A parental control tool that only runs on your family PC is nearly useless in the modern, multidevice world. In that light, Qustodio’s support for Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Nook, and Kindle devices is notable. This impressive parental control utility boasts just about every feature you might want, including web content filtering, robust app blocking, and a detailed activity log. You handle all configuration and monitoring either through Qustodio’s online dashboard or the parent app, which means you can set rules and view a child’s activity from practically anywhere. Although it is pricey, lacks strong social media tracking tools, and has an outdated web portal, Qustodio’s wide range of features and excellent customizability secure it an Editors’ Choice award for parental control software.
Pricing and Platforms
Qustodio for Families is an expensive parental control app, but it does have a permanently free option. The free version limits monitoring to just a single device and keeps seven days of activity history. You also get basic controls like web filtering and time quotas for certain activities. Qustodio structures its paid subscription plans around family size, with Small (five devices), Medium (10 devices), and Large (15 devices) options. These plans cost $54.95, $96.95, and $137.95 per year, respectively. Some advantages they all provide over the free version are 30 days of activity history, application-based time restrictions, and location tracking. Previously, Qustodio’s cheapest plan was the $39.95-per-year tier for three device licenses, so the price of entry has gone up considerably. That previously offered Small plan could have been ideal for parents of an only child or for monitoring several children’s mobile phones.
Note that this product is just one part of Qustodio’s product line. Qustodio for Schools aims to keep students on track when using school computers, while Qustodio for Business is designed to make sure employees are working, not watching cat videos—or worse. These products have similar features to Qustodio for Families. The biggest difference is in the pricing.
Qusotodio is very expensive compared to some competitors. Norton Family Premier is slightly cheaper at $49.99 per year, but it does not limit the number of devices you can monitor. Kaspersky Safe kids undercuts both of those services considerably; it only charges $14.99 per year and supports an unlimited number of child devices. The two-part hardware and software solution, Circle Home Plus, is more expensive; the device costs $129 and includes a one-year premium membership, but after that, you need to pay $9.99 per month to maintain the service.
As mentioned, Qustodio runs on Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, Kindle, and even Nook devices. Keep in mind that some features are platform-specific and that the iOS app is more limited than its Android counterpart—as is common, given how locked down iOS is. To test its desktop capabilities, we used a Lenovo ThinkPad T470 running Windows 10. For mobile, we primarily used a Google Pixel and Nexus 5X running Android 8.0 for evaluating Qustodio, but also installed it on an iPhone 8 running iOS 11.
Setup and Devices
Once you’ve purchased your subscription, you need to install a local client on every device you intend to track and assign it to a child’s profile. For Mac and Windows installations, you can apply configuration settings to all user accounts on a computer or configure each login account separately.
There is an option to hide the Qustodio install on Windows, but this feels sneaky. The child can still see the listing in the control panel or the process in Task Manager, but there’s no icon in the notification tray. We prefer Norton’s approach, which doesn’t have a silent install option at all. With Norton, a child can easily access the rules and restrictions regardless of their device. There’s a fine line between spying and parenting. Conversation and transparency can help you stay on the right side of the divide.
There’s only one Qustodio app on the Google Play store and App store, and you specify whether it is a parent or a child device during setup. For child devices, Qustodio requires you to name the device and assign it to an existing or new child profile. You also need to enable all sorts of permissions on Android, including Apps with usage access, Accessibility access, and device-level access (call, SMS, location, contacts, and media), in addition to enabling it as a device admin app. The benefit of this last step is that your child cannot use a third-party app to uninstall Qustodio, a process that also requires the parent’s account password. On iOS, you need to download and install a device profile for some of the features to work correctly.
These requirements are mostly standard for any full-feature parental control app on mobile devices. Make sure to lock down the Android settings with your password and to remove the guest account, since none of Qustodio’s restrictions and rules apply to it, and because kids can access this generic account even if the device has reached its time limit. Kids can even create new users from Android’s Quick Settings pull-down menu if you don’t block that capability.
Qustodio’s online web portal looks seriously dated. Most of the elements use antiquated design practices such as artificial depth, color gradients, or prominent borders. Additionally, it opts for a dull blue and gray color scheme, which calls to mind Facebook, circa 2010. The headers and menu items are also inconsistently capitalized and even redundant in some places.
At the top left, there is a link to the Account Center and the Help Center. From the Account Center, you can manage your account information, associated child profiles, and linked devices. The Help Center is well designed, with easy-to-access categories, readily available user guides, and a search bar.
