Parental controls and your Kindle

Parental controls and your Kindle

This year, many children may start using a new Kindle. While that can be a really wonderful, life-expanding experience, adults may want to guide what that child does. For example, parents/legal guardians might not want a child spending a thousand dollars on apps, or having access to certain content that the adult considers to be inappropriate.

When this issue comes up within the Amazon Kindle community, there are always posters who chide the adult for even asking about it, saying that it should be the parent/legal guardian who watches over what the child does, not some “parental control” tool.

Well, that seems a bit to me like saying you shouldn’t put a lock on the cabinet that has your household deadly chemicals, because you should simply be there to prevent your kid from getting into them. “Parental controls” (and I’m going to use that term for simplicity’s sake, even though it may not be a parent-child situation) are a tool you can use (just like that lock). While we can certainly debate how much free access to content a child should have, I think it’s worth knowing what your options are to help you actualize that decision.

Parental controls can actually give a child more freedom. Let’s say that an adult does not want a child to get to websites that have content not intended for children. I have run into situations where parents will not allow kids to click on websites at all…the parent has to do it, if they are going to go there. With a parental control system, it can be possible to limit which websites the child can access. The parent approves the sites ahead of time, and then the child has the freedom to go to sites within that group without constant supervision.

Is that kind of specific content guidance (called “whitelisting”) possible with a Kindle? Yes, but not with all Kindles at this time.

I’m going to run through the possibilities here. I would set up the Kindle with the guidance you want before the first unsupervised use.  With one click, a child could buy a $600 Amazon Instant Video (you won’t be buying it if you click here, but I thought you might be interested in what it was), and unlike Kindle store books, Amazon Instant Videos are not refundable.

Before we get started, you need to know which Kindle your child is going to be using, since the parental control options and procedures are different on different models.

You can tell by looking at this Amazon help page:

Which Kindle Do I Have?

Next, let’s go through some of the concepts.

Content Purchase Control

This allows you to turn off the ability to purchase content (e-books, videos, apps) directly from Amazon. While you have seven days from purchase to “return” a Kindle store book for a refund, that is not the case with other digital content. Generally, I would turn this off for children who are not responsible for their own finances.

That also goes for a special subset, what are called “in-app purchases”. When you are using an app on a Kindle Fire, you may be offered the opportunity to buy real things with real money. For example, you might be able to purchase a “power up” for a character for ten dollars.

Content Access Control

There are two broad types of this, if we consider a website to be the equivalent of an e-book…the website is treated as one item, just as an individual book would be.

You can turn off access to everything in that category: not allow any videos to be accessed by the device, or not allow any books to be read on the device.

You could also selectively access items. In other words, you can have a “blacklist” of items you don’t allow, or a “whitelist” of items you do. You might let  your child use some apps you have purchased, but not others.

Curated Access Control

In this method, available on some Kindle Fire models, you don’t make the specific decisions for child, but allow your child access to a set of content chosen by someone else. It is sort of the equivalent of letting your child look in the children’s books section of a brick and mortar bookstore (I’m a former manager) and look at anything they want there, but not leave that part of the store.

On all of these, there are three main sources of content, and you may be able to block one or more of them:

  • Items you have already purchased from Amazon (your archives of “Cloud”)
  • Items you have not yet purchased from Amazon
  • Items from outside Amazon

Now, let’s go through the currently available devices:

2nd Generation Kindle Fire, Kindle Fire HDs

One approach:

Swipe down from the top of the device – More – Parental Controls

You’ll be asked to enter and confirm a password. Make sure you can remember that password: if necessary write it down.

From here, you’ll have several choices:

  • Block the Silk Web Browser (it just says “Web Browser”). This does not block the device’s access to the internet…it just can no longer use Silk. If you’ve installed another browser (like Maxthon or Dolphin), that one will work just fine. The device will also still be able to download items from your archives/Cloud, and do Wikipedia look-ups
  • Block E-Mail, Contacts, and Calendars (but I believe that will only be the Amazon apps)
  • Password Protect Purchases (this will stop purchasing from Amazon)
  • Password Protect Video Playback (no video playback, regardless of where it was obtained…I have not tested this within apps that play video, and I suspect it might work there)
  • Block and Unblock Content Types (you can block all of a many of these as you want: the Newsstand, Books & Audiobooks, Music, Video, Docs, Apps & Games, Photos).
  • Password Protect Wi-Fi
  • Password Protect LBS (Location Based Services)
  • Password Protect Mobile Network (Kindle Fire 4G only)

If you’d like to block In-App Purchasing, you do that here:

Swipe down – More – Applications – Apps (under Amazon Applications) – In-App Purchasing

You can do that even without using Parental Controls.

