As part of the TOS Homeschool Review Crew, we were asked to review a computer protection downloadable software program called Action Alert. While Hubby already has computer monitoring stuff installed (yeah, I know that's not a very technical term...I am NOT the IT expert at our house) on our computers, I didn't mind the opportunity to try out this program, a "rebirth" of another program you might have heard of called PG Key. After all, you can never be too safe, right?
At our house, we take computer safety seriously, as I am sure you do, too. We routinely check all of the computers not only for viruses, but for access issues. Hubby has firewalls set up, as well as . We set up our computers in common areas of the house rather than in remote areas, and whenever a computer is being used, I wander around and check up on the users from time to time, to make sure they are on task, as well as only on approved sites. To make that job easier for me to keep up with, I even set up blogs for our kids with links to their school sites and other approved sites (see their sites by clicking on the links on the left sidebar), and I have a website, homeschool-for-free, which we use to organize educational and fun sites the kids like that I have already checked out and approve of. So far, this approach has worked for us. We have had no problems with internet use. The worst problem we have had has been some spam that arrives on this blog or in our email box, and that all gets immediately deleted.
Still, we thought the idea of being able to monitor the kids' activities even more closely was interesting, so we checked out the Action Alert website to see what they have to offer. It seems that Action Alert combines eight internet safety tools (see below) in their FREE downloadable version:
By upgrading to their Maximum Protection Program for a fee of $29.99, you add mulitple computer protection and make the program fully customizable, plus add social network monitoring. We received the Maximum Protection Plan for our review.
I will be honest right away and tell you a few things. First, Hubby is the IT go-to guy around here (though Tex is fast learning most of his moves), and he was away on a trip for much of this review period. So as far as customizing our experience...it didn't get done very well, as I just didn't find the process particularly user-friendly. However, the customer service department WAS very friendly and helpful and they answered my questions quickly and they were easy to get in touch with and to talk to.
Secondly, I have a new laptop. It was a blessing from a friend of Hubby's whom he'd helped out a time or two, after my original laptop's hard drive crashed irreparably. In any case, my new HP laptop was running great before we downloaded Action Alert. Since the download occurred, I have had issues with it running more slowly and seen both Internet Explorer and Google Chrome crash inexplicably. We will probably be uninstalling the program now that this review is done. No hard feelings Action Alert, but there just isn't any other explanation for the problems...
I've also had to add several perfectly innocuous sites I regularly use (homeschool ones) to the "safe" list becuase for some weird reason, the program was blocking access to them. Once I added them to the "good" list, I never had trouble again with accessing them (and while the patient Customer Service rep talked me through the process, it took a chunk out of an already busy day), but it was frustrating, especially since they weren't even close to being questionable sites (one was a frequently used free downloadable printables site).
Lastly, we did get emails that notified us if questionable terms were used in searches, but they didn't always make sense. I got one today when I was using the computer about me typing in the word "kil*ing" and I honestly could not remember typing that in ever...unless I typed something like, "My back is killing me...what do I do?" but I didn't. I think the idea of this feature is a great concept, and would be especially useful if mom and/or dad are often gone (or working at home away from the kids) and have fancy cell phones to get text messages on alerting them of potential problems (the e-mail or text itself allows the parent to shut down the computer remotely when a potential problem is spotted...nice!), but I am always here, I do not have a fancy phone, and I am not on my computer all day to use it to monitor Tex's internet forays. It is easier for me to walk into the living room or dining room and peek over his shoulder. I have popped in unexpectedly before when I thought something a bit off was going on and the worst I've ever caught him doing was wasting time playing some silly game called Plants vs. Zombies...usually he's "wasting time" doing more Khan Academy than he needs to (to put off doing his science), or changing songs on Pandora or Spottify (and he follows our rules for song choices pretty well).
While this product did not suit our family (our little ones are well enough protected by our current protection and my personal monitoring of their activities, and I am just not "plugged in" enough to use this technology efficiently), it might work for yours. Some families are tech savvy enough that getting texts about computer use will help them organize things better. Some families will appreciate being able to set limits on computer usage by using this program. Even other families might already be aware of hidden issues and this program might just be what you need to keep things on track.
If you have a need for an Internet security program, you should check out Action Alert. You can try the FREE! version of the program and see if it works with your computers and your family situation. Then, if it suits you, you can go ahead and buy the Max Protection for a one time fee of under thirty dollars instead of an annual fee...that's a great price, isn't it? [And here's a little hint for you since you read this far...if you want to buy the Maximum Protection Program, click on the link to download the freebie program and when I wrote this it was on special for only $19.99 for the full deal...a savings of 33%!]. Also, remember, if you buy the Max Protection, you have a 30 day money back guarantee if problems turn up, and their customer service was very helpful (they also help you even if you only have the free program).