A parental control tool that only runs on your family PC is nearly useless in the modern, multi-device world. In that light, Qustodio’s support for Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, and Kindle devices is notable. This impressive parental control software boasts just about every feature you might want, including web content filtering, robust app blocking, and a detailed activity log. You handle all configuration and monitoring either through Qustodio’s online dashboard or the parent app, which means you can set rules and view a child’s activity from practically anywhere. Although it lacks robust social media tracking, Qustodio’s wide range of features and excellent customizability secure it an Editors’ Choice award for parental control software.
Pricing and Platforms
Qustodio for Families is an expensive parental control app, but it does have a permanently free option. The free version limits monitoring to just a single device and keeps seven days of activity history. You also get basic controls like web filtering and time quotas for certain activities. Qustodio structures its paid subscription plans around family size, with Small (5 devices), Medium (10 devices), and Large (15 devices) options. These plans respectively cost $54.95, $96.95, and $137.95 per year. Some advantages over the free version are 30 days of activity history, application-based restrictions, and location tracking.
Note that this product is just one part of Qustodio’s product line. Qustodio for Schools aims to keep students on track when using school computers, while Qustodio for Business is designed to make sure employees are working, not watching cat videos—or worse. These products have similar features to Qustodio for Families. The biggest difference is in the pricing.
Norton Family Premier is more affordable, at only $49.99 per year. The price is especially attractive given that it does not limit the number of devices you can monitor. However, NetNanny’s cheapest FamilyPass subscription (5 devices), at $74.95 per year, costs more than Qustodio’s.
As mentioned, Qustodio impressively runs on Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, Kindle, and even Nook devices. This broad range of support alone makes Qustodio well worth your money. Keep in mind that some features are platform-specific and that the iOS app is much more limited than its Android counterpart—as is common, given how locked down iOS is. We tested Qustodio using a Windows 10 PC and a Nexus 5X.
Setup and Devices
Once you’ve purchased your subscription, you need to install a local client on every device you intend to track and assign it to a child’s profile. For Mac and Windows installations, you can choose to apply configuration settings to all user accounts on a computer or configure each login account separately.
There is an option to hide the Qustodio install on Windows, but this feels sneaky. The child can still see the listing in the control panel or the process in Task Manager, but there’s no icon in the notification tray. We prefer Norton’s approach, which doesn’t have a silent install option at all. With Norton, a child can easily access the rules and restrictions regardless of their device. There’s a fine line between spying and parenting. Conversation and transparency can help you stay on the right side of the divide.
Qustodio’s online web portal looks dated. Most of the elements use antiquated design practices such as artificial depth, color gradients, or prominent borders. Additionally, it opts for a dull blue and gray color scheme, which calls to mind Facebook, circa 2010. The headers and menu items are also inconsistently capitalized and even redundant in some places. At the top left, there is a link to the Account Center and the Help Center. From the Account Center, you can manage your account information, associated child profiles, and linked devices. The Help Center is well designed, with easy-to-access categories, readily available user guides, and a search bar.
Below the Help Center, the main navigation header menu is organized into a series of tabs. To the left, it lists all of the child accounts you have added to your profile in the order that you added them. Annoyingly, you can’t reorganize these tabs in any way. The other two dedicated tabs are for adding a new profile or adding more devices to your account.
When you add a child to your account, you need to specify a name, gender, and birth year, and then choose an avatar. Norton lets you upload a profile photo, but Qustodio does not have this option. Adding a device is easy. You either download the software to the current device or send a download link to another device.
By default, you get a daily activity summary for each child by email, but you can opt out or set it to a weekly schedule. Alternatively, you can just go directly to the online dashboard for up-to-date reports.
By default, the activity summary breaks down your child’s activity in a pie chart and shows an overview of search, web, social, app, and device activity at the bottom. Most of these items are interactive. For example, you can click on an app or website to block it. However, you cannot dig deeper into the search terms or device usage data.
The next tab over, Social Activity, is where you can track a child’s interactions on Facebook (more on this later). The Web activity section shows a slideshow of visited websites, along with safety information from Web of Trust (WOT) and the full URL of each page visited. However, a 2016 report showed that the WOT extension collects extensive user data, so we hope that Qustodio reconsiders using this service. There’s also a new Activity timeline view, which combines all of a child’s activity into one stream of information, organized in reverse-chronological order. Switching between all these views feels convoluted, especially since many sections show the same information.
The rightmost tab, Rules, is where you configure things such as web browsing rules, application rules, and time usage limits. These categories are arranged in a further set of nested tabs, but they should make a more prominent appearance.
By default, Qustodio blocks all access to websites matching any of ten undesirable categories, among them Gambling, Pornography, Drugs, and Violence. Another 19 categories, including Social Network and File Sharing, are available for parents who want to fine-tune web content filtering. We wish it included short descriptions of each category to make it easier to choose, but most are self-explanatory. There are additional options for blocking uncategorized websites, enabling Safe Search, and opting into notifications when it blocks a site.