Below the Help Center, the main navigation header menu is organized into a series of tabs. To the left, it lists all of the child accounts you have added to your profile in the order that you added them. Annoyingly, you can’t reorganize these tabs in any way. The other two dedicated tabs are for adding a new profile or adding more devices to your account.
When you add a child to your account, you need to specify a name, gender, and birth year, and then choose an avatar. Norton lets you upload a profile photo, but Qustodio does not have this option. Adding a device is easy. You either download the software to the current device or send a download link to another device.
By default, you get a daily activity summary for each child by email, but you can opt out or set it to a weekly schedule. Alternatively, you can just go directly to the online dashboard for up-to-date reports.
The activity summary breaks down your child’s activity in a pie chart and shows an overview of search, web, social, app, and device activity at the bottom. Most of these items are interactive. For example, you can click on an app or website to block it. However, you cannot dig deeper into the search terms or device usage data.
The next tab over, Social Activity, is where you can track a child’s interactions on Facebook (more on this later). The Web activity section shows a slideshow of visited websites, along with safety information from Web of Trust (WOT) and the full URL of each page visited. The Activity timeline view combines all of a child’s activity into one stream of information, organized in reverse-chronological order. Keeping track of the review can be a bit confusing, especially since many sections show the same information.
The rightmost tab, Rules, is where you configure things such as web browsing rules, application rules, and time-usage limits. These categories are arranged in a further set of nested tabs, but they should make a more prominent appearance.
By default, Qustodio blocks all access to websites matching any of ten undesirable categories, among them Drugs, Gambling, Pornography, and Violence. Another 19 categories, including Social Network and File Sharing, are available for parents who want to fine-tune web content filtering. We wish it included short descriptions of each category to make it easier to choose, but most are self-explanatory. There are additional options for blocking uncategorized websites, forcing Safe Search, and opting into notifications when it blocks a site.
Qustodio’s content filtering is browser-independent, so kids can’t just install a separate browser to get around restrictions. Like Net Nanny and a few others, Qustodio supplements its category database with real-time analysis. For example, we found that it was smart enough to block only erotic stories on a short story website.
Qustodio can block secure (HTTPS) websites if they match a banned category, so your clever teen won’t be able to evade its notice by using a secure anonymizing proxy website. It logged and blocked every HTTPS site we tried, regardless of whether we used Edge, Opera, or Chrome. Even if you turned off blocking of what it calls Loopholes (a category that includes secure anonymizing proxies) your teen still wouldn’t be able to access inappropriate content. While Qustodio does show why a site is blocked, we wish it had a Request Access option integrated directly. Still, this browser-independent protection is one of Qustodio’s most powerful features, especially since some parental control software, including Norton Family, can’t claim the same functionality.
On the mobile side of things, Qustodio works as advertised with most mainstream browsers and blocks sites with HTTPS encryption without an issue. We tried all the parental control apps with the privacy-focused Firefox Focus as well, but none successfully blocked content while using it. Of course, you could just block this app entirely. Qustodio did successfully block sites in an incognito Chrome tab.
Time Usage Limits
You can define a weekly schedule for when each child is allowed online, in one-hour increments on a per-device basis. There’s also an option to set a daily maximum for each day. We confirmed that tweaking the system time has no effect on the usage limits. However, if your aim is to limit overall screen time, you simply turn off per-device settings. Now your child can’t, say, use the computer for two hours, and then switch to a tablet for another two.
While Qustodio defaults to blocking only internet access, you can also lock down the device entirely after the allotted time expires on any platform. You can also set Qustodio to alert you when your child hits that time limit. From a mobile device, you can also choose to just block a device at will, which is useful if you want to get your kid’s attention quickly. Don’t worry, though; your child can still make calls to emergency numbers. Flexible Application Control
Each application your child launches on any monitored device shows up in the activity feed, albeit with some limitations on iOS (more on that later). A child who tries to open a blocked app will get a notification that the application is blocked, but there’s no way for them to request access from the parent. You can block access to any app by clicking a simple yes/no control, or set time limits and usage schedules on a per-app basis. Few other parental control services offer this.
With all the apps from all the devices, the list can get pretty long. Thankfully, Qustodio offers a search button, and you can specify the platform when you hit it.
For each individual app, you can set daily time limits or block it entirely for certain days. This can be useful if, for example, you want to limit the amount of time your child spends on certain social media apps during the school week. We would like to see Qustodio add full-week time-scheduling options to individual apps as well.
