Windows 8 desktop PCs and laptops come with Family Safety – a range of free parental controls – built in. We explain what Family Safety is and how to get the most out of it.
While there’s a high chance that your ISP will offer you some form of parental controls, it’s worth taking a look at what is already available to you.
If you don’t have a Windows 8 machine in the home, we’ve also written guides for Windows 7 PCs as well as Apple machines running OS X.
What is Family Safety?
So, Family Safety. In a nutshell, this lets parents regularly check in on what their children are up to and see how much time they’re spending online without having to constantly look over their shoulder.
Parents can set up password-protected accounts for their children which they log into every time they want to use a home computer.
These accounts can be monitored by the main admin profile – the Microsoft account you would have created when you first set you Windows 8 PC or laptop up. By creating children’s profiles under your admin account, parents will be able to apply settings such as web filters and time limits applied. Parents can control what games and apps can be played on a PC and can prevent files (MP3s, proxy tools and potential malware) from being downloaded.
Parents will also be emailed weekly activity reports from Microsoft. This lets parents keep an eye on what websites their children are accessing from wherever they can pick up email. Finally, any changes you make to Family Safety settings are stored in the cloud at familysafety.microsoft.com. This lets you access and change settings from virtually any device with a live internet connection.
We’ll take a closer look at these settings further down the feature. For now we’ll focus on getting started and creating accounts for your kids.
This means all Windows 8 PCs in the home can have the same settings applied where Family Safety is active.
Getting Started: Create profiles for your kids, turn on Family Safety
Family Safety is where parents can start setting up profiles for their kids, the idea being your kids will have usernames and passwords which they can use to log in to your family computer.
Setting up profiles for family members doesn’t require an email address, but if your children have them then they can use them to log in to profiles if you wish.
Your children won’t be able to change any settings without your permission, nor will they be able to access your account and change any of your settings or read your emails.
To start creating accounts, open up Settings > Control Panel and select Family Safety. Alternatively, open search and enter ‘Family Safety’ into the text field.
Those used to Windows 7 might be looking for Parental Controls – Family Safety is the new name for Parental Controls on Windows 8.
The account you register when you set up your Windows 8 PC for the first time will be used as the administrator account. With this you’ll be able to keep an eye on what your children are getting up to and assign controls to their profiles.
When you create Microsoft Accounts for your children you’ll be asked during set up whether or not it’s a child’s account. Checking the tick box will take you to a Family Safety menu.
Apply Family Safety controls to kids profiles: Filters, time limits, age-restricted games
Once you’ve created a new account for your son or daughter with Family Safety turned on, you’ll be able to configure their safety settings by clicking on the user’s profile.
From here you’ll be able to apply web filtering, set time limits, lock or allow access to age-restricted games and apps from the Windows Store and control which programs and apps your child can use.
Web filtering lets parents pick from five different levels of internet filtering. There are four pre-set options – Designed for children, General interest, Online communication (basic), Warn on adult – all of which with the exception of the last one block access to adult websites.
Warn on adult will instead flash up a warning when someone tries to access a site suspected of hosting adult content. This setting is recommended for older users whose parents might trust with greater online freedom. As content filters sometimes falsely flag websites based on keywords (such as the University of Sussex), Warn on adult might be a better option in some cases.
The fifth option – Allow list only – lets parents apply a list which they’ve customised. Only websites on this parent-approved whitelist can be accessed and you’ll be able to edit and tailor it over time.
When web filtering is allowed, SafeSearch – which automatically filters out text, images and videos with an adult theme – is turned on by default and cannot be removed.
Finally, parents can also prevent their children from downloading anything by checking the ‘block file downloads’ popping up.
Time Limits let parents ensure that their children don’t spend too long online. You’ll be able to set a time allowance, meaning that your child can only go online for a few hours or so, or a time curfew, restricting access after a certain time, say 9:00PM.
Allowances and curfews can be set in half hour increments. Curfews can be easily set by clicking and dragging the mouse pointer across the screen and are effective instantaneously. They can be easily changed if need be.
Windows Store and game restrictions
Games and apps downloaded from the Windows Store are age rated. Parents may want to restrict access to apps that may not be suitable for their kids. In the UK, if apps aren’t age rated by the Windows Store, they’ll be rated by PEGI (Pan European Game Information). For more information on how Microsoft age rates games and apps, click here.
Application and game restrictions
Parents still might want to lock access to apps and games that aren’t installed on their PC from the Windows Store. You’ll also be able to apply restrictions to anything you don’t want your kids using.
While parents will have to manually specify which apps and games they don’t want their kids playing with, rather than pick from a series of pre-selected categories, this gives them an extra degree of control.
View activity reports: See what they’re searching for
Thanks to activity reports parents will be able to get a statistical breakdown of what their children’s online activity. As well as being able to see what their children are searching for, mum and dad will be able to see if Joffrey really was doing homework on the War of the Roses like he said and not looking at other things.
On top of getting regular mailouts of your children’s activity, parents will be able to log in to the Family Safety panel at any time and check out what their kids have been up to whenever they want.
Windows 8 Family Safety: Final thoughts
In terms of what Family Safety has to offer, this is pretty much it. Your admin account acts as an umbrella for your children’s accounts.
Parents can monitor their children’s web use wherever they are by accessing familysafety.microsoft.com on a web browser and loggin in with their admin account.
Remember that profiles can be set up on multiple machines in the home, letting you monitor your children’s web use no matter which machine they use.
If your children have phones and tablets there’s a number of additional apps you should consider, such as Norton Family (iOS, Android) MM Guardian (Android). iPhones and iPads have a number of built-in security features parents can use and TalkTalk broadband customers can also make use of MobileSafe, a free Android app available to TalkTalk Mobile subscribers.
Windows 8 Famiy Safety is a free feature available on all Windows PCs and desktops running Windows 8 Home edition or above. Pro editions of Windows 8 do not feature Family Safety, but you’ll still be able to access the Family Safety website from your work PC, if the machine you’re using runs Windows 8 Pro.
You can access the Family Safety website from virtually any browser, no matter what device you’re using. This means you can access reports and edit time limits at any time of day from your phone or tablet, your work PC or your home PC.
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