UPDATED to reflect extension of 6-months-free offer to Sept. 30, 2020. This review was originally published February 14, 2019.
Norton is a huge name in the antivirus world, so it’s not surprising that it has one of the strongest offerings in parental-control software.
Norton Family, formerly known as Norton Family Premier, isn’t the cheapest option out there, but it can be an incredible value for large families — one $50 yearly license supports an unlimited number of children and devices.
As you would expect, the web filtering is one area where Norton Family really shines. Support for Windows monitoring on top of iOS and Android will be compelling for parents of older children who use more than just a tablet or smartphone. Be aware that there’s no software for the Mac, though.
The iOS version is definitely the weak point for Norton Family, but that’s almost uniformly the case for parental-control apps, due to Apple’s tight control of its mobile operating system. We recommend Net Nanny (formerly Zift) for iOS users, but for large families that use Android and Windows exclusively, Norton Family will be well worth it.
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Costs and What’s Covered
Norton Family dropped the free tier of its service in early 2018 and moved to a strictly paid option that costs $49.99 per year. (It later dropped the “Premier” from its name.)
This subscription covers an unlimited number of devices and child accounts, so for larger families, it’s a good deal. (If you sign up by Sept. 30, 2020, you can get 6 months of Norton Family for free.)
If you happen to also be in the market for an antivirus solution, Norton Security Premium includes a subscription to Norton Family and is $54.99 for the first year and $109.99 thereafter.
Norton Family has monitoring software for Android (4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and up), iOS (9 and up) and Windows (XP with SP3 and up). The parental software is available for Android and Windows, but not iOS. Macs are not supported at all, except for accessing the web interface.
We tested Norton Family on a Google Pixel 2XL running Android 9.0 (Pie), an iPhone 7 Plus and an iPad Air 2. Web access was done on a 15-inch 2017 MacBook Pro running MacOS 10.13.6 and Windows 10.
The first step in installing Norton Family is creating your account, which you can either do online or via the Android or iOS app.
Regardless of which method you choose, you then add information for one or more children. This is a simple process, requiring only names and birth years, but you can optionally add a child’s gender, photo or avatar.
You will also see a section marked Personal Information. If you expand it, you can add a child’s Social Security number, phone number, email address or any other information that you don’t want your child to share online.
On Windows, this feature will block the child from sharing this information and will notify you if he or she attempts to do so. Unfortunately, none of this works on mobile platforms.
Next, you install the Norton Family monitoring software on any device that your children use. Links to the Windows, iOS and Android downloads are provided. Once the software is installed, you simply sign in to your account and then select the appropriate child for that device.
Norton does a solid job of getting you started by selecting default rules based on the age of your children. While you can have a look at the rules that the app has set by default, having this head start helps the process feel less overwhelming than it would if you started from scratch.
Norton has made significant changes to the parental user interface since the last time we reviewed its service. The shift to a more minimal interface on the web portal has made everything considerably easier to navigate and understand.
It’s still not the best-looking interface, but it’s easy enough to find and use each feature. Each child’s profile is displayed across the top, and selecting a child brings up her or his personalized House Rules and Activities tabs.
Unfortunately, the Android parental app hasn’t enjoyed the same treatment and remains a messy series of lists with toggles. The mobile app does work, but you will want to stick with the web interface whenever possible. There is no parental-interface app for iOS at this time.
Managing existing apps is strictly for the Android version of Norton Family. You get a complete list of the apps that your child has on her or his device, and you tick the box next to any app that should be blocked.
This feature worked exactly as advertised in our testing, with apps disappearing from the child’s device when we toggled them in the parental interface.
This feature doesn’t serve as a gatekeeper against the installation of new apps, but parents can control what their children install on Android devices by creating a Google Family Group and by using Apple Family Sharing on iOS devices. You would be well-served to combine these features with Norton Family.
Of all the parental-control services that we tested, Norton has the most robust set of tools for both filtering and monitoring web usage. This function held up especially well on mobile devices, where you are able to limit your child to using the Norton browser. It was less successful on a PC — there are too many workarounds with unsupported browsers.
The House Rules for web filtering are split into four sections: Supervision Level, Blocked Categories, Restricted Websites and Allowed Websites. The first two default to preset settings based on the child’s age, but you are free to make changes as you see fit.
The three potential levels for Supervision Level are High (which blocks websites); Moderate (a warning is given, but access is allowed); and Low (which only monitors activity).
