Robert Weiss LCSW, CSAT-S
Sex, porn, and love addicts have been using the Internet to act out since early 1990s. Back then, when these individuals entered recovery and sought sobriety, it was reasonable to suggest that they simply avoid the Internet and cellphones as part of their healing journey. In 2017, however, that doesn’t work. Online interconnectivity and digital interactions are just too integral to modern life and society. Nowadays, recovering sex, porn, and love addicts can’t just walk away from their laptops, tablets, smartphones, and other devices. What they can do is fight tech-temptations with tech-protections by installing a “parental control” software product.
As the “parental control” moniker suggests, these highly useful softwares were initially developed and marketed as a way to protect children from unwanted and/or inappropriate online content and contacts. Over time, as the programs have become more sophisticated, they have also become more versatile. Now they are every bit as useful to adults struggling with problematic online behaviors as they are to families with curious kids.
It is important to state up-front that these filtering and accountability softwares are not guarantees of sexual and romantic sobriety. Sex, porn, and love addicts can nearly always find ways to circumvent even the best of these programs. And if/when they are truly stumped by the software, they can just go out and buy a new digital device to use in secret. As such, protective softwares should be viewed as tools of recovery, rather than enforcers of recovery.
When shopping for protective software, recovering sex, porn, and love addicts should consider the following:
- Customizable Filtering and Blocking. Nearly all protective softwares have preset filtering levels ranging from settings appropriate for young children to settings appropriate for adults who wish to stay away from certain types of sites/apps. The better products also offer customizable filtering, with blacklisting of specific sites/apps that would otherwise be allowed and whitelisting of specific sites/apps that would otherwise be blocked. The best filters analyze page content in real time, which means, for example, they can allow access to a fan fiction site while blocking access to any erotic stories on that site. Ideally, filtering features are browser independent, preventing an addict from downloading a new browser or using a secure anonymizing proxy as a way to circumvent protections.
- Secondary Filtering and Blocking Features. In addition to website filtering and blocking, most products offer various secondary features, including:
- Online search filtering and blocking
- App blocking
- Social media filtering and blocking
- IM and chat blocking
- File transfer blocking (preventing the sending and/or receiving of pictures, videos, and the like)
- Video game filtering and blocking
- Profanity filtering and blocking
Obviously, some of these features are more important to recovering sex, porn, and love addicts than others. Softwares that include all of these are best, though, as even video games may contain significant sexual and romantic content.
- Time Management Features. Time management features control when an addict can use his or her digital devices, and the total amount of time each day or week that he or she can be online. Some products will allow and/or prohibit use of certain programs and apps at various times of day. This feature is most useful with children – preventing them from playing video games after a specific hour, for instance, while allowing them to still be online to finish homework. But it can also be useful to recovering sex, porn, and love addicts.
- Monitoring and Reporting (Accountability) Features. Ideally, protective software products monitor online activity and provide an addict’s accountability partner with reports on usage, along with real-time alerts if the addict uses or attempts to use a digital device in a prohibited way. Available monitoring and reporting features may include:
- Websites visited
- Apps used
- Online searches
- Social networking
- Usernames and passwords
- Screenshot playback
Ideally, reporting is available to accountability partners remotely (accessible via their own computer or phone) at regular intervals, on demand, and via real-time text and email alerts.
- Ease of Use. Protective softwares should be easy to install and to customize. Ideally, users should be able to globally configure the product, establishing settings on all of their devices simultaneously instead of dealing with each machine individually. The best softwares offer free 24/7 tech support via email, phone, and live chat.
- Compatibility. Not all softwares work on every digital device. In fact, many are quite limited and therefore not recommended for sex, porn, and love addicts, who usually have a wide array of devices on which to act out. It is important to make sure a product works on all of your devices before you purchase it. It is also important to see how many devices the license covers. Ideally, you want to cover all of your equipment with only one license.
Below are short reviews of the most commonly utilized parental control software programs. These evaluations are geared toward recovering sex, porn, and love addicts (as opposed to families with kids). The reviews are separated into two categories: recommended products, and other possible options. This rating is based solely on a program’s effectiveness as a sex, porn, and love addiction recovery tool. The fact that some programs are not recommended does not mean they are bad products. It simply means they are not the best products for this purpose.
Net Nanny. Net Nanny’s Family Protection Pass costs $59.99 per year for up to five devices, $89.99 per year for up to ten devices, and $119.99 for up to fifteen devices. The software is usable on Windows, Android, Mac, and iOS devices. Net Nanny has long been the gold standard in online protection, and the current version is no exception, with superb filtering and blocking, excellent time management, and very good monitoring and reporting features – all of which are easily adjustable.
