TL; DR: With a passion for protecting Internet users from inappropriate online content, Net Nanny adapts to the new trends and technologies of Internet browsing. Instead of maintaining a list of websites to block, Net Nanny’s integrated content filter works as you browse to determine how much of a page to display. Among the first programs to filter online content, Net Nanny now offers social media solutions, mobile device management, and usage reports — all on a cloud-based dashboard that lets you manage devices from anywhere.
The good news? The Internet has everything: instantaneous global communication, worldwide connections and communities, news as it happens… and cat videos.
The bad news? The Internet has everything: erotica, violence, bullies, predators, and profanity.
The worst news? Your kids can find it — all of it.
Net Nanny and their parent company, Content Watch, keep families safe from the shadier side of the Internet by filtering out unwanted or unsavory content. Chief Product Officer Clayton Ostler said Net Nanny adapts to new threats and technologies while giving parents flexible and detailed monitoring tools for computers, tablets, and phones.
“We really want to help parents be better parents,” he said. “We’re trying to give parents the tools they would use in real life for their kids’ lives online.”
How the First Internet Filter Built a Culture Around Safe Browsing
Content Watch actually entered the Internet filtering and management space with a product other than Net Nanny.
Net Nanny was among the first products in the market in 1998, basically operating as a porn blocker. Although Clayton said the original program wasn’t well-maintained, Net Nanny enjoyed great brand recognition.
Content Watch’s offering, ContentProtect, was designed a few years later to safeguard against inappropriate pop-ups and made better use of technology. Their signature accomplishment was a dynamic filtering engine that scanned websites in real time for inappropriate content instead of maintaining a list of banned sites.
Net Nanny was bought and sold a few times in the early 2000s, with Content Watch acquiring the brand in early 2007.
“At that point, we were basically purchasing the name because it was well recognized as far as parental controls and keeping kids safe on the Internet,” Clayton said. “The product, however, was antiquated and not very useful. Basically, we took the technology that we had built and put it into the Net Nanny name.”
Now united, the Content Watch and Net Nanny brands work together to make life easier for families. Since the acquisition, ContentProtect morphed into a business-oriented Internet filtering program geared for productivity.
“We want to help parents be better parents because we really believe parenting is an important job,” Clayton said. “Good parents make good kids, and good kids make happy role models. That mission and drive of helping parents protect kids are at the core of the whole company.”
How It Works: Dynamic Content Engine Filters Webpages in Real Time
Most of Net Nanny’s competitors pride themselves on “a giant database with hundreds of millions of blocked URLs,” Clayton said. Net Nanny, however, actually looks at the content people are trying to access.
Instead of automatically blocking something like Wikipedia, for example, Net Nanny’s filter distinguishes between content about gardening or puppies and entries of a violent or erotic nature.
Net Nanny operates as a subscription service where someone sets up an account and installs software on whichever devices should be protected. The program contains a filter that scans content for certain keywords or phrases, along with the names of images and videos, cross-links, comments, and metadata.
“It’s a very complex algorithm, but that’s one of the benefits of the industry experience we have,” Clayton said. “For 14 years now, we’ve been tuning that engine to become more accurate and more performant. It’s unnoticeable to users, but it’s providing that protection on every webpage.”
Net Nanny’s platform of services evolves along with the changes in technology and their usage, according to Clayton.
As pop-ups became less of a threat, Net Nanny unfolded new features, including time management controls, reporting and alerts systems, along with support for mobile devices and social media.
“Limiting protection to just a web browser, for example, is not very effective in the world we live in today,” Clayton said. “We really try to include the new technologies that kids use so parents can be aware of things they need to be concerned about.”
With Net Nanny Social, parents can see their children’s posts, pictures, and videos and receive alerts when harmful or inappropriate activity is identified.
“As kids grow up and social media becomes more prevalent, they’re having a hard time learning maturity levels and the appropriate use of technology,” Clayton said. “I think parents are learning that checking up on your kids online is just like checking up on your kids in the real world.”
Parents can monitor their children’s online behavior with a cloud-based administrative portal that enables them to control Net Nanny settings and see reports for all protected devices.
With kids spending up to 20% of their time connected to the Internet, Clayton said it’s imperative for parents to know what they’re doing and with whom they’re communicating.
“Kids face things like cyber-bullying, inappropriate use, and the oversharing of content on the Internet,” he said. “They just require parents, so that they can learn how to do it right.”
Content Watch Continues to Improve Web Users’ Browsing Experiences
Net Nanny isn’t just for families or children, either. Clayton likes to read Slashdot in the morning for his news but doesn’t enjoy the occasionally vulgar comments people will leave.
Some Internet filters would detect the 4-letter words and block the entire site. Net Nanny’s profanity masking tool loads the page and replaces the curse words with special characters.
The Net Nanny team plans to release new features later in 2016 focused on limiting the amount of screen time, GPS tracking, and custom settings based on location or time of day — all in an effort to help children learn how to interact with technology in a mature way, Clayton said.
“It’s something that just gets handed to them, and they’re expected to figure it out,” he said. “We’re trying to help parents teach their kids good habits and give parents the monitoring tools so they can step back and see what conversations they need to have.”