Playing By the Rules on iOS

Mar 29, 2011

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If you're alive and have children, you've probably at least been asked about an iOS (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch) or Android device. After all, they're very neat and can do lots of fun things. But if you're visiting the Net Nanny website, you're also concerned that some of the things those devices can do are not so good.

We've announced a new release of our mobile tools that will bring our incredible dynamic filtering technology to these top of the line mobile devices, including Android and iOS. With those announcements, some customers have written in to make sure we're going to get it right. One customer wrote in our forums:

"I have found that several miscellaneous apps have an 'embedded browser' that can be accessed through advertisements, FAQ, etc. These browsers essentially allow you to get around any filtering... Are your developers aware of this and will the Net Nanny Iphone app address this issue?"

This issue has been at the forefront of our development conversations, so don't think we're not aware of it. That said, there is sadly not a lot we can do about it. Apple has always taken the approach that when they sell you a product, it is a work of art that should be beautiful and sufficient as-is for their users to use. iOS devices are no different. Because of that, as well as insistence from cell phone carriers no doubt, iOS is pretty restrictive in terms of what you're allowed to do as an app programmer.

Within iOS, Apple lets apps do certain things. One thing they do not let apps do is watch other apps and intercept internet traffic to other apps. Their reasons for doing this are more than just keeping apps under their control. Imagine you had an app from your bank on your phone and a neat Sudoku app you downloaded yesterday was allowed to peek into the bank app and send your account information to someone in another country? So, we do need to limit what apps can do. Unfortunately, to Apple, all apps are created equal, so Net Nanny will have the same restrictions as any other app. So our iOS product will be the Net Nanny browser for iOS. Just as Apple doesn't let us watch what other apps are doing, we can't even watch what the built-in Mobile Safari in iOS is doing. So the only thing Apple will let us do is make our own web browser that will have filtering built in.

I know that will disappoint many people, including us- we hate that it's not the ideal solution, but that's all we can do for iOS devices. Unless Apple changes their app policies just for Net Nanny. Which I doubt.

Basically, you paid for it, but Apple still makes the rules there and we have to follow those rules just like everyone else. Sadly, security and privacy concerns on the device mean that it's more difficult to keep the device safe from objectionable content.

Apple does provide a simple way to lock down iOS devices under Settings > General > Restrictions. Details are at http://support.apple.com/kb/HT4213 (Also be sure to lock down iTunes- http://support.apple.com/kb/ht1904)

Those restrictions together with our Net Nanny browser will do a lot to protect individuals while online on their iOS devices.

For Android devices there are similar problems but the carriers have more say in the Android devices that connect to their network. We have developed a new app for Android (not released yet!) that is capable of filtering the whole device and we're talking with manufacturers and carriers to try to get lower level access and provide real filtering there. Keep your fingers crossed!

Don't worry. We're not satisfied and we will keep pushing to do everything we possibly can to protect your devices.