real life and make believe can derive enjoyment and relaxation from playing these kinds of games. Young children under 12 are not equipped to make these kind of differentiation and shouldn’t be expected to decide what is ok and what is not.

Most parents wouldn’t let their young children watch an R or 18+ rated movie, and yet some let their children play games with the same ratings. it could argued that games are worse because the child is taking an active role in the activities. Movies are purely passive.

In South Africa, if films or games are age-restricted, it means that they are legally restricted for all children under the specified age, but advisory for children of and above the specified age. Other countries have similar laws. This means is is actually illegal to allow your children to play these games.

The Film and Publication Board rates most games that are for sale in South Africa.

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The FPB has various ratings from A (all ages) to XX (banned from distribution). See the FPB ratings site for more information.

Because most games are imported into South Africa, we also see rating from PEGI (Pan Eurpean Game Information) and ESRB (Entertainment Software Ratings Board). PEGI is the most common here in South Africa because of the fact that most games physical on physical media is improrted from Europe. The ESRB is the American rating system and can be seen on many digital purchases such as those from Steam, PlayStation and Xbox stores etc. The ratings are below and more info can be obtained at the PEGI and ESRB web sites.

PEGI

ESRB

Help on setting up parental controls on Game Consoles and PCs can be found in the Technical Help section of this site.

Games and Apps purchased from the iTunes and Google Play stores are also rated, although this process is a little less strict. Apps and games are rated by the developers based on guidelines provided by the store owners and are usually derived from a set of questions answered by the developer. There is some “checking” by Google and Apple, but it’s not fool proof. Parental discretion should be used when downloading and playing mobile games for your children.

Apple’s ratings are as follows:

4+ – This is the rating for an application with no objectionable material. You can think of it like a G rated movie. This means no cartoon violence, drinking or drug use, gambling and certainly no bad language or nudity.

9+ – This rating may include cartoon violence and/or mild suggestive, horror or fear-themed content not suitable for very young children. Think of it like a PG movie. You might see action and violence in a LEGO game rated 9+, but you won’t see a Call of Duty level of violence. An example of a game in this category is the LEGO Lord of the Rings game, which does contain some fighting between characters, but some kids younger than 9 may be fine with the game.

12+ – This category of app may contain infrequent mild language, intense cartoon violence, realistic violence or mild use of mature or suggestive themes. It may also contain simulated gambling. It’s subject matter may be similar to a PG-13 movie. While this rating does allow some “realistic violence”, which generally means blood shown when enemies are hit, this type of violence is relatively infrequent or cartoonish within the game. The 12+ rating excludes games like Mortal Combat and Call of Duty, which are regulated to those 17 or older.

17+ – These applications contain mature themes like frequent realistic violence, sexual content and references to alcohol, tobacco and/or drugs. It is not suitable for anyone under 17 and can be treated like an R-rated movie. This is the highest rating. While these apps can show sexual content, actual nudity is banned from the App Store. However, 17+ apps include apps like web browsers that have access to the unrestricted Internet.

Google uses a very similar system but is a little more granular. More information can be found on Apple and Google Parental Controls websites.

Help on setting up parental controls on mobile devices can be found in the Technical Help section of this site.

We hope this has helped you understand the dangers and given more insight into the ratings systems put in place to protect younger users of these systems. Please leave comments to ask any questions or if any further clarification is needed.

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