My kids are getting more sophisticated in their computer usage. I was hoping I could put off the implementation of draconian security controls on their computers for a while. More because I’m lazy and it will dramatically increase the amount of time I spend supporting the in-house computers. But hope is not a strategy, my oldest will be 10 this year, and she is curious – so it’s time.

The first thing I did was configure the Mac’s Parental Controls on the kid’s machine. That was a big pile of fail. Locking down email pretty much put her out of business. All her email went to me, even when I whitelisted a recipient. The web whitelist didn’t work very well either. The time controls worked fine, but I don’t need those because the computer is downstairs. So I turned it off Apple’s Parental Controls.

I did some research into the parental control options out there. There are commercial products that work pretty well, as well as some free stuff (seems Blue Coat’s K9 web filter is highly regarded) that is useful. But surprisingly enough I agree with Ed over at SecurityCurve, Symantec is doing a good job with the family security stuff.

They have not only a lot of educational material on their site for kids of all ages, but also have a service called Norton Online Family. It’s basically an agent you install on your PCs or Macs and it controls web browsing and email, and can even filter outbound traffic to make sure private information isn’t sent over the wire. You set the policies through an online service and can monitor activity through the web site.

It’s basically centralized security and management for all your family computers. That’s a pretty good idea. And from what I’ve seen it works well. I haven’t tightened the controls yet to the point of soliciting squeals from the constituents, but so far so good.

But it does beg the question of why a company like Symantec would offer something like this for free? It’s not like companies like NetNanny aren’t getting consumers to pay $40 for the same stuff. Ultimately it’s about both doing the right thing in eliminating any cost barrier to protecting kids online, and building the Big Yellow brand.

Consumers have a choice with their endpoint security. Yes, the yellow boxes catch your eye in the big box retailers, but ultimately the earlier they get to kids and imprint their brand onto malleable brains, the more likely they are to maintain a favorable place there. My kids see a big orange building and think Home Depot. Symantec hopes they see a yellow box and think Symantec and Internet Security. Though more likely will think: that’s the company that doesn’t let me surf pr0n.

As cynical as I am, I join Ed in applauding Symantec, Blue Coat, and all the other companies providing parental control technology without cost.