New parental controls for Chromebooks

Just in time for parents’ holiday shopping, Google announced its new “Supervised Users” tool for Chromebooks. You know about Chromebooks, right? They’re a very viable alternative to tablets that are just as (in some cases more) low-cost and offer a more laptop-like experience, and this tool makes them an even more viable option for families. [As their name suggests, the Chrome browser is their operating system.]

“Let’s say you’ve recently purchased the new HP Chromebook 11 [for $279] and want to share it with your son,” writes mom and Google software engineer Pam Greene in the Google blog. “He’ll be able to use your Chromebook as a supervised user.” Just go to Chrome.com/manage to set up his own supervised account. Then you’ll be able to go back to that page to review where he’s been on the Web and when, decide what sites he can and can’t go to (create a white list and a black list), and “manage permissions for any blocked Web sites he has requested to view.” For supervised accounts, Google’s Safe Search is “turned on by default.”

Parents can also set up Supervised Users in the Chrome browser on the family computer, but only when your kids are using the Chrome browser will you have the same level of control as on Chromebooks. So you’d also need to establish a rule that says those Supervised Users can only use Chrome. This would really only work with littler kids who don’t know to download Firefox, Explorer or Safari or aren’t inclined to go into stealth mode with another browser. So if you’re looking for a high level of control that involves taking the time to set up black and white lists, getting your kids a Chromebook is probably the best option for you. Just don’t develop a false sense of security, because determined stealth users can find workarounds like using other people’s (non-password-protected) smartphones or tablets that aren’t under your control. It’s logical to me that Google will eventually add Supervised Users to Android devices such as smartphones and tablets, but they haven’t announced anything like that yet.

In other great news, Computer World just this week released its Chromebook Buying Guide, with an at-a-glance comparison chart of four models. “The level of choice and diversity within Chrome OS has never been greater,” writes reviewer JR Raphael. “Each model has its own specific advantage – and, in most cases, its own specific downside. The real question is what qualities you care about the most – and what compromises you’re willing to make.” But, Raphael adds, “the level of choice and diversity within Chrome OS has never been greater.”

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