Parental control solutions are only effective if they cover all of a child’s devices and activities. Thankfully, Net Nanny has expanded beyond its internet-filter roots and offers tools for blocking apps and restricting a child’s screen time. These capabilities work fine and the web filtering is no longer as vulnerable to workarounds as we found it to be in previous reviews, but it currently only offers basic geofencing tools. Furthermore, competitors offer a better value in terms of the number of devices they cover.
How Much Does Net Nanny Cost?
Net Nanny’s starting tier costs $39.99 per year, but it only lets you monitor one desktop device (macOS or Windows). Net Nanny also offers two family protection passes. The five-device plan costs $54.99 per year and the 20-device plan costs $89.99 per year. Net Nanny does not offer a free trial of any kind or a feature-limited free version.
For comparison, Qustodio costs $54.99 for a five-device plan—the same as Net Nanny—and Mobicip costs $49.99. Boomerang is cheaper at $30.99 per year for 10 devices. Norton Family Premier ($49.99 per year) and Kaspersky Safe Kids ($14.99 per year) offer the best value, since they can monitor an unlimited number of devices. If you are looking for a hardware-based solution for managing all the devices on your home network, Circle Home Plus is one option, albeit a pricey one. The Circle Home device costs $129 on its own and you need to pay $10 per month thereafter to maintain all its monitoring capabilities.
Net Nanny is available on Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, and Fire OS (Kindle) devices, which is standard for the category. Note that Net Nanny offers two apps on mobile platforms. One is used to install a monitoring profile on your kid’s device and the other is for parents to make changes to restrictions and monitor activities. You can also make changes to configurations via Net Nanny’s web interface. Qustodio and Kaspersky Safe Kids match its platform support. Mobicip goes one step further by offering Chromebook support, but Norton Family Premier notably cannot help parents of kids with macOS computers.
Installing Net Nanny
To get started with Net Nanny, you first need to sign up for an account, a process that requires an email address and payment information. The next step is to download the monitoring app on every device that you intend to track. We tested Net Nanny on a Surface Book running Windows 10, a Google Pixel running Android 10, and an iPhone XR running iOS 13. Before you start configuring every setting, check out our guide on what every parent needs to know about their connected kids.
The Windows installation is simple. Just download the installer, launch the app, and sign in. Next, you need to follow the prompts for assigning each user account to a child profile. The app lives as an icon in the notification tray area. Right-clicking on the icon gives you the option to view basic stats on screen time, manually sync with the Net Nanny servers, or launch the parent dashboard on the web.
To monitor an Android device, download the Net Nanny Child App on your child’s phone, sign in to your account, and select the appropriate child profile. Then, you need to tap through and give Net Nanny all the permissions it requests, including app usage, location, device admin, and content tracking using VPN permissions (this is not a true VPN that encrypts traffic), as well as approve a certificate install. Net Nanny also tells you to manually enable SafeSearch in the Google App, but this is not an optimal implementation since that setting is not locked behind any passcode. If you are considering installing Net Nanny on a non-admin profile, consider that you can’t configure an Android device to boot into that specific profile. In other words, a parent would need to sign in and then manually switch to the child profile after each restart. Net Nanny does support a multi-user setup though, so a parent can maintain an unrestricted account for themselves while monitoring their child’s account on the same device. Qustodio and Kaspersky Safe Kids do not support this feature on Android.
To install the child app on an iPhone or iPad, download the Net Nanny Child app from the App Store and log in to your account. Next, assign the device to a child. Then, enable push notifications, location permissions, and follow the steps to install the MDM profile. That’s it.
Note that Net Nanny includes an Uninstall Protection option you can enable from the parental dashboard. On Windows, macOS, Android, and Kindle devices, this option prevents your kid from uninstalling the app without entering the account password. If your child removes or otherwise disables the monitoring app, parents will get a notification. You can also block your child from accessing the Settings app on a monitored Android device.
Net Nanny’s Web Interface
The Parent Dashboard is where you manage Net Nanny’s parental control settings, but it is surprisingly difficult to find on Net Nanny’s home page. Some elements and menus have moved around since the time of our last review, which helps it feel less cramped. The interface performs better this time around, too.
You navigate Net Nanny’s interface via icons in the top menu bar, one for Overview and the rest for individual child profiles. On the right-hand side of the menu, you can access Net Nanny’s App Advisor to discover popular apps your kids may be using, as well as add child profiles and manage your installations. Unfortunately, you have to go back to the main Net Nanny site to manage your subscription. There is not an option to enable two-factor authentication on your account either, which we would like to see.
The Overview section shows the Family Feed on the left-hand side, which is an ongoing list of notifications about a child’s activities, including search terms, blocked sites, app installations, and screen time schedules. In the center of the page, there’s a map with pinpoints marking the current location of each monitored child. You can’t view location history from this screen, but you can browse around the map and perform quick monitoring actions like pausing device or internet time or enabling a time schedule. For the full range of settings, click into the child profile icon in the top menu.
