Kids Browser Comparison

June 1, 2010 at 1:39 am Leave a comment

I’ve done quite a bit of research and installing kids browser software, formed my own opinions of what a good kids browser should include, and am sharing these findings.

There needs to be a definition of “kids browser” here, which I’m defining as a dedicated, installable web environment designed to protect kids’ experience on the Internet — and ideally, to protect the computer from the kid. Programs for the Macintosh computer are not included in this comparison, only programs for the Windows platform are included.

This browser comparison does not include parental control filters such as K-9 Web Protection or Norton Online Family (both free); there will be a review of these tools in the future. It also does not include web-based kid environments, or dedicated e-mail, chat, or social networking applications.

There are 14 browsers listed in the comparison, however only the top 5 applications will be reviewed below (these are highlighted in the spreadsheet). This is because I felt that only those programs that have a robust set of features should be reviewed. I can only assume that if I can’t find a particular feature listed on a company’s website or product description, then the product doesn’t include it, so the corresponding cell in the spreadsheet is left blank. I don’t have the time or the willingness to install and review every single kids browser in existence.

Desirable Features 
After trying several kids browsers and educating myself as to what features are most desirable from a protection standpoint, I decided on the features listed below:

  • Blocks AddictingGames.com — AddictingGames.com won the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood’s Worst Toy of the Year Award. Nickolodeon.com contains a direct link to AddictingGames, which includes some extremely violent and sexist game content, in appropriate for children. 
  • Blocks access to social networking and shopping sites
  • Blocks access to link and banner ads
  • Requires a password to exit the program
  • Requires a password to start the browser
  • Blocks links and scripts leading to non-approved sites
  • Blocks file downloads
  • Blocks pop-up and new windows
  • Parents can manually block websites
  • Prevents access to the computer outside of the browser

There are other features that parents (or kids) may find desirable, including:

  • Timer controls (the user is automatically logged off after a certain amount of time) — I personally feel that parents should discuss with their children beforehand how long the child can use the browser, and keep track themselves, rather than rely on yet another technological babysitter, but I realize there are times when this is not feasible.
  • Approved or monitored safe e-mail, chat, and friends lists or social networking
  • Built-in homework helpers
  • Usage statistics and reports

Pricing and fees
Some browsers charge a license fee, while others use a subscription-based fee; a few of the programs allow their products to be used for free, while charging a periodic fee for advanced features.

In addition to the above features, I’ve also included the target age group recommended by the manufacturer or by Common Sense Media, and the company’s URL, and problems noted while using the product or by viewing the manufacturer’s website.

I welcome corrections to the feature list by manufacturers. If anyone knows of any other kids browsers that should be considered, please let me know.

Link to Kids’ Browser Comparison

Browser Review Summary (in alphabetical order)

BuddyBrowser
BuddyBrowser has a good set of features, with kid-approved websites nicely categorized, and it’s free. Unfortunately the website is misleading about the free price — there is a tiered subscription price structure to include nearly all the important (“premium”) features, such as ad blocking and filtering, which is the main reason to have a dedicated kids browser. The other unattractive thing about BuddyBrowser is its interface: It is colorful for kids, but it has to be one of the ugliest graphical user interfaces I’ve seen in a long time. Also, the company only gives 2 contact e-mail addresses on its site, and doesn’t include a physical address, which can be worrisome. If you don’t mind the interface, and don’t mind paying more for the program’s features which you can get in a more attractive package such as Kidoz, BuddyBrowser might be a good choice.

Kidoz
Kidoz is headquartered in Tel-Aviv, Israel. The company’s program has an elegant, uncluttered interface, and offers its browser for free, with a subscription-based fee for advanced features. The browser’s main components are listed at the bottom of the app window and represented by attractive icons. As of this writing, they are offering a lifetime subscription “Spring Special” for $40, which is very attractive. Kidoz does a good job at blocking access to non-kid-friendly content, but there’s currently a glitch: Three times when I’ve clicked on a banner ad (to see if I could click through) it crashed the program. I hope the programmers fix this glitch soon, because it’s the only flaw in an otherwise stellar program. In my opinion if you want a good kids browser but don’t want to pay a cent this is the one to get.

KidRocket
KidRocket has a nice set of features, including timer controls and kid-safe e-mail, and an attractive interface, but it has a ridiculously limited selection of websites included, and there’s no way to manually add or block websites. Still, it’s free, so for parents who want more limits on what their children can access, and for how long (most browsers require a fee for timer controls), it might be a good choice.