The Kindle Fire HDs also have Kindle FreeTime, which is an app that allows you to “whitelist” books, videos, and apps. You can create a profile for each child, and then manage content. Under content, you can add Books, Videos, and/or apps you want them to access. While they are in Kindle FreeTime, they will not have access to anything else (including purchasing from Amazon, web browsing, and in-app purchasing).

Note: they can use the wireless (unless you’ve blocked that in parental controls) to download books from your archives/Cloud. They will not have the ability to share notes and highlights, or to look things up in Wikipedia (but they can look them up in the dictionary).

Even though I have other browsers besides Silk on my device, they did not appear to be available to put into Kindle FreeTime. I tried an app which I knew required the web, and it was able to connect…but browsing appears to be out. I also don’t think you can add the e-mail app.

Additionally, for each profile, you can control time limits. You can set a limit for the total screen time per day, and separate limits each for reading books (which defaults to unlimited), watching videos, and using apps.

Even if they shut the Kindle all the way off, it will restart in Kindle FreeTime. (unless you have previously exited it with your password). You have to enter a password to switch the kids’ profiles: if Raggedy Ann is using it, and Raggedy Andy wants a turn, they have to come to you first.

Still, Kindle FreeTime does give you quite a few options…even if whitelisted web browsing isn’t one of them.

You can actually get whitelisted web browsing for the Kindle Fire HDs…but not for access through Kindle FreeTime (I think…I haven’t tested this one), and not for free.

It’s by using a third-party browser…and a sophisticated one at that:

Funamo

One last thing for the Fires: you can subscribe to a service called Kindle FreeTime Unlimited. For a monthly fee (as low as $2.99, if you are already an Amazon Prime member), your child can have “all you can eat” access to a curated set of  books, videos, and apps. This can be a great deal! You don’t own these items, and you’ll lose access if you stop subscribing, but there are a lot of well-known characters here, from Curious George to Shrek to Thomas the Tank Engine.

Kindle Paperwhite

The Kindle Paperwhite can’t play all the content that a Kindle Fire can, and subsequently, the parental controls are much simpler.

Home – Menu – Device Options – Parental Controls

You can turn each of these on and off:

  • Web Browser (Silk)
  • Kindle Store
  • Cloud (archives)

While you can have “active content” on a Kindle Paperwhite, no apps (which means you can’t install extra browsers), no videos.

One nice thing: even if you turn off the Kindle Store, you can buy books for your child on your computer and have them sent to the Kindle Paperwhite.

Mindle (“basic Kindle”, “baby Kindle”)

The Mindle (my name for it) is similar to the Paperwhite in this.

Home – Menu – Settings – Next Page – Parental Controls

You can turn each of these on and off:

  • Web Browser (Silk)
  • Kindle Store
  • Archived Items (same as the Cloud above)

Kindle Keyboard

This is similar to the Mindle

Home – Menu – Settings – Next Page – Parental Controls

and I believe it has the same options.

Free Kindle Reader Apps

I don’t believe these have Parental Controls at this time.

One other choice with all Kindles: you could set up a separate account for your child. That one could have a different payment method, and it would have different archives/Cloud. If you did not have a credit card/debit card listed as a payment method for 1-click, the child would only be able to buy things from Amazon with whatever gift card balance there might be on that account. I personally think it is easier to manage one account, but I wanted to make you aware of this as a possibility.

If you have any additional questions on Kindle parental controls, or have something else you want to tell me and my readers about it, feel free to comment on this post.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

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27 Responses to “Parental controls and your Kindle”

  1. Joe Bowers Says:

    Wow, Bufo, a six hundred dollar instant video! Even when your topic isn’t specifically relevant for me, (no need for parental controls) I can always learn something, or be entertained by your postings.
    Want to wish you and your family and friends most excellent holidays, and thank you for the aforementioned “infotainment” you provide, as well as the times you have saved me a few bucks! Thanks and have a Merry!
    Joe Bowers

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Joe!

      Same to you and yours, and thanks for the kind words!