Qustodio’s content filtering is browser-independent, so kids can’t just install a separate browser to get around restrictions. Like Net Nanny and a few others, Qustodio supplements its category database with real-time analysis. For example, we found that it was smart enough to block only erotic stories on a short story website.
Qustodio can block secure (HTTPS) websites if they match a banned category, so your clever teen won’t be able to evade its notice by using a secure anonymizing proxy website. It logged and blocked every HTTPS sites across we tried, regardless of whether we used Edge, Opera, or Chrome. Even if you turned off blocking of what it calls Loopholes (a category that includes secure anonymizing proxies) your teen still wouldn’t be able to access inappropriate content. While Qustodio does show why a site is blocked, we wish it had a Request Access option integrated directly. Still, this browser-independent protection is one of Qustodio’s most powerful features, especially since not all parental control software, including Norton Family, can claim the same functionality.
Time Usage Limits
You can define a weekly schedule for when each child is allowed online, in one-hour increments on a per-device basis. There’s also an option to set a daily maximum for each day. We confirmed that tweaking the system time has no effect on the usage limits. However, if your aim is to limit overall screen time, you simply turn off per-device settings. Now your child can’t, say, use the computer for two hours, and then switch to a tablet for another two.
While Qustodio defaults to blocking only internet access, you can also lock down the device entirely after the allotted time expires on any platform. Further, you can set Qustodio to alert you when your child hits that time limit.
Flexible Application Control
Each application that your child launches shows up in the online console. That includes mobile apps on Android, as well as Windows and Mac programs. This applies to apps downloaded from the Microsoft Store as well. A child who tries to open a blocked app will get a notification that the application is blocked, but there’s no way for them to request access from the parent for whatever reason. You can block access to any app by clicking a simple yes/no control or set time limits and usage schedules on a per-app basis. Few other parental control services offer the same control.
You might, for example, allow a particular game any time except after bedtime and during homework hours. We tried to fool Qustodio by moving blocked programs to a different location, and by making a copy under a different name, but this didn’t work.
Qustodio has a dedicated tab for social-media monitoring, but it can only track Facebook activity. Since modern kids often disdain Facebook and instead use a wide range of other social media sites, such as Instagram, Tumblr, and Twitter, this is not very helpful. Still, it’s something. The child has to log on to Facebook at least once on the desktop to enable the tracking plug-in, but after that, it tracks their activity on the site, regardless of the device they use to access it. Qustodio is clever in the way it enforces monitoring; a child cannot access Facebook if the plug-in is disabled or removed.
From the online dashboard, you can see a complete timeline of your child’s Facebook wall activity. This includes posts, pictures, and comments, as well as the identity of any friends involved in online chats. In a nod to maintaining some degree of privacy, Qustodio doesn’t report the content of those chats, just the friend’s name and when the conversation occurs.
Qustodio offers apps for both Android and iOS devices, though the iOS offering is more limited than its Android counterpart. That said, third-party parental control software is tough to implement on iOS devices, since Apple blocks most interactions between applications on its mobile devices. Apple does offer a native set of parental control features.
Qustodio maintains the same web browsing rules on mobile as on the desktop and works regardless of the browser you use on Android or iOS. For iOS devices, Qustodio now makes use of Apple’s mobile device management (MDM) technology and VPN filter, which respectively allow it to enforce device rules and enable cross-browser web filtering.
Qustodio also includes location-reporting features on both platforms, which you can use to report your child’s location periodically. By default, it performs this task once per hour, but you can increase this frequency to as often as every five minutes.
On an Android device, Qustodio can monitor all calls and SMS messages. Parents can even choose to record the content of each text, block all outgoing or incoming calls, as well as restrict or allow specific contacts. Norton Family Premier offers similar features. Keep in mind that these monitoring features do not apply to third-party messaging apps such as WhatsApp or Snapchat.
Another feature specific to Android is the Panic Button. To start using it, you define up to four trusted contacts, each with an email address or mobile phone number. A child who’s lost or in trouble can tap the SOS bubble from within the Qustodio app. Once activated, it sends the child’s location and an alert to those contacts. The app will continue to broadcast the child’s location every five minutes until the child turns off the panic mode or it is deactivated via the web portal.
Qustodio also has an app for Kindle devices that includes many of the same features. You can block certain apps, set time usage limits, and maintain the same content filters as on other devices. Qustodio is one of the few services that support Kindle devices at all, but it’s still missing a few features, such as location tracking and the panic button.
A Sure Winner
Qustodio lets parents take precise control over their child’s activity across desktop and mobile devices. Among its best features are extensive cross-platform support, robust web protection, simple app blocking, and highly customizable time limits. Its drawbacks are its costliness, its limited social network monitoring, and its dated interface, but these are minor concerns given its overall excellence. For those reasons, Qustodio retains its Editors’ Choice rating alongside the similarly robust Net Nanny.
If you’re really only concerned with monitoring your post-PC children’s activity on their smartphones, check out the best parental control apps for your mobile devices.