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Online Safety Solutions: The Hardware vs Software Bout

PRITHIV on September 26, 2016

As children ditch their “offline” haunts (playgrounds and parks) for their “online” equivalents (social media and apps), parental care is seeing a paradigm shift. Families are seeking digital solutions to ensure their kids’ safety on the internet. It is important for parents of teens to be aware of what teens in general are doing online these days, for peer pressure and influence will rule their kids' lives for the next few years. And with some kids spending close to 11 hours watching some screen or the other, the importance of a digital solution can’t be more stressed.

But like with most options in life, there are numerous online safety solutions available in the market today. There are software solutions (like Mobicip) that install on all the devices at home with an administrator (parents) setting the levels of control for each individual user. And then there are hardware solutions (like Torch and Circle) in the form of routers and appliances that act as gateways of internet access and attempt to filter at its source.

Let’s take a look at the following checklist of criteria to decide the winner of the Hardware vs Software bout:

1)      Price & Net Spend per year


(Picture Credit: Flickr)

  • Hardware: Internet filtering appliances retail anywhere between $100 to $250. Then there is the added risk of device failure that might lead to repeat purchases, maintenance or footing additional charges (say $100 in total throughout the product's life). According to a study conducted by Maya Kosoff and her team at Business Insider,  average American teens get their first internet-enabled device at the age of 11. So parents see a timeline of 5 to 7 years before they let their children access the internet on their own terms. So that means an average expenditure of $275 for an average period of 6 years; which translates roughly to an effective $46 spend per year!
  • Software: Most of the online filtering applications operate on a freemium model. For example, Mobicip has its free version which offers a basic level of protection with an optional 2 week Premium offer. This allows first time users to sample the application’s core capabilities and make the jump to Premium based on performance. The Premium licenses cost on average $40 per year (adjusting for discounts).

Round 1 goes in favour of software by a thin margin.

2)      Protection on the Go

Girl with phone in a park

(Picture Credit: Wikimedia)

  • Hardware: While internet filtering routers are excellent home solutions, they can’t cover/monitor out-of-home internet access. Mobile internet can easily be used to stay away from parental scrutiny. This is a huge drawback in the hardware solutions. Most are playing catch-up now by offering a software solution to go along with the original; so down goes a major differentiator!

Round 2 sees hardware saved by the bell!

3)      Level of Control

Kids on gaming consoles

(Picture Credit: GStatic)

  • Harware: As the primary gateway to internet access, hardware has a more robust control over all devices linked to the internet. It even supports gaming systems and smart TVs; something that software solutions can't at present. Controls can be set online via a dashboard.
  • Software: Most mobile devices fall under the scrutiny of software-powered online safety solutions. Most major device platforms are supported by software solutions, with more platforms being added constantly. Custom settings allow parents (admins) to tailor limits and modify them with time. A convenient admin app allows parents to access key metrics like usage data, browsing history and information about apps on each device.

Round 3 is a close call. Great comeback by Hardware.

4)      Security

Online safety

(Picture Credit: Flickr)

  • Harware: Online safety solutions that rely on hardware are robust and hard to bypass. But there’s no stopping an irate teenager from messing with the device or damaging it on purpose. Parents might never find out why the device went kaputt and would eventually revert to other filtering options.
  • Software: Yes kids are smart these days. Some are even professional hackers. But that doesn’t mean software solutions for home internet safety are easy to bypass. Software solutions are cutting edge and repeatedly updated; and there’s constant improvement in both online safety standards and protection against meddling and by-passing.

Round 4 has Hardware nearly on the ropes. Software looks to the crowds.

5)      Simplicity

Mobicip admin deck

(Picture Credit: Mobicip)

  • Harware: Adding an additional link in the internet access network, increases the odds of something going wrong. Hardware solutions need to be installed and configured by technicians; not easy for the DIY folks. Even plug and play devices can be tricky to format. At the end of the day, hardware solutions depend on software interfaces to present all usage data as interesting visual information; so that parents can make informed decisions. The simplicity of the entire experience hinges on the user experience of the software interface linked to the hardware.
  • Software: Software solutions require it to be individually downloaded on to each mobile device at home; and the parents get sole access to the admin console as a separate app. It's an added effort, but installing a software isn't rocket science; while formating network requirements for a router or configuring and internet controlling appliance can be tough. Once downloaded parents can view reports, tweak filter settings and sit back to relax.

Round 5 ends and Hardware throws in the towel!

One more point that should be highlighted for parents in the decision making process is that software solutions have little or no switching costs. At $40 per year, and functioning on a yearly renewal basis, parents can shift over to another service without much to lose; and service providers do offer partial refunds for premature cancellation. But harware options are sunk investments and the switching cost is prohibitively high at more than $250 (the average net cost of a new internet filtering applicance). Based on this comprehensive criteria-based comparison it's quite obvious that online filtering software applications are both economically and technologically superior to hardware alternatives. This inherent fact is reflected in the market too, where software solutions far outnumber hardware based solution providers!


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