      I passed along your wishes to my family while we were at Starbucks and I read them on my Fire. :)

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  4. Namastemama Says:

    My daughter got a Paperwhite for Christmas. She is a 12 yr old book worm. I am frustrated with the parental controls. I want to leave the store open but with my control at the point of purchase, whether free or paid book. I want control similar to that of the Fire. Controlling what goes in the Cloud would also be nice. For instance if I had a book she shouldn’t access. I only use the Kindle app on my Apple devices. Apple parental controls are awesome. Any word if similar (more safisticated ) control on the Paperwhite?

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Namastemama!

      Congratulations to your daughter!

      Tell me a little more about what you mean by “leave the store open”. You can currently do three things with a Paperwhite:

      * Block access to the Web Browser
      * Block access to the Kindle Store
      * Block access to the Cloud (archives)

      Blocking access to the Cloud would prevent her from seeing all of the books in the archives. Blocking the store would prevent purchasing from the Kindle Store. If you block the store and leave the Web Browser open, she could go to Amazon.com and browse around (but not buy Kindle books).

      If you are concerned about your daughter purchasing, you can “return” any Kindle store book within seven days of purchase for a refund.

      Unfortunately, an EBR (E-Book Reader) is not anywhere near as sophisticated as a tablet (like the Fire). Apple doesn’t make an EBR, or they would likely run into the same challenges in creating sophisticated parental controls. Asking a Paperwhite to do what a Fire does is like asking a bicycle to do what a car does. :) Certainly, the EBRs have been getting more power, and it’s possible that eventually there will be a title specific blocking option, but not yet. :)

      • namastemama Says:

        At first I wanted her to have access to the store and be able to look for books and then have the parental control at the point of purchase (similar to my IPad). If my child wants to install an app I have to put in my code. In app purchases are disabled. I now understand that there is porn and all kinds of material (at Amazon) my child should not have access too.
        It has been an enlightening journey. Hopefully, we or the giver of the gift can get a full refund. I am certainly not a fan of Amazon at this point and anything less than a full refund will result on a full ban of them by my family.
        We’re sticking with the bicycle. Supporting our independent book stores and library.

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, Namastemama!

        Amazon has a generous thirty day return policy on Kindles, and that does typically get extended during the holiday season.

        You can contact them at

        http://www.amazon.com/kindlesupport

        If you are returning it and it is behaving as expected, you may be asked to pay the return postage, but wait to see what they say…as a Kindle owner, I’ve always found them helpful and friendly.

        Amazon has given you the ability to block apps (on a Paperwhite, those are called “Active Content”) by blocking the store. Similarly, blocking the store will block those books you choose for her not to see. There are no in-app purchases on a Paperwhite.

        On a Fire, which is more similar to the Apple products you are referencing, there are sophisticated parental controls. You can, for example, only allow specific books to be available (what is called “whitelisting”). You can limit the amount of time your child can use the device for particular purposes (you could allow unlimited reading, but apps for only an hour a day).

        I think your concern may be more with the nature of the device than with Amazon. Apple elects not to make a device which is geared primarily for reading (like the Kindle, Kobo, or NOOK EBRs), so they do have only devices with more sophisticated parental controls (like the Fire or an iPad). A user of a Kindle Paperwhite can block all inappropriate content easily, it’s just the selectivity of allowing this title and blocking that one which isn’t available at this point.

        Up to you of course, though.

        Edited to add: oh, and in your case, it sounds like you are abandoning the bicycle (the dedicated reading device) for the car (the tablet), which has more controls.

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  6. Brady Says:

    I am an adult and would prefer not to have access to the web browser on my kindle(if I buy one) how strong is the parental control, how easy is it to change the password, and in the password change options does it ever give you your old password, or does it just change it?

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Brady!

      Could you tell me a bit more about why you don’t want to have the web access? Is it because it would be distracting?

      I ask because the approaches might be different if you were worried about charges, for example.

      It depends on which Kindle you got as to the way it would work.

      Let’s start out with ones with parental controls that can block access to the web. The password can be quite strong. You would select the password. Does it block use of the internet? Yes.

      In terms of your last question, the answer is neither. It would never give you your old password, and it will not change the password without you already knowing it. In other words, you have to know the password to be able to change it, and if you forgot the password, you would have to reset the Kindle. That would wipe all of your personalization off it, so if one of your concerns is protecting documents you put on it, that would work.

      I’m not sure if that answers your question…if it doesn’t, please comment again.

