Review: Funamo: sophisticated parental controls for the Kindle Fire
The Kindle Fire opens up a world of possibilities.
For parents/legal guardians, that can be both good and bad.
There are lots of great games for kids, and educational websites.
There is also Rule 34 of the internet. If I explained what that was I’d probably get many more hits today, but I’ll let you look it up. I try to keep this blog safe for work.
Suffice it to say that there are parents/legal guardians who would like a software solution to guide how a child uses the Fire.
It’s interesting: when I’ve seen people ask about that on the Amazon Kindle community, they sometimes get remonstrated for either: wanting to control anything about their kids’ media consumption; or wanting technology to help them do it.
My natural tendency is to lean towards more freedom…but I wouldn’t want somebody to tell me that wasn’t okay, and I understand that other people may have different levels they want to set (more or less restrictive).
I also don’t have any problem with using a technological tool to help. That doesn’t mean you can’t do all the communicating you were doing anyway. It’s important to understand that it isn’t always about a child consciously wanting to go somewhere…it’s also about them accidentally going somewhere they really didn’t want to go.
A great example years ago was a site that was named WhiteHouse.com…not WhiteHouse.gov. It was…um…a Rule 34 site. A lot of kids ended up there unintentionally, and would have been happy not to have that risk.
Amazon has given us some parental controls on the Kindle Fire, but as far as the internet goes, it’s an all or nothing solution. You let the user go anywhere on the internet, or you don’t let them go anywhere with the browser (although you can still let them use the Amazon site and Wikipedia).
They give you much more sophisticated “parental controls”, and I think they’ll appeal to a lot of people.
I’m going to go over the features…and then I will mention what is going to be a major negative for some.
When you log into Funamo, you have several main choices:
- Start or stop Funamo
When Funamo is started, it does something right away…password protect the Settings. That means that someone can’t go in and remove the application or deregister your device. That in itself is probably significant to people. I hear on the forum about kids who accidentally deregister, which can cause some headaches (including, with the Fire, removing Kindle store books from the device…meaning you have to redownload them).
- Device history
On the device, this will show you all of the sites visited using the browser that day, and all the applications that have been used that day. Want more than that day? You can go to Funamo’s website, and they keep thirty days of data. Yes, you can check what sites your kid has been visiting without even having access to the device. If you get Funamo for a phone, it gets much more Big Brotherish. It will show you the contacts, the texts, and with GPS, even where your child has been! The locations part does not work with the Fire, and we aren’t currently using it for phone calls…so it shows you applications and websites. You do not need to turn this on, but if you do, it is stored on Funamo’s website. I asked them about that…I think some people might be more comfortable just having that information stored locally.
- Internet filtering
Here’s where it gets particularly good. First, you (and it’s up to you), enable content filtering and “safe search”. I put that on, and tested it. It did not let me go to the Playboy.com site, but did let me go to a breast cancer site (making it more sophisticated than older “net nannies”).
You can also use both a “blacklist” and/or a “whitelist”. That lets you control this yourself. You can use a blacklist to prohibit specific sites. You can use a whitelist to allow specific sites.
Why would you use both a blacklist and a whitelist at the same time?
To fine tune their built-in content filtering/safe search. That software might block something you want your child to access, and your whitelist overrides that. Their filtering may not block a place you would like blocked: your blacklist overrides the decision-making in the software.
You can also just allow whitelisted sites. You could pick a few major kids sites, allow a news site or two…up to you.
- Protected apps
You can allow only certain apps to be available without knowing a password. You click a button to “select apps”, and you get an easy checkbox list. You can block whatever you want.
You can manage these whitelist and blacklists on the website or on the device. Want to punish your kid by taking away Angry Birds for a day? You can do it right on the website.
- Time-limited apps
This one is clever. You can restrict the use of a list of apps you choose to only be available at certain times of the day and days of the week. In other words, you could make the games and social media only available outside of school hours. The entire list has one set of time restrictions…might be nice to be able to set different restrictions for different apps, but this is still a potentially great feature. If you know you have that weekly event where using certain apps would be inappropriate, you can restrict them.
- Account settings
- Upload on Wifi only (not an issue on the Fire, of course)
- Sync contacts to Funamo (you can turn that on or off)
- Log device history (again, you can turn that on or off)
- Change password
- Manually sync with server (if you don’t do that, it does it once a day)
- Unregister this device (that will remove all of the information…it will remove it from the website as well ((I asked)), although you’ll still have your free Funamo account)
- Block other browsers (Funamo needs to use it’s own browser, which you download separately, for the whitelist and blacklist to work). This prevents your child from just downloading another browser, like Maxthon, and using that
Overall, I think that’s a big improvement over Amazon’s choices (at this point). It would be great if they could control specific books, but not yet.
The big negative, a potential showstopper for some?
It’s $19.99 (per device).
That’s quite high for an app, but of course, they are continuing to service your account after the purchase. That has ongoing expenses, including Customer Service.
Speaking of which, I’m always curious about that. Funamo’s Customer Service has been superb. I have e-mailed them twice (asking questions for this review), and gotten very fast, thorough responses. That’s a big argument in favor of a company for me.
The app is not currently available in the Amazon Appstore, but they even have a video to show you how to set all that up and get it…nicely done. Generally, the site looks pretty professional. I found a heading of “How Funamo Works?’ to be awkward. I would either say, “How Funamo Works” or “How Does Funamo Work?” That’s nitpicking, though.
You can test this for two days for free, and I would recommend that if this seems like a solution you would consider.
Bottom line: this is a solid product with good customer service. Not everybody is going to want to use it, but for those who do, they may find the price tag worth the value.
Update: When I first published this review, I mentioned a typo on the website. I’m very impressed that they have fixed the typo in the past ten hours, and e-mailed me to let me know. That’s another good sign of responsiveness, and that’s a big plus for me.
This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.