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As part of our larger effort to provide a safer way for children and families to use the web, we spent a lot of time thinking about how to best balance control with simplicity in the new version of Windows Live Family Safety beta. In particular, we understand that parents are facing new challenges around what information their children access over the internet, who they meet, and what kind of conversations they have.
With that in mind, we designed the new Family Safety to help parents empower their children online, while providing simple controls to monitor and protect their children when needed. We’re doing this by focusing on three core areas:
As a parent of two teenage boys myself, knowing who their online friends are is just as important to me as knowing whose house they’re hanging out at. When my boys were younger, I used Windows Live Family Safety to manage their contact list so that only people I added to their contact list could send them email or instant messages. Now that they are teenagers, they manage their own contact list, but I still use this feature to see their new contacts and ask about their new friend, just as I would about a new friend at school.
Now this is great if your child uses Windows Live Messenger or Hotmail, but what if they use Facebook? Family Safety web filtering settings have the ability to filter out social networking sites. That means, if your children are too young to be on Facebook or other similar sites, it’s easy to block or restrict their access. It’s important to note that your child doesn’t need a Windows Live ID to use Family Safety – all you need is the local Windows account that your child uses.
We’ve also made it easier to allow a small number of websites which you have personally reviewed, so that you’ll know where your children can go and what private data they might be able to share. Although we’ve always had this feature, customers have told us that it hasn’t always been easy to find. In the new Family Safety, we’ve surfaced “Allow list only” at the top level so that you can easily turn it on or off.
Over the past year, we’ve seen most of the popular search engines introduce Safe Search features to help you avoid inappropriate content for both you and your children. The problem is that all of the sites have different ways of turning on the lock, and you might not use the same search engine your children do. If you have web filtering turned on in Family Safety, safe search will be used automatically for many of the popular search engines that have a lock, so that you can rest easy knowing that your children won’t accidently encounter inappropriate content while searching on these search engines. We currently support search engines on Bing, Google, Yahoo, Ask, Yandex, Virgin Media, and Mail.ru.
Safer browsing is about general web surfing and contains several parts– including web and image filtering, activity reports, and integration with Windows Parental Controls.
Our most frequent piece of feedback is that using a web filter takes too much vigilance and effort on a parent’s part because there are always websites you need to approve before your children can use them. To help with this, we’ve added the Warn on adult content setting for web filtering for older children whom you trust to make the right choices. This way, when your daughter is doing a paper on breast cancer, for example, she can get to any websites which Family Safety may have inaccurately blocked. And whenever she decides to ignore the warning, you will get an email letting you know.
Windows Parental Controls comes with Windows and allows parents to restrict when the computer can be used and which games and programs can be run. With the new Family Safety, parents can remotely control these settings to make sure that settings are the same on all the computers their children use, and they can view combined activity reports in one location. A parent can set up the rules once on familysafety.live.com, and then the rules get applied to all their computers. This works great if your children use more than one computer or if you want to manage all of your settings from one place.
There’s also a new filter which looks for adult content in images. This is most useful on sites where people can add their own photos. The filter does its best in blocking some of the adult images, while still allowing more appropriate images to surface. When an image is blocked, it gets blurred out, and the Family Safety icon is displayed in a corner of the image. This feature works on newer hardware. Try this out, and leave a comment on the blog to let us know what you think.
Since Family Safety works in all browsers, it logs almost all HTTP traffic. In past releases, this has included URLs which your child didn’t actively visit, such as pop up ads. Family Safety now filters these out so that parents will only see sites their children have actively visited.
Below, you can see an example of an activity report that illustrates this improvement. The “Before” screenshot is an activity report using the former version of Family Safety. The URLs outlined in red are advertisements that the child did not actively visit. The “After” screenshot reflects the same activity report using the new Family Safety. The report is a more accurate representation of the child’s activity online because these URLs do not show up.
When the web filter is turned on, browsing is noticeably faster. Now the page starts loading right away, but the page is not displayed until Family Safety has determined the rating. There’s also a more efficient way to cache the sites you’ve recently visited on the computer so that you don’t have to wait for those sites to be rated again.
A lot of the ads on the internet are inappropriate for children, and we are doing something about it in Windows Live. If you add your child’s Live ID to Family Safety, we won’t show any paid advertisements on live.com websites when your child is logged into Windows Live.
We’ve long had the child-friendly web setting, which lists about 8,000 sites that have been reviewed and determined to be designed for and safe for children of all ages. But that’s a big list! How do you find a specific site quickly and easily? Now you can use Bing to search across all the sites from the children’s page in Family Safety.
In an effort to help keep children safer online, Windows and Windows Live will continue to invest in safer social networking, safer searching, and safer browsing. Please try out the new features and let us know what you think. Also, don’t forget to check out what's new with Family Safety on the Microsoft on the Issues blog.
- Phil Sohn
Thank you for this blog post. I am thinking about creating an account for my 9 year old to be able to use these type of items. Tell me, is this something you sign up for, download, etc. or is this part of the parental controls in Windows 7?
The time part is interesting. Instead (or in addition to) setting a time when a child can login, can you set the maximum time they can spend online per day? I would like to restrict my children to 1 hour between say 3-6PM weekdays and 9am-6pm weekends.
Benjamin, You can get this as part of Windows Live Essentials. The beta is here: explore.live.com/windows-live-essentials-beta
rnewtonje, There is only time curfews not time allowances. We'll keep your suggestion in mind as we work on the next version.
while i think this service is good, its the other apps that are getting bloated by "nanny" - take the beta for messenger, it seems to warn me every time i click on a friends link on messenger that the site im going to is not part of messenger so dont put my passwords on it... it does it every time and i cant turn it off. why cant i turn it off?
I used an older version of WL Family Safety on a Vista PC for a couple of years and I'm very glad to see the new, clearer filters and allowing my child more responsibility.
However, since using the new beta version it constantly fails to start up properly. With the older version, if the service didn't start then the child did not get internet access. With the new beta, if it doesn't start then the child can get online unfiltered.
The problem seems to be that the Windows Live Sign in Assistant service isn't starting up automatically. If this doesn't get fixed then it seems quite simple for the child to avoid any restrictions.
I also wholeheartedly agree with @rnewtonjr comment regarding the time allowance. Not only is it a good idea to limit a child's time online, it also helps to prevent fights between my sons of who has been on the longest! At the moment we have to have a kitchen egg timer that buzzes after half an hour. Not very web 2.0! Perhaps it should be a case of general log on time for the PC not just the internet? With the option for parents to enter a password to give them a 30 minute time boost?
please, update my hotmail for new windows live hotmail. thanks! Fernando
If you disable the new online Time Limits feature, I hope you can still set it individually for each PC on Windows 7 like now. I don't want the same time limits for each PC; I want one range for the desktop and another for the laptop.
I've been using the beta of family safety for a few weeks now and have some issues with it. It needs to allow you to always allow and/or always deny certain websites. Once I deny a website, it should never ask again. No constant popups for the same website. This would allow ad services to be always blocked without my child being annoyed by the popup everytime.