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  8. Moira Says:

    Hmm My problem is slightly different- my 12 year old bookworm has had her basic kindle just over a year, and initially all was fine. We have no problem with purchases- although I must say the $600 video is a sobering thought-she always asks, and knows that if she does not I will know anyway as I get the receipts.
    However recently she started accessing the internet on the kindle, and has been spending far too much time on it.
    Almost a teenager :(
    I didn’t realise she could get on the internet with the kindle-duh!
    Around this time I think the parental controls became available- at least I don’t think they were there before- but SHE GOT THERE FIRST!!! She has put a password on her kindle and I can’t get in to see what she has been doing or reading. I know from my amazon account which books are on there, and that has not changed, but I know she has found a number of websites with unofficial sequels written by fans and some are NOT suitable.
    Currently I intend to get her to give me the password so I can institute controls. Sadly I cannot do this remotely except by wiping out the kindle memory completely, as far as I can tell. And yes I do think I should know what she is reading-If she got a book out of the library I would see it in the bedroom or kitchen, the kindle should be no different.
    Thanks for the info above-I shall be using it once I have the dratted password. In case of stalemate, if you know of any other way of re-setting the password in the basic kindle, please post !

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Moira!

      I’m assuming that your daughter doesn’t have the password to your Amazon account (as opposed to the Kindle). So, you can go to

      http://www.amazon.com/manageyourkindle

      go to

      Manage Your Devices

      and deregister it (or threaten to deregister it).

      When it is deregistered, it will not have access to your account. That should be a pretty good discouragement.

      As you’ve mentioned, you could typically reset the Kindle…but if your daughter put parental controls in place (as opposed to just a device password), I belive it will be prevented from being reset with the information below.

      Here is the information on resetting a basic Kindle (what I call a “Mindle”) by entering a special password:

      http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html/ref=hp_navbox_k4trouble_reg?nodeId=200728480#password

  9. lar3ry Says:

    I set up parental controls with a password on my daughter’s kindle when it was purchased. Since then, a password was set up for the device. Shouldn’t the parental control password allow access to the device?

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, lar3ry!

      Actually, no, those are two different functions and need to have two different passwords.

      While it might seem logical that someone who can set parental controls on a device should also be able to unlock the device for use, the inverse is not true.

      Let me give you a scenario.

      A family has one Kindle Fire that they use.

      The parents do have confidential information on there that shouldn’t be accessible to strangers.

      They also let their child use the device at certain times for certain functions (maybe reading, playing games).

      The parents have set up a password for parental controls so that they can choose what the child can do on the device.

      However, they want the child to be able to pick up the device and use it without them having to be there each time. Maybe the child takes it to school, for example.

      In that scenario, the child knows the password to unlock the device, but not the parental controls password. That’s why they need to be different.

      However, I could see it making sense that the parental controls password can be a second device unlock password. That would require different programming (right now, there is only one device unlock password), but you might want to suggest it to Amazon by sending an e-mail to

      kindle-feedback@amazon.com

      As to your current situation…it’s possible to wipe the device when it has a device unlock password (the point of the password is to protect content on the device, and wiping it removes that). I can tell you how to do that, if you like…which kind of Kindle is it?

      http://www.amazon.com/help/kindle/which

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  11. mischa Says:

    Word of caution, even if you don’t have children… I was browsing the Kindle Lending Library for Amazon Prime subscribers, and just looking in the Arts–Photography section. Imagine my surprise when over half of the titles turned out to be porn with rather explicit cover photos. I’m hardly a prude, but it’s not exactly what I expected to see on my computer screen while sitting at work whilst looking for photography books! It also goes against Amazon’s own content guidelines, which states: “Nudity, graphic titles, and descriptions must be sufficiently concealed with censor strips on all items containing such content.”

    I pinged amazon’s online customer support to ask about restricting those titles from view and was told there wasn’t a way to do it.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, mischa!

      One option would be to search first using a browser and blocking images, then borrowing the book from your Kindle (which you have to do to get a book from the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library).

      For example, on Chrome, it’s

      Settings – Show Advanced Settings – Privacy – Content Settings

      and then you can choose, “Do not show any images”.

      • mischa Says:

        True enough. Thanks for the tip!

        On the other hand, it seems like a bit of a drag to have to go that route just to not run into any accidental surprises, especially if you’re on a laptop in a public setting. I wouldn’t necessarily want to block all images on all Web sites, either. I get that you can block images only from specific Web sites using Exceptions in Chrome, but if I’m shopping normally on Amazon, I don’t want to have to go to Settings each time to allow images when I do actually want to see the them. Either way, there’s no guarantee that if I innocently search for books on tea, for example, it wouldn’t pull up something pornographic, images or not. (Some of the titles I saw whilst browsing were pretty graphically explicit and didn’t need the accompanying images to make an impression anyway.)

