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Locking down the iPhone

By Xander Rothaus

Yesterday The Online Mom blogged about the problems facing parents when dealing with today’s Internet-enabled wireless devices. All the good work you might have done in locking down the home PC is not much help when your kids can head to the mall with unfettered Internet access right there in their pockets!

While BlackBerrys and Palm Treos remain the smartphones of choice among the business crowd, it’s the iPhone and iTouch that are leading the Internet on-the-go revolution among the younger crowd. And there are signs that Apple is taking the parental controls issue very seriously.

Since the introduction of the iTouch, the iPhone, and then the App Store, Apple has done a pretty good job of weeding out inappropriate applications and keeping the overall feel of its flagship handheld products wholesome. In addition, Apple provides parents with rudimentary controls that can disable features they don't want their children to have access to. You don't want your daughter watching risqué YouTube videos? You can disable YouTube access on their iPhone/iTouch. Think that your son might be using his iTouch to look at unsavory websites? You can just disable his internet access.

The problem with this approach is that it’s an all or nothing solution. Broad restrictions like these really cripple the functionality of these products. To remedy this situation, Apple is adding some new features to their upcoming iPhone OS 3.0 software update and a new version of iTunes, which will allow parents to install comprehensive controls on your child’s device based on a system of ratings.

Apple currently provides three different rating systems for iTunes store purchases. Both TV show and movie ratings are familiar, since they are the current public systems used to rate content. (For movies: G, PG, PG-13, R, etc.) To restrict applications however, Apple has come up with a new system based on age categories: 4+, 9+, 12+, and 17+. These restrictions will be accessible through the iTunes interface when syncing the iPhone/iTouch and are automatically password protected!

However, the introduction of better parental controls could result in a bigger threat if you don’t use them. When parental controls first surfaced in iTunes, Apple also introduced the "explicit" label to denote songs that might have objectionable lyrics. Could this mean more objectionable apps? So far, all the signs are pointing to yes. iLounge recently reported that rejection letters sent to app developers banned for "objectionable content" had a reference to the new OS 3.0 and told them to resubmit once the new features were available.

With the introduction of the new controls, Apple will say it is easier than ever for parents to lock down their kids Internet-enabled devices and restrict the content they feel is unacceptable. However, aligning around a 17 and over rating system probably means that we will lose whatever innocence remains in the App Store and, like video games, we are heading towards a new “mature content” classification.

Comment by TheOnlineMom, posted 6/29/2009, 9:48 AM:

I like the press on Mobicip (not a catchy name!) but you may want to check out SafeEyes Mobil too, they have a long track record in the parental control space. In either case, talk to your child about why you're setting these up for his/her protection. Its a teachable moment.
Comment by Counsel, posted 6/24/2009, 12:59 AM:

I have children, and I am considering buying an iTouch for the eldest... I see mobicip has an itouch/iphone app. Anyone use it? www.mobicip.com I am not affiliated, in any fashion, with mobicip or their product...
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