COVID 19 Lockdown: What ISPs should learn about parental controls

Parents have always battled their kids over something, from haircuts and hemlines to late nights and loud music. Today’s most familiar flashpoint is time spent on screens instead of out in the fresh air. Of course, Coronavirus is now making this struggle even tougher.  Suddenly schoolwork is a Zoom call, educational TV programme, maths app or Google Classroom session.

Screen use is rocketing all round, for kids and for adults who are often simultaneously being parent, teacher and home-office worker. Families can’t always be present to effectively monitor their children’s internet activity.

Lay off the advice, we need practical solutions

Predictably, the media is awash with advice for parents on managing screen time during this crisis. Services like Netflix have also enhanced parental controls to shield youngsters from unsuitable content. But who has time to set-up restrictions for each household member on every app and device?

The fundamental problem with most parental control tools is they’re fragmented, confusing and difficult to apply. Some features may be bundled with your anti-virus, others cover individual devices, operating systems, apps or websites. The quality of protection also varies wildly. Governments are beginning to legislate to put the burden for limiting harmful content onto the publishers, but such concepts are in their infancy and most attempts to “police” the Internet are instantly dismissed as unworkable.

An opportunity for service providers to shine

Broadband service providers are uniquely positioned to offer solutions that work across the entire home network, on all devices. The business benefits clear – it’s a much needed service that will breed consumer loyalty. In late 2019 (pre-Coronavirus), research found 84% of parents worldwide were worried about the safety of their children online. Sixty four percent felt their kids already spent too much time online.

It could be an even bigger challenge once lockdowns are finally fully lifted. Families who’ve relaxed screen time rules for home schooling and to occupy confined kids are going to find it hard to return to pre-Coronavirus limits. Technology that helps them do it – like Irdeto’s Trusted Home – will be invaluable.

Giving families what they really need

What should service providers look for in parental control solutions? Surely top of the list is simplicity: something easy to set up even if you hate technology. Then comes flexibility, to suit kids who are five, 15 or a range of ages in between, and to please parents with strict limits as well as more easy-going families.

Look for a solution that matches each child to their devices and lets parents set an appropriate bedtime when Wi-Fi access should cease. You’ll want tools that identify how LONG has been spent online, but also what sites were visited – helping to confirm whether that “homework” hour was really spent Skyping with friends! Ideally, look for the ability to define periods when devices can only access certain educational services.

Content filters – securing your children and your home

Many solutions filter “adult” content but check whether this is a blanket list for all subscribers or something that parents can customize to their views. They should also block adverts and websites that spread malware which could threaten the whole home. Consider whether the tool will prevent your kids from accessing known piracy sites as these typically carry security risks as well as breaching copyright laws.

The ability to temporarily disable all Wi-Fi for a specific device at the touch of a button is a highly valued enforcement tool. It’s the lockdown equivalent of being grounded!

Helping parents start the conversation

One other thing that service providers should consider is their messaging. Software developer Grady Booch famously said “a fool with a tool is still a fool”. Parents need to explain Internet risks to their children as well as blocking access. They will value a service provider that helps with these conversations. Consider partnering with child protection agencies in your region to make sure you get the messaging right.

We don’t know what life will be like after Coronavirus, but we know Internet challenges aren’t going away. Parental Controls are one area where broadband service providers can act today to support their subscribers and win long term loyalty.

Ronald Peters | Product Manager, Trusted Home

About Ronald Peters

Ronald Peters, Product Manager, Irdeto

Ronald leads product management for Trusted Home as well as Conditional Access at Irdeto, helping operators and service providers address security and deployment challenges for internet and broadcast services. Prior to joining Irdeto, he has worked for both service providers and technology providers, including Vodafone Ziggo, Samsung and Nokia. With 20 years of experience in mobility and media technologies, Ronald has insights into consumer and business trends driving the shifts in media consumption today. Ronald holds a Master of Science degree in Electronics and certifications in product management, marketing and business management.