Kidzui
Generally to be considered the main competitor to Kidoz, Kidzui offers its browser for free, with a subscription-based fee for advanced features. The interface isn’t as attractive as Kidoz’s, it’s pretty cluttered, instead it has all of the main components right there on the main screen, and you have to close individual windows to make the desktop less cluttered. Two other things about Kidzui that were unattractive to me were that Kidzui sent my child an e-mail advertising a movie trailer (!), and there is a banner ad for a movie trailer placed prominently on the desktop. There seems to be a programming glitch with its filtering, because some websites were rendered inoperable or were hard to read. Kidzui also maintains a website called ZuiTube.com, which filters all kid-friendly YouTube videos (among others) for children. If Kidzui would provide a more attractive interface, and take a hint from Common Sense Media. and be less gender-specific about its targeted websites, and from Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and stop displaying movie trailer ads on its own desktop (which not may be issue in the subscription premium version), they would give Kidoz a run for its money.

Peanut Butter PC
Published by Peanut Butter Software, who also publish Peanut Butter Browser Pointer, Kids CyberNet Station (kids’ kiosk), and the forthcoming Peanut Butter Printer. Requires a one-time $25 license fee. PBPC is the best all-around browser that I’ve found for protecting kids and computers. It does not have kid-safe e-mail, chat, or social networking (you can add those with websites dedicated for each purpose) or timer controls, but it does have all the primary features parents would want. One problem with it that I’ve seen are with importing links (also known as Bookmarks or Favorites) in that when you import from a large bookmark collection the import function crashes; however, you can add websites to your child’s browser manually. Another issue is the interface. The interface/desktop is a fun, interactive playground with a personalized treehouse (kids can even change day and night settings) where kids can add items to the tree by clicking on the apples. Favorite websites are posted like small pinned notes to the desktop, which first of all are rather small. When there are many of them the desktop can appear too cluttered; but there’s an easy way to hide all website icons to use the treehouse interface. A better solution might be to enlarge the icons, and allow perhaps 25 per page, and enable users to page through the pages of bookmarks, much in the way Kidoz does. The interface may not look as slick and polished as Kidoz’s, but overall it seems to me this is the program to get, and with the one-time $25 license versus Kidoz’s subscription service, this is the better deal.

Other Browsers Not Listed Here

  • Glubble – Glubble began as a dedicated kids environment, but it’s since morphed into a Firefox extension providing a secure environment for families to share content, and organize schedules. It also provides a kids’ web monitor and family timeline.
  • Hoopah – Not enough information available on website; license purchase required
  • KidThing – A good product that offers a secure environment for kids to play educational games. It also offers personalization and sharing. The program comes with a basic set of games, and additional games can be downloaded from the company’s website or from within the program. Game prices range from free to $5, and are easily purchased and installed. However, I do recommend it highly to parents who want tighter controls for younger children.
  • Zoodles – Similar to KidThing, it offers a secure environment, with timer controls and parental controls. Its focus is on fun, educational games, and kids cannot venture outside the environment to other websites. For this reason, I don’t consider it a “kids browser” as such. However, I do recommend it highly to parents who want tighter controls for younger children. Zoodles offers more parental controls than KidThing.
  • NoodleNet – coming soon
  • Niche browsers such as the TAC Browser for Autistic Children
Solutions for Kid-Safe E-Mail, Chat, and Social Networking
For parents who want to allow their children (preferably older children) to access kid-safe e-mail, chat, and social networking, and prefer one of the browsers that doesn’t have one of these features, you can simply add a dedicated website for these functions to the library of approved websites inside the browser. While reviews on these tools will appear on this blog in the future, below are some quick recommendations.
The best resource for learning about the recommendations for children accessing “DEDICATED” e-mail, chat, and social networking programs is Common Sense Media (CSM). Search the site for “social networking,” for instance, and you’ll see 180+ items in CSM’s website. CSM reviews many of the media and the appropriateness for children, and is not affiliated with any corporation or political party. The media reviewed on CSM includes movies, games, books, websites, music, and TV shows, as well as discussions of issues. GetNetWise.com also offers helpful advice and tools, but they don’t seem to list many kids browsing, e-mail, chat, and social networking programs.
E-mail:
Kid-safe e-mail comes in free and paid versions, the latter occasionally by subscription. ZillaMail is the best inexpensive e-mail program for kids ($10 setup fee). See also http://familyinternet.about.com/od/sharingcommunicating/tp/email_for_kids.htm for subscription-based services. If you don’t want to use a dedicated kids’ e-mail program but want to filter out spam, use the free Mozilla Thunderbird, which includes a spam filter, in conjunction with other a good general kid safety program, such as K-9 Web Protection or Norton Online Family (both free).
Chat:
CSM doesn’t recommend any chat service for children. Be aware that many virtual worlds aimed at children include chatting (one of the best of these is BuildaBearVille.com). Omegle.com is rated best for teens.
Social Networking:
CSM rates Yomod.com as “safer than most.” Others to check out are Nicktropolis.com and YourSphere.com.
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