written by: Tony Bradley•edited by: Ronda Bowen•updated: 7/4/2011
Net Nanny is one of the best-known brands in its genre, but as other products added features it lacked, it fell behind the competition. After ContentWatch bought it and merged with its ContentProtect, though, Net Nanny is a leader again.
Net Nanny is an established and respected product when it comes to filtering undesirable web content and protecting children from inappropriate areas of the Internet. However, since its original release, other products entered the mix and added features and functionality Net Nanny lacked, such as the ability to log Internet activity and generate email reports monitoring it, in addition to just blocking it.
ContentProtect, the consumer web-filtering product from ContentWatch, also had some solid strengths combined with some glaring weaknesses. It provided good customization features and an appealing interface, but lacked the ability to monitor email and did not provide the ability to hide its existence by running in stealth mode.
ContentWatch bought Net Nanny and merged it with ContentProtect, combining the pros of both products and adding some functionality to make up for some of the combined weaknesses. They rebranded the new content filter software with the more well-known Net Nanny name, and Net Nanny 5.6 has emerged from the ashes as one of the web-filtering programs to beat.
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Help & Support
I found Net Nanny support to be friendly and helpful. After a rebuild of my computer, I needed to reinstall it. However, my registration key would no longer work because I had already used it. A simple call to the ContentWatch support team cleared everything up in a matter of minutes. I simply gave them my email address and they unlocked my registration code in their system so I could re-install Net Nanny. The support people that I dealt with seemed knowledgeable and genuinely interested in solving my problem.
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Installation & Setup
The Net Nanny executable is about 13MB and will run on Windows 2000, Windows XP, or Windows Vista. The installation is specifically designed to be simple. ContentWatch is aware that some kids may know more about computers than their parents, and that even non-techie parents may want to protect their kids while they use the computer.
With that in mind, the installation is as simple as entering the Registration key and choosing where you want the files to go. Once the installation is complete, the software is up and running and protecting your kids from undesirable Internet material.
There are a few other aspects you should configure as well, though. Net Nanny lets you choose whether to apply the same rules and filters to all users of the computer, or establish individual logins for custom configurations. If you don’t want it to be obvious that the program is running, you can hide the icon that normally appears in the system tray by clicking Tools on the menu bar and then selecting Hide Systray Icon.
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Net Nanny’s interface is clean and visually appealing. The functions are separated into two groups: User Settings and Family Settings. The Family Settings, on the bottom of the User Interface, are used to set overall program options such as whether to have a default profile or set up individual custom profiles for each user, as well as configuring email alerts, establishing passwords, and viewing reports.
The User Settings at the top are used to configure the actual blocking and filtering profile. If the User Login Type is set to Default Users, the left panel will simply say Default Users and the configuration will apply to all users. If you instead select Users for the User Login Type, you will see a list of the users in the left pane and you can click on each one and set up a custom configuration for each account.
Overall, the interface is attractive and intuitive. ContentWatch has made strides to ensure that even novice, techophobe parents will be able to install and use the software, and it shows.
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Net Nanny contains the standard-issue Internet blocking and filtering. It tries to ensure that no inappropriate or undesirable content is displayed on your computer. All of the products in this genre do that; Net Nanny has a few tricks up its sleeve that set it apart and make it superior to the competition.
First, Net Nanny analyzes all Internet traffic, not just websites. This means that even objectionable material in instant messaging, peer-to-peer file sharing, and other network communications will be filtered or blocked. It also uses a technology dubbed Dynamic Contextual Analysis to analyze and block sites in real time. In other words, a site like CNN.com may be fine one time and blocked another, depending on the content of the site at the time.
Another feature of Net Nanny is the ability to override a blocked site. Users can be granted the ability to override a block themselves (assuming they have been given the override password), or they can be granted the ability to request an override. Basically, if a person visits a site that is blocked, but they feel they should have access to it, they can click Request Override and an email will be sent to the email address in the Net Nanny administration settings.
One other defining feature of Net Nanny is the ability to review and manage the configuration remotely from across the Internet. Whether you are at the office or around the world on vacation, you can access Net Nanny via the Internet and review reports or make changes as needed.
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Net Nanny did not impact the overall performance of my computer or the speed of my Internet surfing in any significant way. It ran unobtrusively in the background, until attempts were made to visit questionable websites or view objectionable content.
There were some sites that were blocked that seemed odd. The website for children’s clothing maker Hanna Andersson was blocked due to “intimate apparel," but the software saw no issue with visiting the Phillip Morris tobacco website. The website for the restaurant Hooters was blocked for alleged “adult/mature content," but I had no problem navigating to Budweiser.com.
This is not necessarily a knock on the product. It was certainly as good as or better than competing products. On the one hand, all content filter programs could probably do a better job at applying logic to content analysis and reducing the false positives and the false negatives. However, Net Nanny, like the other products, allows you to add or remove sites from being blocked and customize what types of data or information you feel should be blocked.
In addition, Net Nanny provides the ability for a user to request an override for a blocked site, or those with the rights assigned to them can unblock a site by themselves using the override password. This increased functionality alone sets Net Nanny apart.
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As great as Net Nanny is, it does lack a few features that would be nice additions. Here is a short wish list of features I hope to see in the next version:
Email filtering: Net Nanny should be able to analyze and block emails with objectionable or undesirable content as well.
Block personal information: Kids are sometimes unaware or more trusting than they should be. Net Nanny should be able to block personal information such as names, addresses, phone numbers, etc. from being sent out.
True stealth: Net Nanny 5.6 lets you hide the system tray icon, but older, computer-savvy kids will still be able to see the processes running and possibly shut down the software. For parents that want to monitor without the children knowing, the product should provide a complete stealth mode.
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Net Nanny 5.6 has established the bar that other home Internet monitoring and filtering products must strive for. Net Nanny's unique features and functionality set it apart--it leads the pack in filtering undesirable web content and protecting children from inappropriate areas of the Internet.