One Option Parents Can Use to Filter Porn

Circle Pros/Cons

The Circle pros:

• There’s no loss in wifi signal strength or speed.

• All the features outlined above work impressively well.

• The device simplifies parental web control, eliminating the need for setting internal controls in each wifi device.

• For kids using home wifi, it renders accountability software unnecessary.

• The master app is remote, so I can modify the Circle settings on my iPhone from anywhere in the world.

• The device also works to toggle wifi service to Apple TV or other streaming television devices.

• It is versatile enough to handle a range of ages.

• The default “home” settings are immediately applied to any foreign device that connects to the home’s wifi, but is not assigned to a specific user.

• The Circle uses a backup battery so the device cannot simply be unplugged and circumvented by crafty kids.

The Circle cons:

• The Circle app used on the master device is only currently available for Apple products.

• By definition, the Circle blocks data from the web; it cannot regulate native apps or games on a device.

• If your child has a mobile phone, you cannot restrict access to data from cell towers (something to be remedied in a future subscription-based service called “Circle Go”).

• It is currently not possible to assign multiple users to one device. The family computer, say, must be assigned to one user (or to the “home” settings). However, you can adjust the settings on-the-fly to accommodate different users.

• All bedtimes and time limits operate on a single setting for seven days of the week, making changes from weekday limits to weekend limits a manual task.

• Our first Circle crashed after four months.

Circling Back

When power is lost to the device, my iPhone is alerted with a push notification: “Your Circle has been unplugged.” But it wasn’t unplugged. And about three months in to our Circle experience I was alerted: “Your Circle is offline!” Then an hour later: “Your Circle is back online!” The next day the same thing happened and the Circle was offline (i.e., disabled) for about an hour. Nobody was at home at the time, it was never unplugged, the blinking light on the back never stopped flashing. After about three weeks of intermittent offline/back online prompts it went offline permanently. It would not pair again with my phone. The device died.

Circle support responded quickly to my email, asking: Did you move your router? (No.) Is this the same iDevice that was used to manage Circle before? (Yes.) Have there been any changes to the network set up or Firewall? (No.)

A replacement was shipped immediately with a postage paid UPS sticker to return the original. The new one arrived, I set it up, and it’s been working well for two months.

One Tool to Tend the Garden

Parents who want to develop a tech-friendly, but discerning home, who want to train their children for the unrestricted web they will someday face alone, face a difficult task. We need God’s wisdom to use parental technology to help establish healthy limits in our home without exasperating our children. We want to be careful not to trample upon the wonders of all the un-forbidden fruit of the worldwide garden, but we need to train them to know that there are forbidden places of the web to avoid. A simple device built on a hacker’s trick will not explain all this to them, nor will it give them the necessary self-control they will need later in life.

But in the work of online filtering, Circle 1.0 is a promising move in the right direction to facilitate parental controls. And yet, for all its promise in helping parents protect the digital space of our homes, it also reminds us of the fallenness of this world. While keeping the snakes out may be getting a little easier, our lines of defense (in this life) will never be automatic.  

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Tony Reinke
Tony Reinke serves as the editorial and research assistant to C.J. Mahaney. He wrote a book called Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books (Crossway). It will be published in September 2011. In the book he addresses four main topics: (1) why Christians prioritize book reading in the first place, (2) how to personally select the best books to read, (3) tips and tricks on how to go about reading them, and (4) how to overcome common challenges to book reading.