Mac OS X.4 ("Tiger") gives parents some control over a young child's experience of the Internet. This is good.
I just gave Catherine, our ten-year old, her own email account, so she can communicate with her older sisters, who are away from home now, and so she can get some more experience reading and writing. I would like to exercise some control over her use of the email account and I don't want to have to sit and look over her shoulder all the time. What Tiger offers is just about perfect.
Of course, she doesn't have an admin account on the PowerBook she's allowed to use. I access the Accounts system preferences panel on that machine with admin privileges, click on her account, and indicate that I want to configure parental controls for Mail. I type in a list of addresses with which she may exchange mail - Mom, sisters, our family friend Xiao, uncles and aunts, a couple of friends. And I enter my own address as the gatekeeper. After that, when she receives a message from someone unauthorized, the message first comes to me for approval. Here is what I receive in my inbox:
If I grant permission, the message then automatically gets through to her.
And if she tries to send a message to someone not on her approved list, she sees a note that says, "You are not allowed to send mail to email@example.com. Would you like to ask permission?" If she says yes, the message gets saved in her Drafts folder. I get a message similar to the one above and if I say yes, then the message in her drafts folder says, "You have been given permission to send this email. Click Send to send this email now."
I do not know if this cooperation between Mail and the OS is a unique result of the fact that Mail is Apple's baby and part of the operating system, or whether there's an API of some sort here that other email clients like Gyaz Mail or Mailsmith might be able to hook into in future versions. I did test her computer account with the current release version of Mailsmith and found that the parental controls were circumvented. Solution: Go back to the system preferences panel for Accounts and configure the Finder options for her account to deny her access to Mailsmith. No big deal there. Mailsmith is not a kids email program.
The Internet can be a nasty place. I have not yet restricted her web access - it's a bit burdensome to do so - but adding these parental controls to the email she can receive is pretty easy and provides a certain level of comfort to me.
(Originally published on Typepad 6/16/2005)