Business Security

Parental controls for the connected family

Gagan Singh, 2 May 2019

Internet and mobile network operators (MNOs) have partnered with Avast to keep connected families safe on their devices through handy parental controls.

Many of us have our smartphones on us almost all the time. Like wallets, they have become ubiquitous and essential to daily life. (For many, smartphones now even double as wallets.) Along with holding so much of our sensitive info, these devices also serve as gateways to the internet. Many adults have grown to understand this and take the necessary cybersecurity measures, but what about children? Kids use their smartphones to go on YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat, as well as to text, share photos, and – occasionally – even place phone calls.

According to a Pew Research Center study from May 2018, 94% of U.S. children aged 13 and 14 use a smartphone. Further, 97% aged 13-17 use at least one social media platform, and 45% of them are online “almost constantly.” Trends point to these numbers creeping ever-closer to 100 as time goes on, and as parents around the world watch their kids descend deeper and deeper into the digital world, they are justifiably concerned about the mental, physical, and emotional safety of their children in this connected age. They are turning to their network providers for the right tools and controls to protect their children.

The online habits of children

As a global society, we are becoming smartphone owners at younger and younger ages. In South Korea, for example, 72% of children own their first smartphone by ages 11-12, according to a 2015 survey by the nonprofit Common Sense Media. Across Europe, 46% of children aged 9-16 own a smartphone. And the average age kids are getting their first phone in Australia is 8 years old. And 2018 data shows US parents are increasingly providing children with phones at a younger age: Gen Z (18-22) received their first phone at 14, compared to 15 for younger Millennials (23-29) and 18 for older Millennials (30-38).

More than three-quarters of teens with smartphones check them every hour, Common Sense Media found, yet nearly half of parents in the US have limited awareness of what their teenage children are watching or doing online. And the Center for Cyber Safety and Education reports that teens tend to stay online later than 11 p.m. every night.

How does screen time affect child development?

In September 2018, The Lancet published an academic study on 4,520 US children in which researchers discovered an association between screen time durations and child cognition levels. Children aged 8-11 who spent less than two hours per day on recreational screen time performed better in tests of mental ability than those who spent more. We know this is not necessarily the best news for parents, particularly when it is so easy to allow children to occupy themselves with their favorite apps, but guidelines must be set to allow them to grow without becoming too reliant on their devices.

Is my child seeing inappropriate content?

A 2016 study by Middlesex University found that 53% of UK children 11-16 viewed pornographic material online. In the same year, a report from the Cyberbullying Research Center in the US found that just under 34% of teens reported they were victims of cyberbullying. The Pew Research Center reports that 40% of minors surveyed admitted having chatted with strangers online. Unfortunately, the internet allows people to pretend to be whoever they want to be, and bad actors can abuse or take advantage of innocent users. This is another area where open, clear communication within families is critical. It can be healthy to encourage kids to speak up when something online disturbs or confuses them.

Looking to the providers

Internet and mobile network operators (MNOs) are entrusted gatekeepers to the connected world. They have an opportunity to reinforce their customers’ trust by providing a safe connected experience for adults and children alike. Traditional network providers are faced with declining revenues due to mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) and over-the-top (OTT) messaging platforms continually capturing more of the communications market. Value-added services like parental controls offer a revenue-boosting opportunity while improving competitive advantages and subscriber retention.

Critically, network operators have numerous advantages over traditional OTT or native OS solutions. Perhaps the most important of these is the capability to offer cross-OS solutions and integrated billing, feature, and support experiences.

In light of these societal and industry influences, we at Avast believe in empowering parents to be informed about their children’s actions online to encourage constructive dialogue around online security practices and safety.

The Avast approach

We work closely with parents to understand their evolving concerns in keeping their kids safe. Avast Family Space, a mobile, app-based parental-controls solution, was designed with these concerns in mind, and it is constantly being augmented and updated. Our goal is to provide parents with a “smart family assistant” that helps keep kids safe through the following feature categories:

    1. Content filters: Ensure your kids are not exposed to inappropriate content by setting content filters by age and category.
    2. Screen-time limits: Build better digital habits for your family by setting data downtimes so they can focus on school, sleep, family, and other priorities.
    3. AI-driven insights: Know when something is out of the ordinary – we’ll sort through the data so you can focus on being a parent.
    4. Child location: Peace of mind knowing your kids are safe no matter where they go – with real-time location, scheduled alerts, check-ins, geofence alerts, etc.

For over a decade, we have partnered with leading global internet and mobile network providers to deliver a white-labeled parental-controls solution to their customers. Avast offers 24/7 network monitoring and support so our partners can focus on providing their customers with positive experiences keeping their loved ones safe.

For more information, check out the Avast security and family safety solutions our partners use to enhance customer loyalty and monthly revenue.