Parental control software

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McAfee Safe Family

McAfee Safe Family Review

Reviewer: Stephen Qualtrough
Developer: McAfee
Overall rating:
Price: $49.99

Review summary

Good points

 Three licenses included

 Encrypted web pages are filtered

 Instant messaging & email monitoring

 Remote management

 Blocks websites in 35 categories

Bad points

 Doesn’t block web-based chat sites

 Social network & IM monitoring doesn’t work in XP

 Can be disabled with a three word network command

Our verdict

McAfee Safe Family installs on up to three computers and effectively protects your child from exposure to inappropriate websites, videos, music and games.

Full review


McAfee Safe Family is quick and easy to install. Simply download the client and create a McAfee online account. The setup wizard takes a few minutes to complete the initial configuration process, after which you can start customising the security settings.

The software is paid for on an annual basis and comes with three licenses, which allow you to install McAfee Safe Family on multiple computers.

Filtering and Blocking

Websites - McAfee provides a range of options to manage access to website content. You can choose to allow or block websites based on categories, create a custom list of sites or enter specific search terms to block. You are also provided with 35 available categories which block access to certain sites, such as pornography, social networks and hate sites. Also, a checkbox can be ticked if you want to restrict inappropriate keywords in search engines. Of course, you can also block specific websites and keywords by customising the settings.

McAfee can filter HTTPS traffic, which means that it is not dependent on the browser, as such; the child cannot elude it by using an unsupported web browser. Unfortunately, McAfee Family Protection does have its flaws - it can be disabled with a meek network command or from a Windows account that has administrator rights.

IM & Chat - With McAfee Family Protection you can restrict and filter the majority of instant messaging services available, including online chat rooms. Records of all conversations can be accessed through the activity reports, with instant email alerts if inappropriate keywords are exchanged in conversations. As the software does not filter web-based chat services, namely Facebook, the child can evade the restrictions if chat service websites are not manually blocked.

Social networks - Manage and monitor all your child’s posts on social networking websites. You can set the software to take snapshots of posts that contain specified content, such as: offensive or inappropriate language and personal information. The software will send you a notification, but it will not block your child from publishing the post.

Games - Block games that require an internet connection or game websites. You can also restrict access to the online multiplayer feature of web-browser integrated games. McAfee doesn’t actually have a game content control settings tab; rather, it is integrated into the program control settings. This can make it confusing to navigate through the settings to block game content.

Other - Video streaming can be blocked, or set to only allow particular categories. Music content can be filtered by blocking results that contain explicit language and email address usage can also be monitored. Peer to Peer download websites can also be blocked.


The developers of McAfee Safe Family have ensured that all possible attempts by the child to uninstall or disable the software have been covered. Older children can often attempt to find out the administrative password by calling tech support, but this is made difficult as a secret question must be answered before the tech support staff allow access to the password. A similar procedure is in place for any attempts to uninstall the program – an uninstall code must be obtained through the support staff, which is only granted after a few secret questions are answered.

A common flaw in parental protection software is that teenagers can use proxy sites to by-pass the website content filters. To counter this, McAfee uses encrypted website blocking to filter proxy-sites so your child cannot evade the software. However, the child can still infiltrate the filters if they figure out how to use network commands, as McAfee Safe Family is vulnerable in that aspect.

Time controls

A number of time scheduling tools are available. You can establish an internet access schedule which allows you to place a limit on the number of hours your child can access the internet. Parents have the option of setting daily time limits which can be applied to multiple computers. Since the time scheduler is not dependent on the system clock, it cannot be fooled by the child changing the system time.

Unfortunately, the time control settings are not very flexible. While parents can set the day and time for when their children can access the internet, there is no option for placing time limits on specific applications.


As the parent, you have full access to all the settings and controls of the software. You have the power to customise the content filters, which can also be accessed via a mobile android device. You have the option of selecting a predefined profile or creating a custom profile, in which you can customise the settings and filters for each user.

Parents who are reluctant to customise the filters can simply choose one of the default security settings (Low, Medium & High), which will automatically apply the relevant filters to the user account.


McAfee’s activity reports provide the parents with information regarding the websites their child visits, email conversations, IM conversations that contain prohibited language and social network posts containing parent-defined parameters.

Alerts are sent to parents via text messages and emails. Parents can choose whether they want the activity reports sent to them daily or weekly, with the option of selecting threshold-based alerts to only receive alerts when the child makes numerous attempts to access blocked content.

Ease of use

The user interface is quite simple to navigate. The screens are designed to be user friendly for both experienced and new users. The layout for each section has a simple and clear design that is easy to follow for computer illiterate parents. Creating and editing user account profiles is a fairly straight forward process. Parents can opt to use the default settings or personalise settings for each user account they create.

Help & support

If you need technical help or have any questions regarding the software, you can contact phone support for free for up to 30 days in your subscription. You can also contact support through various online support tools and via email support. Customers who feel that they need extra support have the option of purchasing McAfee’s Express setup service, which allows an expert to help the customer setup the software by controlling the PC through a remote connection.


McAfee Safe Family has all the features you would expect to see in parental protection software. It has an interface that is user friendly, allowing parents to customise settings and ultimately protect their child from accessing inappropriate websites. It is a good all round parental control software, especially for parents with more than one child as it comes with three licenses.

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2. McAfee Safe Family
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