Tuesday, May 17, 2016

MMGuardian - review of an Android parental control and usage monitoring application

One of the last pieces of my book project, and a part of my upcoming local presentation on May 25th, is a discussion of smartphone restrictions and controls. 

I’m familiar with iPhone on-device restrictions, but Google didn’t build anything like that into Android for phones. Android users need to find a 3rd party solution.

Finding that solution isn’t easy. This isn’t the 1990s; most of the journalists that used to write about these things are out of business. I used geek-power to narrow my options to two products - Screen Time and MMGuardian. This post has my initial impression of MMGuardian, I’ll do another one on their iPhone product then I’ll try Screen Time for Android.

MMGuardian is easy to setup. You start by installing their app on the target Android phone (typically an Explorer or teen’s phone); you can find it on Google’s Play Store or from the MMGuardian web site. The app is called “MMGuardian Parental Control”, not to be confused with a different app that can be installed on a Guide’s phone for remote management. 

There’s a free two week trial, and for once you don’t start by entering a credit card. To enroll you launch MMGuardian Parental Control and complete a short form. After initial launch a second app will be installed called MMG Browser. That’s what an Explorer will use in place of Chrome; MMG Browser.app works with MM Guardian’s Web Filter service. (I assume MMG Browser is a wrapper over Chromium, Google’s web browser platform.)

I used the online web interface to do remote management of my Android test phone. Go to family.mmguardian.com and enter the credentials you setup earlier using MMGuardian Parental Control.app. The “user name” is your email address. 

There’s a good range of controls …

MM Guardian

In my early testing the commands send from MM Guardian’s acted within a few seconds, only the very first message failed.

App Management is quite different from iOS. iPhone apps can only be installed from Apple’s store, so it’s easy to disable installation. Android apps can be installed from any source, there doesn’t seem to be a simple way for developers to block all installations. Instead MMGuardian creates a list of apps that are allowed or blocked based on what is on the Explorer’s phone; new apps are blocked until review.

MM Guardian is looking pretty good so far. It’s $35 a year for a single phone, or $70 a year for up to five Android phones.

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