KidZui is a child-safe internet front end that calls upon an enormous whitelist of websites, pictures, videos, and games that have all been reviewed by a group of volunteers composed of parents and educators. The KidZui experience is available in two forms: a stand alone browser on Windows based machines or as a Firefox extension on any system that can run Firefox. The experience with both is very similar. The installation process is kid friendly, with children able to directly participate in the process if the parents desire. Kids can create an avatar for the social network side of KidZui, which is like a slightly more detailed incarnation of the Mii avatars found on the Nintendo Wii video game console. Interaction between the child’s avatar however is very limited, from a safety standpoint. No personal information is ever or can be shared, children are limited to exchanging information already approved within the KidZui network. For instance a child could send a link to a funny Sponge Bob video or article on trains to a friend, but couldn’t send them their home address.
Once an account is set up for the child an email is sent to the email address the parents provide. From there you activate the account and set up a parent account to be linked to your child’s account. The parent control panel for KidZui is polished, even in the free version—there is a pay version of the service that adds some bells and whistled but the free version is entirely functional. From within the control panel parents can get all sorts of feedback. What has their child been searching for? What have they been spending their time doing in the KidZui system? Lists of search terms, games played, time spent on various tasks and on browsing in general broken right down to the minute, are all available. While the the content of KidZui is really air tight when it comes to kid friendly content, it’s enlightening to know that your 8 year old is already scouring the interwebs for boobs, even if he isn’t finding anything.
The principle difference between the stand alone installation and the Firefox plugin, cross platform compatibility aside, is the level of security available on the computer itself. When using the stand alone browser, the child can close the browser out and return to the desktop of the computer they are using. The Firefox plugin essentially locks the web browser to full screen and it cannot be taken out of KidZui-mode without a parent keying in a password. Essentially the entire computer is locked to the KidZui network and has become a kid-friendly internet station. Note: if there is anyway to lock the stand alone browser in full screen mode, please share how in the comments! I wasn’t able to find a way to do so in my test run with the browser.
A nice touch is the ability to add to the white list on a case by case basis. If your child wants or needs to access their school’s website or another safe website that has not yet been reviewed, you have the ability to add it to the list of sites your child can access. You’ll be warned when you do so, once a website is added to your child’s personal white list any link on that site becomes fair game. Add http://www.google.com as a white list site, and anything Google can find so can your child.
While there isn’t any real substitution for direct supervision and parent interaction, KidZui is a really helpful tool for introducing your child to the amazing amount of information and interesting things that can be found online— minus the therapy-inducing moments of stumbling down the dark alleys of the internet. KidZui is freeware, available as both a stand alone Windows based browser and a cross-platform Firefox extension.