I have been looking for a product which could help me know what the children were doing on their computer as well as allow me to block out certain lengths of active time on the internet. When Action Alert Parental Control Software came up as a possible review, I was really excited. I received a 1 year subscription to the premium version of Action Alert. The premium version costs $29.99 for the subscription. There is also a free version available without as many features. I discovered that if you choose the free version you will be directed to a page with a discount on the premium version. Action Alert does offer a 30 day money back guarantee.
Action Alert is not a standard blocking program. Instead, it is designed to help with accountability for internet usage. For every account on the computer, Action Alert can be set to different levels of security so that those who need stricter filtering have that protection and those who need less protection but need accountability can have that. It does come with a default blocking list as well as a safe search engine (which will become your homepage and auto-turn off tabs when the browser closes if utilized) or the ability to only allow listed sites which come from your favorites list or ones you add to the white list within the manger screen. At any time, an exception or addition of safe site can be made in the manager's control panel.
Installation of Action Alert should be very simple- download, input email address and a password, and go. Unfortunately for me, something went a little wrong in the installation process and my account wasn't working properly. Customer Service was excellent though. I called the support line and after trying several things I was supposed to call back in 10 minutes after waiting for the server on their end to update. Just before I called back, I received a call from a Level 2 Tech Support Manager. He worked almost an hour past closing to help me try and remedy my problem. Since he couldn't access the servers after hours, he called me back the next day to help find the problem. He worked for another hour to fix the issues I was having with my computers. I was really impressed with their customer service and dedication to solving the problem. One of my problems was I had forgotten to remove a different blocking program before installing... oops. The installation window should have mentioned removing all blocking software first!
Once I got Action Alert up and running I discovered that it took a while to figure out how to use it. The Support/FAQ inside the Action Alert Manager screen is not necessarily up to date for Action Alert. It contains quite a bit of information related to a prior product produced by the same company which required a USB key. Action Alert no longer requires any hardware, but the information is still contained within the Support information. As a result I was initially very confused as to how to use the program. Customer service was great about helping me set it up the way I needed to for my particular users though. I never figured out how to track keystrokes or usernames and passwords. Maybe this would be in the playback?
Here is a screenshot of the safe search page. I turned it off as I didn't really like all the extraneous stuff on the page, especially the advertisement on the page. I did like the Today (in history blurbs) though. I would rather have seen just the Today and the search box without all the "helps" and suggested links or advertisements on the screen.
Two features I really like in the premium version are the internet shutdown and the video of the screen action. The internet shutdown can be triggered remotely from another computer. If an inappropriate word is typed into the computer an alert email or text can be sent to the parent. The alerts to email have a link to shut down internet for this user. This action will disable the user's account (including the desktop) until the password is inputted or the account manager reactivates it. The user can switch to a different user if he or she knows the password though. Nothing will be lost as it just freezes the screen rather than turn it off. The list of inappropriate words seems to be very inclusive of any word which could be construed as offensive or inappropriate. I consider myself pretty conservative when it comes to language and I managed to accidentally trigger a few alerts for words I wouldn't consider inappropriate. Once I was writing a Latin word and it triggered an alert. I had to go back and review the video because I knew I was the one on the computer and wasn't out typing bad words! The screenshot recording can be set to take a shot every second if there the is a screen change, or every 5 seconds, or other length of time the manger deems appropriate. The further the length of time between screen shots, the more choppy the playback, but the longer the playback can cover. The playback feature can be used to monitor social interactions of teens and children to help them learn what is appropriate to share or not share online.
I have mixed feelings about Action Alert. I really liked some of the features, but the bugs I experienced really "bugged" me.
First, the Pro's:
1. I love the accountability aspect that is introduced into internet filtering. I like that I can see the screenshots if necessary. By introducing the accountability aspect with the screenshots, I can have a conversation with my children about why something might not be appropriate rather than just having them blocked.
2. I like that I can remotely deactivate an account, especially since I have at least one child who tries to just do one more thing far too often. The remote disabling is not instant though.
3. Being able to set acceptable times for a student to be on the computer was very helpful with monitoring a child who tends to get sucked in very easily. When his time was up, his account shut down (as in couldn't be used but his work was still present and not lost), and he would have to justify to me why he needed more time.
4. It worked on my older (7 year old) computer that my kids use.
5. Customer Service availability.
And the Con's:
1. I found my browser crashed more often than it had prior to installation, especially if I had multiple browser tabs open (which frequently happens).
2. My internet speed seemed to slowed a little more than it had with other filtering software although over time I didn't notice this as much.
3. I also found that while it would block undesirable sites, unless the Action Alert safe searching website is used, it does not filter search results.
4. If you reset your password, in Action Alert, it won't reset on other computers you are using even though you are on the Action Alert website. I find this to be counter intuitive. If I log in with the same email address, and password, shouldn't that be universal?
5. Resetting your password will result in deleting all the video footage prior to the password reset on the computer you reset the password on.
6. I don't like when companies offer one price but if you click the right buttons or reject their initial offer the price is lowered. I prefer the company to be more forthright with pricing.
I think this program has great potential but needs a little work to make it more user-friendly. Given the level of customer service I experienced, I am sure that they will keep working to improve their program and it will only get better. The free version will filter the internet, but if you want to add the accountability aspects of Action Alert, you have to upgrade. I say give it a try. I will continue to use Action Alert on my children's computer as I feel it does the job just as well as other programs I have used and adds a few features I find valuable to help me teach them. Following this review I will be taking it off my computer because I find the browser crashes obnoxious.
Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Crew, I received this product, at no cost to me, in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are mine.