Social Monitoring and Location Reporting
Qustodio has a dedicated tab for social media monitoring, but it can only track Facebook activity. Since modern kids use a wide range of other social media sites, such as Instagram, Snapchat, Tumblr, and Twitter, this is not very helpful. The child has to log in to Facebook at least once on the desktop to enable the tracking plug-in, but after that, it records their activity on the site regardless of the device they use to access it. If you do have the child’s login credentials, you can also set this up yourself from either the desktop or the mobile app. Qustodio is clever in the way it enforces monitoring. A child cannot access Facebook if the plug-in is disabled or removed. However, a big limitation is that Qustodio cannot monitor Facebook Messenger.
From the online dashboard, you can see a complete timeline of your child’s Facebook wall activity. This includes posts, pictures, and comments, as well as the identity of any friends involved in online chats. In a nod to maintaining some degree of privacy, Qustodio doesn’t report the content of those chats, just the friend’s name and when the conversation occurred.
Qustodio also includes location-reporting features, which you can use to check your child’s location as often as every five minutes. Still, this implementation is limited when compared with that of Boomerang or Locategy. Both of those parental control apps let you set up Geofences (digital geographic boundaries). If your child leaves the specified area at any point, you get a notification. Kaspersky Safe Kids goes one step further by letting parents set up associated time spans, so you can ensure that a kid is in school during school hours. This can be useful for making sure your child (or at least their device) doesn’t leave school or the house.
Qustodio for Android
Qustodio’s Android app is well organized and modern looking. The default page (Your Family) shows icons for all the children associated with your account. You can set up another user profile from this screen via the Add a Child on the bottom center, which requires you to choose an avatar (no user photos or pictures allowed) name, gender, and birth year. Oddly, you can’t remove a child or change what device is associated with what profile. Instead, it directs you to the web portal to make these changes.
We particularly like the dark blue shades in the hidden left-hand menu and wish that Qustodio integrated this color palette more prominently elsewhere since it would help break up some of the unnecessary white space. From this menu, you can go to the Family Portal online, access your account settings, visit the Help Center or log out of your account. At the bottom, there is a persistent notification to upgrade to the next tier of service, even if you are already a paying customer, which is irritating. You click on a child’s icon to set up any rules and restrictions.
On an Android device, Qustodio can monitor all calls and SMS messages. Parents can even choose to record the content of each text, block all outgoing or incoming calls, as well as restrict or allow specific contacts. Reports appear in the Activity Timeline. FamilyTime has similar call and SMS monitoring features but goes one step further by duplicating call logs and SMS messaging history. Keep in mind that Qustodio’s monitoring features do not apply to third-party messaging apps such as Signal or WhatsApp.
Another feature specific to Android is the Panic Button. To start using it, you define up to four trusted contacts, each with an email address or mobile phone number. A child who’s lost or in trouble can tap the SOS bubble from within the Qustodio app. Once activated, it sends the child’s location and an alert to those contacts. The app will continue to broadcast the child’s location every five minutes until the child turns off the panic mode or it is deactivated via the web portal.
Qustodio for iPhone
Third-party parental control software is tough to implement on iOS devices since Apple blocks most interactions between applications on its mobile devices. It is worth noting that Apple offers a native set of parental control features. For iOS devices, Qustodio now makes use of Apple’s mobile device management (MDM) technology and VPN filter, which respectively allow it to enforce device rules and enable cross-browser web filtering.
The iOS variant looks identical to its Android counterpart and most features work as advertised. For example, it supports time quotas and scheduling, web filtering on Chrome and Safari, and device locking.
The biggest omission on the iOS side is that it cannot monitor or block calls and texts. You also cannot enable the Panic button on iOS Devices, which might be a concern for parents of children who live in unsafe areas. There’s also a slight limitation with location reporting. On Android devices, you can specify how often Qustodio checks for its location, but on iOS, Qustodio just updates the location every time it changes. However, Qustodio’s app blocking and scheduling features do work for a large list of supported apps. Most of the basics appear here, but you certainly might encounter some apps or games that are not supported. For example, Qustodio’s tools no longer work with games published by EA.
A Sure Winner
Qustodio lets parents take precise control over their child’s activity across desktop and mobile devices. Among its best features are extensive cross-platform support, robust web protection, simple app blocking, and highly customizable time limits. Qustodio’s drawbacks are its limited social network monitoring and dated interface. Its rising cost are also concerning, but Qustodio’s effectiveness helps it retain its Editors’ Choice rating.