In the child profile section, you still see the Family Feed in the left-hand corner, but the middle sections change. At the top, you can see how much time a child has used their device and how much they have left in the Screen Time Allowance section. Additionally, you can choose which time schedule is in effect. The Profile Settings button to the left of that module with the gear icons is where you configure the rules. Among those are daily screen time allocation, internet filters, website blocking, app blocking, a profanity filter, a force Safe Search option, and app removal protection. In the center of the child profile page, you can also see an overview of searches, current and historical location, screen time usage, YouTube activity, and a running list of blocks and alerts.
Net Nanny separates web filtering capabilities into three different areas: Net Nanny Content Filters, Custom Content Filters, and Block or Allow Specific Websites.
Starting with Net Nanny’s filters, you can set each of the pre-created categories to Allow, Alert, or Block. Allow lets a child access the site and does not record the instance. Alert also lets the kid browse to the site, but it records the instance. The Block setting prevents a child from accessing the site and creates a record of the activity. Among the 14 preconfigured categories are Anime, Death/Gore, Drugs, Gambling, Mature Content, Porn, Suicide, and Weapons. Other parental control services offer a far greater number of preconfigured options, including Proxies, VPNs, File Sharing, and Social Media categories. While it’s true that parents can set up custom Content Filters (as we discuss below), we would prefer if Net Nanny preconfigured more options. Besides, some parents may not even know what additional categories they need to block manually.
Setting up a custom Content Filter is a bit confusing. When you hit the Create a New Filter Button, the top field is for the name of the custom filter, not the term you want to filter. To add terms to the filter, hit the plus button below it, enter the phrase, and then hit Add. Initially, we thought that the Filter name was the word that we wanted to filter. The good news is that filter words are not restricted by Mobicip’s ridiculous five-character minimum requirement. You get the same monitoring options: Allow, Alert, and Block for each of your custom categories. Blocking or allowing individual websites is simple. Just add a website to the Always Block or Always Allow categories via the plus button.
We tested Net Nanny’s web-blocking capabilities primarily on a Windows 10 desktop using Chrome, Edge, and Tor. Net Nanny says its filtering is browser-independent and in our testing, we confirmed that it blocks categories and individual sites on Chrome and Edge, even after we had installed a VPN. We did find some workarounds though. For instance, with the default web categories enabled, we were able to download and subsequently browse freely with Tor. We also accessed blocked sites via a browser from the Microsoft Store.
Note that Net Nanny’s filtering technology recognizes context. For example, if you block the Gambling category, your kid can still access the Wikipedia entry about gambling, but won’t be able to access any actual gambling sites. Net Nanny also successfully blocked offending sites on Android and iOS using the Chrome and Firefox Focus browsers.
You may notice that Net Nanny flags some strange URLs, such as a Google API site and others related to the Amazon Cloud Front content delivery network (CDN). Net Nanny does a good job explaining why this may occur. Essentially, some URLs it picks up are not true web pages and may just carry advertising data or be used for tracking.
We set up a custom web filter called VPN and added the terms VPN and Proxy to the list to test this feature. This worked as intended for the most part, with Net Nanny blocking access to all those sites that involved those terms. However, Tor on the desktop allowed me to get around these filters.
Net Nanny saves searches from Google, Yahoo, Bing, and YouTube. That means privacy-focused search engine DuckDuckGo is beyond its control. You can block the DuckDuckGo site if this is an issue. In testing, Net Nanny successfully saved searches on each site. You can lock Safe Search on those same services. Net Nanny did not record our searches when we used the mobile Firefox Focus app, but it did lock Safe Search settings.
The Net Nanny profanity filter successfully filtered our explicit words from a song lyrics site in Chrome. Expletives just appear as strings of pound signs (#). However, it did not block the expletive lyrics that appeared in a Google search box that showed up directly on the search page. When we searched for lyrics to the same song on the Firefox Focus app, Net Nanny only blocked the profanity on some of the sites we checked. The explicit lyrics also still appeared in the Google Search module.
Screen Time and Schedules
Net Nanny’s screen time feature allows you to either set an overall cap on device usage for the current day or for multiple days of the week. When a kid’s screen time expires, you can choose to either pause internet access on the device or lock them out of the device entirely. Note that screen time applies across all of a child’s monitored devices. This is a useful implementation since it ensures that a kid can’t just switch devices to get around restrictions.
On Windows, we tried both the pause and block internet settings. If you try to launch an app, while your device is paused, a large Net Nanny Window pops up and prevents you from using it. These settings worked as expected for regular Windows apps and those installed from the Microsoft Store.
For iOS devices, the Pause Device and Block Internet settings do the same thing. You can still launch apps, but they won’t be able to connect to the internet. Net Nanny sends a clear notification on Windows when the monitoring status changes. Once you run out of time on Android, Net Nanny prevents you from launching any apps except for the phone and default messaging app.
Unfortunately, to restrict the hours in which a child can use their devices, you need to head to a separate area (the top bar on the page with the calendar icon). When you hit the edit schedule button, you see a schedule with blocks of time. By default, these are all set to the standard permission. If you click on a slot, you can select to either block internet access or pause the device during that time. You can drag the selection box up or down to expand the applicable setting for that day, but you can’t copy the same settings across days. Net Nanny needs to consolidate its time limit and time scheduling tools in one place.
