Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Review: PGKey

Most homeschoolers will agree that to some degree their decision to keep their children at home is to protect them from the violence and sexuality so pervasive in the world today.  And yet, we often leave major gaps in our armor by allowing that world in through television, popular music, and the internet.  Recently I received a product to review designed to help boost our defenses in the last category.  The PGKey SafeKey, which  looks like a thumb drive, touts "Protection for Your Children. Peace of Mind for You." 

According to the packaging PGKey includes:

  • SafeKey Session Recorder

  • SafeKey Encryptor

  • Safe Key Safe Search

  • SafeKey Time Lock

  • SafeKey Alerts

You simply plug the PGKey into an empty USB port, the software loads automatically, you select a password for yourself as administrator and set up user ID's for the children you want to monitor.  When you go online you can customize the system by either blocking certain websites or only allowing access to a list of specific websites.  You can set  time limits  for computer usage and you can set up alerts if you child types certain words or phrases.  When I set up accounts for myself as administrator and my son as a user, the program automatically set us up as separate users when we start up Windows.  For myself, I had to type in a password at start up.  My son had no password but the computer would lock up unless the PGKey was plugged in--not just for internet access but any computer usage.   Now let's go through those features one by one:

Session Recorder--Most of the space on the PGKey is set aside to record screenshots at intervals of time you set.  As administrator you can then view the screenshots as a slideshow.  This is not just internet time, but any time used by the child ( I got to see a lot of solitaire games).  When the key fills up (60 hours worth)  it should discard the oldest data to make room for the new information.  I don't know if that actually occurs because my son is not allowed that much computer time.  I do know that when I first installed the PGKey, I would get a "write stream error."  The technician discovered that a dummy file they use to test capacity had not been removed from my key before shipping.  It would not record any screenshots until the dummy file had been removed.

Encryptor--The PGKey  relies on a parents password to disable its use, change blocked sites and alert words, and allow additional usage time once the limit has been reached.  If the key has been removed or someone tries to "hack" it, the information will be recorded.

Safe Search--The PGKey changed our default search engine to its own Google based Safe Search.  We use Google anyway, but this new version only allows for web searches not video, images, books, etc.   Of course you can always go to the search engine's website and use it rather than using the one on your menu bar.

Time Lock--I tested this by setting the limit to 10 minutes.  The feature worked perfectly--after ten minutes (not all internet time) a window popped up saying the limit had been reached.  The was a place for me to type in my password giving Fritz an additional 10 minutes of time.

Alerts --  To test this feature I set up an alert any time the phrase "Mississippi River" was typed.  When I put the phrase in the search engine I got an email alert within the hour.  Not satisfied with that (and assuming some teens will spend a lot of time and energy devising ways around the system), I typed in "river near St. Louis."  I used one of the phrase words and received a list of sites and images with the phrase "Mississippi River" in their titles and texts, but no email alert.  As a parent, you'll have to spend a lot of time inputting phrases and individual words if your goal to know when your kids are delving into forbidden areas.  NOTE: the keywords do not deny access to information, they just trigger an alert to the administrator.

The final feature I tested was blocking websites.  The online tool indicates that any website I list will be in addition to a list kept by PGKey (I'm assuming they've researched the seedier sites I don't even want to know about).  I chose a benign little site--Ultimate Disney, that provides information on Disney movies and DVDs.  When I typed in the address I was redirected to their main host site that has a completely different address ( and the site was not blocked.  I set up a new blocked site ( and this time the blocking worked.

Since my Schnickelfritz is so young and has such limited computer usage anyway, I think the best use for us at this time is to just allow access to a short list of sites.   As he gets older, we may take advantage of other features.  The PGKey is more of a reminder that "Mom is watching" than a real shield against filthy language and inappropriate images and videos.

The PGKey retails for $49.99.  Once it's purchased there are no continuing fees but you will need  to purchase separate keys for each computer in your house.  On their website  you can request a free trial (it doesn't say how long the trial period is).  You can see what my fellow Crewmates thought of the PGKey by clicking here.
Disclaimer: I received one free PGKey for the purposes of completing this review.  I received no other compensation for my honest opinion.

1 comment:

Sagerats said...

Interesting gadget, and it works about the same as some of the parental control programs I have seen but for half the price.

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