ZoneAlarm SocialGuard

ZoneAlarm SocialGuard scans your kids' Facebook accounts and aims to protect them from strangers, cyberbullies and dangerous links.

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Note: ZoneAlarm SocialGuard is available from the ZoneAlarm website for a free 7-day trial, and can then be purchased for AUD$1.99/month or AUD$19.99/year.

SocialGuard is part of a relatively new and burgeoning field of desktop apps that look to address growing parental concerns about how to keep children safe online in the Facebook age. It does a remarkable job of balancing cost with useful tools, although parents should be warned: SocialGuard is designed to make kids safer whilst encouraging communication, not impose draconian restrictions on your child's Facebook activity.

From the makers of the ZoneAlarm firewall, SocialGuard is a desktop client with deep hooks into Facebook. The company wants parents to use it as a starting place to encourage communication about online activities, which is entirely dependent on parental behaviour, but the program does provide a robust selection of tools and methods to help adults keep track of how their children use Facebook.

Once you install the program, you'll have to add your kids' Facebook accounts. You don't necessarily have to have their passwords, though; you can ask them to type it in themselves without you peering over their shoulder. After the password has been added, a message will appear on the child's wall letting them know that SocialGuard has been activated to monitor their account. As a security measure, this wall post is only visible to the account owner.

SocialGuard uses a proprietary algorithm to monitor your kids' behaviour and the behaviour of others, including strangers, as those online behaviours relate to your kids' Facebook account. For example, when somebody sends your child a friend request, SocialGuard will evaluate how that person relates to your child's friends, looking at friends in common, age levels and wall postings.

SociaGuard keeps watch over more than just friend requests. It includes a kind of word radar that warns the parent when cyber-bullying takes place on the child's wall or in instant message posts. Parents can choose whether to have the child — as well as themselves — notified by email when a warning or abusing behaviour occurs. This is an especially useful configuration, so that older teenagers can find out instantly if they are being cyberbullied, something that might not be a good idea for a younger Facebook user.

From the Settings menu, parents can configure what kinds of risky behaviour raises red flags, including criminal intent, account hacking, profanity, violence, sex and other categories that young adults are expected to seek guidance on. Trusting parents can also deactivate warnings for categories at will, evidence that SocialGuard is nothing if not configurable to the needs of its users. Similarly, although the program automatically scans a child's account every 5 minutes, parents have a scan-on-demand option.

The program unabashedly cribs Facebook's blue colour scheme and general look, so that parents of all skill-levels will feel comfortable using the app. A row of tabs on the left nav allows for quick access to a centralised security of Home, Warnings, Friend Review and Account Settings. On the top nav, each child's information is quickly accessible via a one-tab-per-child layout.

Performance hits were negligible and the program installed extremely quickly. It is also priced competitively, at less than half that of its competition with extremely similar features. The trial is a bit restrictive at seven days, when 30 days is the norm. SocialGuard looks to be an excellent tool to help parents monitor and discuss proper online conduct with their children.


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