Qustodio Parental Control. Qustodio can be downloaded and used for free, but that version does not have the full set of features. For complete protection, recovering sex, porn, and love addicts definitely want the premium version, which costs $49.95 per year for up to five devices, or $87.95 for up to ten devices, and $125.95 for up to 15 devices. Qustodio works on Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS devices. The filtering and blocking features are very good. Time management is excellent. Monitoring and reporting is also very good. Pricing is comparable to Net Nanny.
WebWatcher. WebWatcher is a good program, mostly on par with Net Nanny and Qustodio, except it’s really expensive at $99.95 per year for each digital device. It is usable on Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS devices. WebWatcher is great about capturing the content of emails and IMs, logging keystrokes, and providing actual screenshots. The filtering and blocking features are also good, as are the time management and reporting features. The company’s website brags a lot about stealth and covert monitoring. I’m not a fan of that, as this type of intervention does nothing to further the development of relationship trust. Still, this is a good product, except for the fact that it’s more expensive than comparable products.
CovenantEyes. CovenantEyes offers online accountability with optional Internet filtering and blocking for a total of $10.99 per month ($131.88 per year) for each user (unlimited devices) or $14.99 per month ($179.88 per year) for the entire family (unlimited devices). CovenantEyes is usable on Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS devices. Most features are generally good, though filtering is a notch below Net Nanny and Qustodio.
Other Possible Options
Circle With Disney. Circle costs $99. Because it’s a router, rather than a download, it works with all devices. Basically, it replaces your home’s traditional internet and Wi-Fi router, letting you manage every device on your network, both wired and wireless, with no additional software. Products like Circle might eventually prove useful to recovering sex, porn, and love addicts as a secondary barrier, but as a primary defense they are unlikely to help, as an addict can simply take his or her device to another Wi-Fi location and use it there.
Content Protect. Content protect costs $39.99 per machine. Content Protect works on Windows and Mac computers, but not on Android or iOS devices. The product offers above average filtering and blocking, with average time management features and below average reporting features. Content Protect is geared more toward businesses than families. In a pinch, this is a serviceable protective software product, but there are definitely some better options. The fact that this product is not usable on smartphones is a major shortcoming for recovering sex, porn, and love addicts.
CYBERSitter. CYBERsitter pricing starts at $39.95 per year for up to three computers. It is usable on Windows based computers, but not on Mac, Android, or iOS devices. The filtering and blocking features are average, as are the recording and reporting features. The primary drawback is that it is not usable on smartphones. This is a major shortcoming for recovering sex, porn, and love addicts.
Elite Keylogger. Elite Keylogger costs $49 per year for one Mac computer or $99 for up to five. For Windows based computers, it costs $79 for one machine or $249 for up to five. It does not work on Android or iOS devices. Elite Keylogger is exactly what it says it is – a monitoring and reporting program. It does nothing in terms of filtering and blocking, or even time management. As such, it is not recommended for recovering sex, porn, and love addicts.
Forcefield. Forcefield costs $11.99 per month, and $3.99 per month for each additional user. Currently, this product supports only Mac and iOS devices, which makes it less than useful for many recovering sex, porn, and love addicts. This product allows an accountability partner to monitor pretty much everything the addict does online, and to limit or even shut off access in real time. This ability is probably more useful with kids than with recovering adults.
Intego ContentBarrier and Family Protector. ContentBarrier, $39.99 per year for one computer, $79.99 per year for three devices, works with Mac computers only. Family Protector works with iOS devices only, $5 per month per family. If you’re an Apple family, these products are decent. The filtering and blocking features are above average. Time management features are also pretty good. However, the monitoring and reporting features are not quite as strong as with a few other products. Other drawbacks are lack of compatibility with Windows and Android devices, and that different programs are needed for computers and phones, which is a hassle during set-up and whenever you want to change settings.
Kaspersky Safe Kids. Kaspersky Safe Kids has a free version, and a version with more features for $14.99 for one year for one device, and an additional $4.95 for multiple devices. The product is fully functional on Windows, Mac, and Android devices. It is partially functional on iOS devices. (There is no call or text monitoring on iOS devices.) This product is a newcomer to the scene, and it doesn’t offer every possible feature, but it’s actually pretty good, and it’s definitely affordable. With some minor tweaks, this could become an excellent product for recovering sex, porn, and love addicts.
KidGuard. KidGuard costs $19.99 per month per device. That is pretty pricey for what you get. Plus, it only works on smartphones – not computers, laptops, tablets, etc. And it’s more focused on “spying” on users (monitoring what they do) than on filtering and setting limits. This product is not recommended for recovering sex, porn, and love addicts.
KidsWatch Professional. KidsWatch costs $49.95 per year for up to three computers. It is usable on Windows based computers, but not on Mac computers, Android devices, or iOS devices. Kidswatch offers good filtering and blocking features and solid monitoring and reporting features. However, it does not work with Firefox or Safari browsers, nor is it usable on anything other than Windows based computers. As such, it is not recommended as a protective software for recovering sex, porn, and love addicts.
