Net Nanny 4.0 review: Net Nanny 4.0

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3.5 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

The Good A snap to set up and configure for multiple users; feature-rich and flexible filter; lets you determine exactly which sites to let through.

The Bad Blocked a measly 10 percent of our test sites; lets through many dirty words on e-mail and Web sites.

The Bottom Line Net Nanny's default setting filters fewer naughty sites than any major blocking package, but it's by far the easiest to customize and use. Unless you need CyberSitter's strict site filtering, go with Net Nanny.

7.0 Overall

As its name implies, Net Nanny is friendly, flexible, and none too strict. It's easy to customize Nanny for multiple users. For example, create a less restrictive filter for your teenage daughter but stricter controls for your toddler son. True, the program's default filters block the fewest objectionable sites overall, but it's a cinch to add sites to your restricted list. If you want an easy-to-use, customizable filter, Net Nanny's the way to go.As its name implies, Net Nanny is friendly, flexible, and none too strict. It's easy to customize Nanny for multiple users. For example, create a less restrictive filter for your teenage daughter but stricter controls for your toddler son. True, the program's default filters block the fewest objectionable sites overall, but it's a cinch to add sites to your restricted list. If you want an easy-to-use, customizable filter, Net Nanny's the way to go.

Flexible filtering
You can set up and configure Net Nanny in moments. Simply choose an icon (they look like Keith Haring drawings) to create identities for every member of your household. You decide which sites, newsgroups, and IRC chat rooms to block for each user. Select sites from the Nanny's default list of blocked sites or create a custom list yourself. Next, click the Schedule Access tab to limit the amount of time Junior spends surfing. Now, Net Nanny's all set to start protecting your kids.

Warning signs
When Junior does encounter a restricted site, Net Nanny responds in one of several ways: it blocks access to the site, shuts down the browser, or allows the page to load, but pops up a standard or customized warning. Unlike Cyber Patrol or CyberSitter, Net Nanny lets you turn blocking off while still keeping a log of your children's online activities, including transcripts of any chats. As with the other programs, you can schedule Net Nanny to regularly update its list of forbidden URLs, but Nanny is the only filter that shows you which sites are on its list, then lets you check off the ones you want your kids to access.

Afraid your little ones will share inappropriate information with strangers online? Don't be. With Net Nanny, it's possible to prevent your browser, chat software, or e-mail client from transmitting personal data. (Alas, Net Nanny, like its competition, won't filter instant messengers such as MSN or ICQ.) To set up the personal information block, just fill out a few onscreen forms with the forbidden names, addresses, credit card numbers, names of schools or workplaces, and more. No other filtering software makes it so easy to block this type of information.

Image-conscious surfing
What about sites that don't post objectionable words, but display "Nude XXX Celebrity Pix"? You can set Net Nanny to blank out GIF and JPEG images (primary Web image formats), so even if your 15-year-old made it to sex-with-reptiles.com (not a real site, by the way), he wouldn't find much to look at. (Your Web browser lets you hide images, but there's no way to keep someone from undoing your settings.) You can also program Net Nanny to let Web pages and e-mail messages through but wipe out certain words, replacing them with #####.

The downside? Net Nanny can't tell the difference between a nudie picture or a baby picture, so it blocks all images without discretion. Your kids also won't be able to view the pics at legitimate sites and may struggle to make sense out of a page on Vice President #### Cheney. And even after you program the Nanny to block certain naughty words, it doesn't automatically block variations on a word; so bleep might be blocked, but bleeps, bleeper, and bleeping are not. You can add these variants to the word list, but it's a thankless, time-consuming chore.

Creative blocks
Unfortunately, even with all these security features, the Nanny is easily the most permissive filter we tested. In our tests, on its default setting, the software blocked just 3 of 30 sites we deemed objectionable--a mere 10 percent. Porn, cults, guns, bestiality--Nanny's default settings let most of these sites through without batting an eyelash. But to be fair, all three programs we reviewed permitted some porn and gun sites, and CyberSitter also allowed cults. You can manually customize Net Nanny to block these questionable sites, but you must enter each URL one by one--there's no way to block all sites that use a word you object to. On a positive note, the Nanny didn't block any of the legitimate sites we tested, and it was the only filter to allow access to Peacefire.com, a site highly critical of filtering tools.

Although none of the filtering products we've seen really wowed us, Net Nanny's our top pick. It's customizable and easy to use, albeit too lenient in filtering Web sites. Unless you need CyberSitter's superstrict filters, Net Nanny's your gal.

Of the three major filters, only Net Nanny lets you view its list of restricted sites and remove them with a mouse click.

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