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"Mobicip" Helps Make the iPhone/iTouch Safer for Families


At this point in the portable entertainment arena, Apple's iPhone and iTouch devices are on top of the pack. In fact, this past Christmas downloads to iTouch devices increased by over 1,000% on Christmas Day, according to San Francisco-based research firm Flurry and PCWorld.com.


For those not familiar with these devices, the iTouch is pretty much an iPhone without the phone -- so it doesn't require a cell phone service subscription. However it is still very much Internet connected through any wireless WiFi network.


These holiday statistics have led analysts to believe the iTouch was one of the biggest "toys" given to kids this Christmas. The little device is capable of doing everything an average 21st Century kid could dream of -- watch movies, listen to music, play games and surf the 'net. Of course that also means big issues for parents who are (or should be) recognizing these devices are no different than putting your child in front of a computer.


But in reality, there's a big difference. You can (and should) keep your family computer in a "public" place in your home so you can keep an eye on what your kids are doing. That is much more difficult with an iTouch or iPhone. More than ever before, these devices are in need of sophisticated and secure filtering applications that can help parents and children stay safe and avoid inappropriate content.


Thankfully there is a new solution that is both effective and economical. Mobicip LLC, a California company, has created an alternative browser to Safari for the iTouch/iPhone that actually filters Internet content on the fly based on a cataloged list of websites and sophisticated analysis on the actual content about to display on the screen.


Called Mobicip, the app is very easy to use. After paying $4.99 to purchase it from the app store (a one-time price that is a bargain compared to many other Internet filtering services), you simply install it on your device and setup an account. This involves entering your email address and secure password -- obviously one your kids won't be likely to guess.


The app gives you three easy to choose levels of filtering: Elementary, Middle or High School. Each of these levels block certain groups of sites. For example, Elementary blocks social networking while Middle and High School do not. All levels block adult, sexual, weapons, violence and other troublesome categories.


At this point, a natural question to ask is, "What if your child simply opens the Safari web browser? Mobicip is bypassed and the filtering is gone." To avoid this, you simply enforce the iTouch/iPhone's built-in parental control restrictions. These allow you to "turn off" Safari, the App Store, YouTube and a number of other features.


Mobicip's simplicity does come at a cost. If your child attempts to enter a site that you have no problems with them seeing, your only option is to change the filtering level. However, selecting a less restrictive level, like High School, may open other areas you don't want him accessing. Fortunately, there is a solution -- but it will cost you another $10 per year.


Mobicip's Premium Service adds many additional features to the application. A parent can make detailed adjustments to the filtering by adding the names of websites that will always be blocked or always allowed (often referred to as a blacklist or whitelist) and they can also see the sites their child has visited. Furthermore, they can manage multiple devices through a single interface. (One catch: The $10 subscription fee applies to each device.)


In actual use, it does the job it sets out to do just fine. Attempting to access a banned site presents a page that explains it's blocked, along with a web link so a parent could sign into the website (assuming you have the premium service) and add the banned site to the whitelist. (A simple quick dropdown with a password confirmation box would be a nice addition and would make this much more convenient.) Trying to search an obviously troublesome phrase, like "nude," on Google also brings up the blocking page. In other cases when an "acceptable" search term is entered, Google's results appear, but the search engine is forced into "Safe Search" mode. It's important that any web filtering program locks search engines into safe mode, or they can be used to circumvent the filter -- especially when searching for images.


Considering the price of one of Apple's shiny "toys," an extra 5 to 15 bucks to keep your kids out of trouble on the Internet really isn't that big of a deal. I'd say if you have a young child, the basic application should do the job. If you have a teen who is (gasp!) using the iTouch for homework or needs to venture into other areas of the Internet, investing $10 a year would be well worth the price. Either way, Mobicip may have opened the door to one of my own kids purchasing an iTouch -- something I would not have been comfortable with prior to discovering this filtering tool.


Rod Gustafson


Besides writing this column for the Parents Television Council, Rod Gustafson authors Parent Previews - a newspaper and Internet column (published in association with movies.com) that reviews movies from a parent's perspective. He's also the film critic for a major Canadian TV station, various radio stations and serves on the executive of the Alberta Association for Media Awareness. Finally, his most important role is being the father to four wonderful children and husband to his beautiful wife (and co-worker) Donna.

Parenting and the Media by Rod Gustafson

The Parents Television Council - www.parentstv.org

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