CyberSitter is the kind of sitter you hated as a child: the one who never let you grab a late night snack or stay up past your bedtime to watch Charlie's Angels. It's easily the strictest Net filter we tested; its default settings blocked the greatest number of our test sites. On the downside, CyberSitter is also the least flexible program we reviewed. There's no way to customize it for multiple users, for example. If you need the strictest, most diligent blocker around, give CyberSitter a spin; otherwise, turn to easier, more flexible Net Nanny.CyberSitter is the kind of sitter you hated as a child: the one who never let you grab a late night snack or stay up past your bedtime to watch Charlie's Angels. It's easily the strictest Net filter we tested; its default settings blocked the greatest number of our test sites. On the downside, CyberSitter is also the least flexible program we reviewed. There's no way to customize it for multiple users, for example. If you need the strictest, most diligent blocker around, give CyberSitter a spin; otherwise, turn to easier, more flexible Net Nanny.
Service for one
CyberSitter's greatest fault is its one-filter-fits-all philosophy. There's no way to customize different settings for different users; you must either play by the same rules as your kids or set up windows profiles for each person who uses the computer, then go into Cybersitter's advanced security settings and tell it which profiles to exclude from filtering. This process is much easier in both Net Nanny and Cyber Patrol.
On the bright side, CyberSitter offers superior filters. You can opt to filter up to 25 types of sites, including those devoted to wrestling (if you object to violence) and Pokémon (if you object to nonsense). (CyberSitter automatically blocks five default categories: sex, drugs, violence, hate, and illegal gun sites.) If someone hits a forbidden link, the program either issues warnings and stops you cold or redirects the browser to CyberSitter's family-friendly search engine. And although you can specify certain URLs you don't want the program to block, you can't view the list of restricted sites. The program's newsgroup and chat filters are an all-or-nothing proposition, too; you can't block some and allow others.
Snoop Loggy Log
You can set CyberSitter to record your kids' Web activity in a log and to e-mail you daily reports. However, these dense, single-spaced logs record every URL your browser touches, including banner ads, so you'll have to pore over them to glean anything useful. And, unlike Net Nanny, the program offers no way to log activity with filtering turned off, so you can't give your kids free rein, then check up on them later.
However, just in case Junior has already been hoarding porn on your hard drive, the program's System Snooper can scan your hard disk for objectionable content and let you delete what it finds. Keep in mind, the Snooper's definition of objectionable is broad. Among the files it identified on our disk were pages from a nursery rhyme site, stories from News.com about wireless handhelds, and the Disneyland Ride Lyric Database. (The word devils appears in "Yo Ho, a Pirate's Life for Me.")
The program also ships with a list of forbidden words and phrases, although we were often baffled by its oversights. For example, CyberSitter bleeped the F word from outgoing or incoming e-mail but failed to censor other naughty words in e-mail or chat conversations. It was, however, the only program that managed to lock us out of all the unsavory chat rooms and newsgroups we tested.
Half empty or half full?
CyberSitter's greatest strength is the scope and breadth of its site filtering. None of the programs we tested performed particularly well on our blocking tests. But using its default settings, CyberSitter blocked nearly 50 percent of the objectionable sites we picked out--far more than either Net Nanny or Cyber Patrol. CyberSitter did miss an FTP porn site and some sites that contain hate speech, and it blocked possibly inoffensive sites: Gay.com (a lifestyle portal), Peacefire.com (a site highly critical of filtering tools), and Iwannaknow.org (sex education for teens). Worse, in our tests, CyberSitter took forever to block certain sites, even on a fast DSL.
For spare-the-rod-and-spoil-the-child parents, CyberSitter offers the strictest parental Web controls. It's especially attractive if you have younger children, but you and your teens may chafe under its restrictions.