The Blocked Categories section offers 48 distinct classifications to choose from, ranging from obvious ones like Mature Content and File Sharing to slightly more head-scratching categories like Job Search and Automotive.
Regardless, it’s nice to have such a granular level of filtering control, especially when compared with other services, which either target adult content alone or simply do not offer web filtering at all.
For individual sites that you’d also like to block, Restricted Websites can catch anything that falls through the cracks — perhaps a specific site you find objectionable, even if the rest of the category is OK.
Allowed Websites represents the flip side of that. Add a site to that, such as when you or the child disagree with its categorization, and it won’t be blocked by the filters, even if it falls into a blocked category.
Android and Windows support all of the Time Management features for Norton Family. It’s a pretty basic feature set, with one setting for the overall time allowed per device and another for the ability to set a schedule for each day by clicking a set of shaded blocks. On iOS, you are limited to the scheduling component.
The kids will get notifications that apps are being blocked because they ran out of time for the day. They can call whomever you’ve set as the “Allowed Contacts” in the app, and they can view their “House Rules,” but there’s no built-in option to ask for more time through the app.
From a user-experience standpoint, this section could use some work. The inability to set an allowance on iOS is disappointing, and you can’t set a global allowance across devices — each Android or Windows device has its own allowance even if they’re assigned to the same child.
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I also repeatedly had difficulties with changes not being acknowledged by the app on the fly. If I decided to extend a child’s curfew on a given night, for example, that would be updated in the web app but would fail to unlock the iOS device.
Supervision of text messages is limited to Android devices. You are able to monitor any SMS message, i.e. “regular” text messages, that your child receives — including reading message content. You can block messages to or from the device for any existing contact, and you can dictate how new contacts will be handled.
This is not a stealth product. Your child will be able to see the house rules, and anyone corresponding with your child will get a message that the texts are being monitored.
It is also worth noting that MMS messages — those that contain photos or videos or are sent to more than one recipient — travel over the internet instead of over phone lines and cannot be monitored for content. Norton will simply report those as having been sent or received.
Norton Family doesn’t log any phone calls made or received. It also doesn’t block specific numbers from calling the child’s device, or prevent the child from calling blocked numbers. (Nor does it let you listen to recordings of calls, like all the other apps we tested.)
You’ll have to go directly into the child’s device to block specific contacts on both iOS and Android, and it’s not always easy to prevent kids from overriding those blocks.
Location tracking gives you the present location of your child’s device. You can check a child’s previous locations by clicking on the timestamps that appear on the map for the current day. For earlier days, click on the Select a Date section and specify a date and a time frame that you would like to view.
It would be nice to see Norton add a geofencing option, as we’ve seen done on OurPact and Kaspersky Safe Kids. But Norton’s location tracking gets the job done, and the ability to view past locations is potentially useful in an emergency or simply to verify that a child takes the appropriate route home if walking or biking.
You’ll find a few other worthwhile additions to Norton Family Premier.
Only available on Android, this feature gives the child up to six numbers that he or she can call in the event that the device is locked.
This lets your child send you a note from within either of the Norton Family mobile apps if she or he disagrees with a website being blocked or the specifics of a house rule.
I think this is a great feature and wish more of the parental-control apps would adopt something similar. Obviously, these conversations can happen in person, but giving children the chance to present their cases in writing is helpful.
This is a pretty unique feature for parental-control apps. It gives you a list of the YouTube and Hulu content your child has watched (sorry, there’s no support for Netflix) and lets you watch a brief clip from the video. It works on Android, iOS and Windows, and it’s helpful if you want a quick glance at what your child is watching. It’s certainly much more useful than just seeing video titles in a list.
Social Network Supervision
I don’t really see the value of this feature. It is limited to Windows and merely shows you how often your child logs on to Facebook, along with the profile name and age that he or she uses. Given that a teenager’s social media usage is much more likely to be on mobile, this feature feels like it wouldn’t provide much insight into your child’s behavior.
The Search Activities section logs any searches that your child performs on Windows, Android or iOS devices. It makes a word cloud on the main page of the parental web interface for you to view, and you can look at the granular results in a full list if you want to know more details.
Norton Family remains one of the strongest offerings in the parental-control market. While it doesn’t boast the largest feature set or the cheapest price, it manages to strike a balance between the two that results in an amazing value for any family with two or more kids to monitor.
Where Norton Family falls down is in the features for iOS. There is now real competition in that space, with Net Nanny delivering near-feature parity between iOS and Android. But for households that use primarily use Android and Windows, there is little question that Norton Family remains a top option.
Credit: Tom’s Guide