        I guess it just would make more sense to me if Amazon enforced their own content guidelines, or allowed for a search setting that would could restrict pornographic content from search or browsing results. I don’t have kids myself, but I imagine some parents might feel a little better if searching for Charlotte’s Web didn’t potentially bring up some unexpected search results… :)

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, mischa!

        No solution is going to be perfect, of course, but that would take care of the images.

        It’s quite complex to determine what might be offensive, and there’s been a lot of legal discussion of it. Unlike movies, TV, music, and videogames, which all have industry-defined content warnings, publishing has never formalized that.

        In testing things out in replying to you, I didn’t have at all the experience that you had when you said

        “I was browsing the Kindle Lending Library for Amazon Prime subscribers, and just looking in the Arts–Photography section. Imagine my surprise when over half of the titles turned out to be porn with rather explicit cover photos…”

        Using my Kindle Fire, I went to

        Books – Store – More Categories – All Books (See All) – Browse – Arts & Photography – Photography

        I didn’t see anything that I think most people would consider in the realm of pornography (or even nudity, for that matter, which legally can be two different things) until #68. That one was clearly designed to appeal to an interest in prurient matters. The cover was also racy, certainly.

        Continuing, #86 was “Sexy Girls Stripping”, which would fit the category (although the cover wasn’t beyond a Victoria’s Secret ad level).

        #95 was openly labeled as “erotic nudes”.

        That was it in the top 100, so I didn’t encounter anything like “over half” the titles.

        I encountered the first one that clearly violated the guidelines you cite:

        About Content Guidelines

        at #113. The publisher of that one (Karupted) had more: they can probably be reported to Amazon, which could have an impact.

        Hm…I thought Amazon might have a link on book’s product pages to report “offensive” content, but I don’t see one.

        I think that the best solution for now, unfortunately, is to block all images, if you want to avoid ones you find offensive.

        I should also say that the photography section in brick-and-mortar bookstores (I used to manage one) can also have books with nude images, even on the cover…but you don’t see as many books as quickly.

        Edited to add: I did see the ability to report “offensive content” on a Kindle store product page, but not on a p-book (paperbook) product page. It’s possible Amazon only has that on books that are published through their Kindle Direct Publishing, but I’m not sure.

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  13. Web Guildian Says:

    My son uses an iPad with the Kindle app. I want him to have access to the books, but not be able to purchase. If I deregister the kindle (aka, amazon) account, it deletes the books from the reader. You mentioned setting up a 2nd account without a credit card. Is there a way to move my already purchased kindle books to that account? What are my other options (excluding having to buy a kindle for him)?

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Web!

      You would not be able to move books from one account to another. The easiest way to think about it is that the books belong to the account, not to a device. That allows us to read the same book on multiple devices on the same account…although there is a limit as to how many devices can have the same book at the same time (unless it says otherwise on the book’s Amazon product page, that number is six), you could have 1,000 devices registered to the same account (there is no limit) and all read the same book for one purchase price (just, typically, not at the same time). You can see why it would be problematic to let the same book license be used by different accounts, although that might be possible in the future (with some way to limit the use…transferring the license through some central tracking mechanism, perhaps).

      I just looked gain (the post on which you commented is from 2012), and it still looks to me like there are no parental controls in the Kindle for iPad app.

      You could set up that second “no credit card” account, but you wouldn’t be able to transfer already purchased books to it. Some books can be loaned to someone on another account, although most of the big publishers don’t allow that.

  14. Kat Says:

    I am interested in buying a kindle with freetime unlimited for my son. Are the controls on content pre-set, or can I block specific shows? For example, if I hate all things Caillou and don’t want my son to be exposed to it, can I block Caillou books, apps, games?

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Kat!

      With Kindle FreeTime (which is on some devices…do you know which device you wanted to get?), it’s what is called a “whitelist”. You choose which content is available to the child. It’s the opposite of a “blacklist”. With a blacklist, you would say, “You can’t watch Caillou”. With a whitelist, you say, “You can watch this”. There is no charge for Kindle FreeTime.

      Kindle FreeTime Unlimited is a subscription service…you pay for that. It gives your child a wide range of content to read/use at no additional cost (from $4.99 per month for one child for non-Prime members and $2.99 per month for one child for Prime members). However, my understanding is that you can’t selectively block (blacklist) the Kindle FreeTime Unlimited content. I’m asking Amazon for an official confirmation on that, and I’ll post here again if I get one.

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