To my huge surprise I was singing Microsoft’s praise a couple of week since due to their awesome, and easy and versatile to configure and monitor, parental controls. I’ll leave the gruesome details of why I had to, and have to, come down heavy on my teenage son’s computational machine (mis)usage. But the salient need is that I alone had to take control of someone else’s computer usage and, to paraphrase what they say in those cool TV courtroom dramas, I had to treat that someone as a hostile user. Enter parental control…
I’ve been switching on, configuring, switching off and repeating parental controls on Macs for years now. A wifely irreverence for our perpetually work-in-progress Windows PC signalled the start of a Mac-only family PC habitat for around a decade. That was until the teenager sought his first gaming PC. A very impressive Windows 8 DinoPC arrived just over 10 months since and with much abuse of child parent verbal agreements and a corrupted HDD, we now have a problematic child and Win10 PC symbiotic organism requiring no mercy control. Enter Windows 10 Parental Controls.
The web is full of hits for Win10 Parental controls – almost entirely tech sites trying to say just enough to say on the first, or one of the first ten, google pages of hits: a few Win8->Win10 upgrade issues here, a bunch of justifications for Microsoft’s changes of parental controls there, and dissenting comments everywhere. None of that matters much to mere mortal families with tech that needs to be halted in it’s rise to becoming the master. What mattered then is that with a minimum of hassle I took parental control of the teenager’s PC. Daily time limits. Daily start and stop times. Individual app blocking. And all from the pleasure of my iPhone’s browser. It was so powerful, simple and effective that I could ignore that barrage of ‘can <teenager> have more time’ emails with good grace. I even – and I find the shae of admitting this overwhelming – thought about actually buying a Win10 phone for said teenager to extend this most excellent umbrella of control to a wider coverage of said teenager’s online world.
But then it all fell apart.
The parental-control-hostile child had adequate motivation and skills to perform some fairly hefty research and I had no doubt that within a year I would have had to perform 3 or 4 minor adjustments to admin controls and household rules. However, I did not expect that it would take less than 2 weeks for my adversary to wreck parental control BY ACCIDENT!
Such was his own surprise that he googled what he had done and found that it was a know exploit AND he told me. Impressed though I was, I was sure that – you know – switching it on an off again would fix things even if leaving the exploit repeatable until MS issued an update to fix the bug. Everything hard and soft ware got the power recycle a number of times, and lo and behold absolutely no control was returned. In fact, even the daily monitoring of app usage failed (though the weekly reports seem to still be correct – showing an exponential increase in computer time filling every nook and cranny of observed and unobserved teenager woken hours). As far as I can tell the only fix available is deleting his account and setting up again. Am I crazy? Surely 2 minutes internet searching will find a fix? Apparently not, nor does more serious (beyond page 10 of google hits!) research. So what was this serendipitous exploit uncovered?
He opened an app.
Err, isn’t that normal user behaviour? Isn’t that so simple that there probably wasn’t even a test case written for it? Yes of course. The app was Google Chrome, but apparently any app can do it. The wrecking ball user merely has to open an app, and keep clicking to open multiple instances, immediately after logging in and before parental controls have started up. At this point I have to wonder about the credibility of the exploit description from the teenager. Surely this can not be possible?
Anyhow, after much soul searching I’ve come to the conclusion that the glacial speed at which Microsoft has fixed parental control bugs over the last 3 OSes is a subtle invitation to not use MS Parental Control and find control elsewhere. Where else, how else? Well that’ll be part of the mission. You see that even the very shorted lived utopia of actually functioning Win10 Parental Control was insufficient. Drunk on the power of mastering the main machine, it was easy to ignore that smartphone, iPad, PS3 and (easy to get hold of) family MacBook were all easy ways for the child to extend his control of his online time – not for Steam gaming, but for endless youtube, anime and other such 24/7 computationally interactive narcotics.
So it is not enough to find some great software that does at least as much as MS intended to build into it’s OS, nor that it should function into and beyond a third week, but a system that selectively and temporally blocks application and internet access across all devices under my prospective control.
So depending on your perspective I am a either a tyrannical anti-libertarian dictator or a responsible dad with a normal out of control teenager. Either way…