McAfee Safe Eyes and uKnowKids. Safe Eyes and uKnowKids are separate programs in the McAfee family. Safe Eyes is designed for computers and uKnowKids is designed for smartphones. Safe Eyes runs $39.95 per year for use on up to three computers, either Windows or Mac. uKnowKids costs $70 per year for up to four Android devices, or $110 per year for iOS devices. Safe Eyes for Mac does not offer all of the features available with Safe Eyes for Windows. This is a major drawback for Mac users. In general, filtering and blocking is OK with Safe Eyes, while time management and monitoring/reporting features are better than average. Unfortunately, uKnowKids is more about monitoring and reporting than filtering and blocking, which is not ideal for recovering sex, porn, and love addicts. Plus, you need multiple programs to cover all of your devices, which is a hassle during set-up and whenever you want to change settings.
Mobicip. There is a free version of Mobicip, but the features are limited. The premiere version is much better. It protects up to five devices for one year for $39.99, working across pretty much any platform, including Windows and Mac computers, plus Android and iOS devices. Mobicip is awkward during set-up, and not as intuitive as the best programs. However, once it is set up properly, it provides decent filtering and blocking, time management, and monitoring and reporting.
Norton Family Premiere. Norton Family Premiere costs $49.99 per year for each device. It is usable on Windows, Android, and iOS devices (with limited features), but not Mac computers. Norton Family Premiere offers solid filtering and blocking, decent time management, and average recording and reporting. The downsides with Norton Family Premiere are that it is not compatible with Mac computers and its iOS features are limited. Moreover, at $49.99 per device, it can get expensive.
OpenDNS Home VIP. OpenDNS offers a couple of free products with limited features. For $19.99 per year you get the Home VIP version with extended features. It works with Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS systems. The filtering and blocking features are fine, as are most of the other features that are available. However, it does not filter proxy servers or social networks. Nor does it offer real-time reporting of abuses (and attempted abuses). As such, it falls a bit short for recovering sex, porn, and love addicts.
PC Pandora Pro. PC Pandora Pro costs $69.95 for up to two computers. It is usable on Windows based computers, but not Mac computers, Android devices, or iOS devices. The filtering and blocking features are average, with above average recording and reporting features. However, the fact that it can’t be used on Mac computers or smartphones is a major drawback. As such, this product is not recommended as a protective software for recovering sex, porn, and love addicts.
PureSight Multi. PureSight Multi costs $39.90 per year for up to three devices, $49.90 per year for up to five devices, or $59.90 per year for up to ten devices. The product is usable on Windows based computers and Android devices, but not on Mac computers and iOS devices. The filtering and blocking features are average, as are the time management and accountability features. For Windows/Android families, PureSight is a viable (and affordable) option. However, those who prefer Apple products will need to look elsewhere.
SentryPC. SentryPC costs $59.95 per year for one computer, with additional licenses costing $19.95 per year. SentryPC is usable on Windows based computers but not on Mac computers, Android devices, or iOS devices. The filtering and blocking features are adequate, as are the recording and accountability features. The problem here is lack of compatibility with Mac and mobile devices. Because of this, SentryPC is not recommended as a protective software for recovering sex, porn, and love addicts.
SpyTech SpyAgent. SpyTech SpyAgent costs $69.95 per year for one computer. SpyAgent is usable on Windows based computers but not on Mac computers, Android devices, or iOS devices. SpyAgent is not a filtering and blocking program, though it can provide a moderate degree of filtering and blocking. Its real purpose is monitoring, recording, and reporting. Because of this, along with the fact that it is not usable on Mac, Android, or iOS devices, it is not recommended for recovering sex, porn, and love addicts.
Verity Parental Control Software. Verity costs $49.99 for a one year subscription covering one computer. The product works only on Windows based computers. It is not compatible with Android devices, iOS devices, or Mac computers. The basics of filtering and blocking, and the basics of monitoring and reporting are available here, but only the basics. Plus, it can’t be used on Mac computers or smartphones of any kind, which significantly limits its potential as a protective software for recovering sex, porn, and love addicts.
Witigo Parental Filter. With Witigo Parental Filter, a one-year subscription for up to three Windows based computers costs $49.99, Mac Computers run $29.99 per machine, and Android devices are $12.99 per device. Witigo does not work with iOS devices. Filtering and blocking is solid with this product. Time management features are also decent, as are reporting and monitoring features. Unfortunately, Witigo is not yet available for use on iOS devices, and this lack of compatibility is a drawback for many recovering sex, porn, and love addicts. The need for separate programs on computers and smartphones is also a shortcoming.