On Windows, the schedule took effect quickly and switching the time zone was not enough to skirt Net Nanny’s restrictions. Net Nanny successfully enforced the chosen restriction settings for those times outside the allowed schedule on test mobile devices too.
Net Nanny supports app blocking on Android and iOS devices. A pop-up window gives you the option to block both Android and iOS apps from a list, but there are some caveats. For one, you can only block iOS apps that appear in the predefined list. Qustodio also has a preconfigured list of iOS apps that can be blocked. Also, blocking an app on iOS just prevents it from connecting to the internet, so children can still launch and use offline apps. We would also Net Nanny to add a feature similar to Mobicip’s whitelist-only app option, in which you restrict a child to only launching those apps you choose.
Net Nanny’s app blocking worked as advertised during testing. On Android, if your kid tries to open a blocked app, Net Nanny prevents it from fully launching. Kids can tap the Go Back button to return to the home screen.
A parent might want to consider using iOS’ built-in screen settings to better restrict app use. On Android and Kindle devices, you can add any app you want to the list. One other limitation is that there is not an easy way to see which apps you’ve blocked. Net Nanny requires you to scroll down the list or manually search for app names.
Net Nanny recently added a Social Media protection feature which works as a quick way to control access to social media sites. With this tool, you can choose a Protect option that uses Net Nanny’s content filtering to filter out certain content on these platforms. Note that these content filtering rules are the same ones Net Nanny uses to filter web sites. This also means that any custom filters you set up apply.
Supported social media services include Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Tumblr, Twitter, and YouTube. For some apps that Net Nanny cannot natively monitor, it can help redirect your child to the mobile web page of the app in question. We tried enabling the Protect setting on Twitter and Tumblr and Net Nanny successfully rerouted us to the associated mobile web page. The content filtering on these mobile web sites worked as expected, but some profanity did make it through the filters. A representative from Net Nanny noted that the issue is being addressed. We will update this review if this issue is fixed.
We also tested the Net Nanny’s ability to capture YouTube searches and watch history. Net Nanny again redirected us from the native YouTube app on our Android test device to YouTube’s mobile website. It captured all the searches from the site, but did not record any of the videos we played.
Net Nanny now offers geofencing tools for monitored iOS and Android devices. Geofencing tools allow you to monitor when your child leaves or enters a geographic region you define on a map, such as your house or a school.
To set up a geofence with Net Nanny, head to the Location tab within a child’s profile settings. Then, click on the current location of the monitored device. You can choose to get alerts upon your child’s arrival and departure, as well as to expand the reporting settings to all the monitored devices in your family.
Net Nanny’s geofencing settings aren’t as sophisticated as competitors’. You can only set up a geofence for an address that appears in the child’s location history. You also cannot define the size of the geofence, let alone create a custom border. Boomerang enables you to draw custom geofencing borders around a location and most others allow to define a border radius. Kaspersky Safe Kids lets you define schedules for when your child should be within a boundary.
Net Nanny on Mobile
As noted, Net Nanny offers separate child and parent apps. All the apps look and function similarly regardless of the platform you choose. To help parents avoid any confusion as to which app they should download, we would prefer Net Nanny to offer a single app with a child or parent mode you select during setup. Qustodio and Kaspersky Safe Kids handle device setup in a single app.
Although Net Nanny’s Parental Dashboard interface previously looked better on mobile than on the web, the Child Profile section feels cramped now. The main screen of the parental app shows the Net Nanny Family Feed, with an icon for the App Advisor on the left and other account settings on the right. To configure restrictions, click on a child’s profile icon above the Family Feed. You get all the same customization options as on the desktop here. We didn’t experience any performance issues or delays in rules taking effect.
The child app on iOS just shows the current rules (Regular, Paused, No Internet) along with the screen time remaining (the Android version also has an Enable Unrestricted Mode button for parents). In the upper right-hand corner, parents can manually sync the app with the servers or disable the Net Nanny protection. As mentioned, kids can still access the phone and messaging apps, even during paused mode, which is a necessary safety precaution. However, we noticed that after Net Nanny blocked an app, our monitored test device starting to experience internet connectivity issues.
Norton Family Premier and other apps do a better job of explaining what rules are in effect.
Net Nanny’s Next Step
Net Nanny has expanded beyond internet filtering capabilities, with app-blocking and time-management features, which work fine in testing. We also appreciate the ease of its setup. However, it still only offers basic geofencing capabilities and we would like to see more predefined web filters. You can also find other services that support an unlimited number of devices for a far cheaper annual price. Qustodio is our Editors’ Choice pick for parental control software, thanks to its excellent apps and customizable features.
The Bottom Line
Net Nanny boasts customizable web filters along with solid screen time and app blocking features, but it’s a bit pricey and its geofencing features are not yet competitive.
Net Nanny Specs
|Screen Time Management||Yes|
|Social Network Monitoring||No|