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The iPod touch – careful what you wish for!

Apple's powerful handheld device comes with some built-in risks.

By Michael Connolly

By now, thousands of kids around the country are enjoying the power and versatility of a brand new iPod touch. Starting at just $199 for the 8GB version, the iPod touch was by all accounts one of the most sought-after holiday gifts in the increasingly tech-savvy tween and early teen markets.

(Retail analysts reported record sales for the touch, and web sites and Internet chat groups were inundated with questions like "How do I get my parents to buy me an iPod touch?" in the weeks leading up to Christmas!)

The popularity of the iPod touch is not surprising. As well as being a great portable music player, the touch plays video and movies on its easy-to-view 3½ inch screen, is an incredibly versatile gaming device, and more importantly, opens the door to Apple's App Store, with its amazing selection of over 100,000 apps, including games, puzzles, pranks and special effects.

But there are other features that come with the iPod touch and some of these might not be so welcome – at least not as far as parents are concerned. The touch has built-in Wi-Fi, which means that once kids are connected to a network – at home or elsewhere – they have immediate unfiltered access to the web via the pre-loaded Safari browser, as well as access to YouTube, e-mail, and web-based chat programs.

As Apple likes to say in its promotional material, owning an iPod touch is just like having a computer in your pocket: you can freely surf the web; download and watch videos; send and receive e-mail with attachments, including photos, documents and most other files; even update social networking accounts via apps such as Facebook and MySpace Mobile, which are available for free via the Apps Store.

For parents that have carefully installed parental controls on home computers, moderated e-mail and locked down search engines, this new-found freedom for their Internet-innocent offspring can come as a bit of a shock. And that's if they are even aware of the iPod touch's capabilities. By all accounts, many parents buy the touch as a music and movie player, blissfully unaware that that they are handing over a mobile mini-computer.

Thankfully, the iPod touch has some parental controls or "restrictions", as they are referred to on the device itself. Most of them are of an "all-or-nothing" nature, i.e. they allow access to certain functions or they don't.  Here's how they work:

  1. Select the Settings icon off the Home screen and then select General.
  2. From the General menu choose Restrictions. The first time you use Restrictions, you will be prompted for a 4-digit Passcode, which will prevent your kids from disabling the settings at a later date.
  3. Once you enter the Passcode, you will be presented with a series of Restrictions that can be set to On or Off. Here, if you wish, you can turn off the Safari browser or access to YouTube, the iTunes Store or the Apps Store. If you choose any of these options, the feature is disabled and the relevant icon is removed from the Home screen.
  4. Right below the Application options are the Allowed Content options. These allow you to restrict access to songs with explicit lyrics. Options can also be selected to control access to Movies, TV Shows and Apps.

Restricting access to Safari and YouTube – and limiting explicit downloads – provides some reassurance that your child won't stumble across inappropriate content. However, parents should be aware that their kids can still set up and access e-mail accounts on the iPod touch without any outside assistance. Careful monitoring is still highly recommended!

Comment by patty, posted 8/18/2010, 4:21 PM:

Thanks for you site. Is there a way to block facebook chat on the itouch? I want my son to have FaceBook but I want to see his messages occationally and not let him have chat.
Comment by Andy B, posted 5/17/2010, 12:03 AM:

The restriction tool in the settings is great, but it turns out all my kid had to do was re-set his iPod to factory settings and it wiped out the restrictions I had set up. I could go to the trouble of downloading an App, but the bottom line is that the more we restrict our kids, the more we're setting them up to become sneaky and lie. Instead of finding more ways to restrict him, I think I'll spend the time on another talk about what is and isn't appropriate.
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