Review: McGruff SafeGuard Browser for iPad

Girl sitting on sofa using digital tablet and headphones
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When I was a kid, McGruff the crime fighting dog was a pretty big deal. He was on TV and he occasionally made appearances at local events (or at least someone wearing his costume did). I still remember his motto "Take a bite out of crime". I always wondered who would win in a fight between McGruff the crime dog and Smokey the bear.

McGruff had dropped off my radar until I saw the McGruff SafeGuard Browser app in the iTunes App Store. I thought the concept was a great idea. I have always wanted to be able to filter out inappropriate content for when my kids are using the iPad. McGruff SafeGuard Browser is a free app, so I decided to give it a whirl.

After you install the app, you must configure it before you let your kids use it. You must provide your e-mail address, set a parental control password, and input the age range of the child who will be using it, presumably to establish age-appropriate content filtering.

You will also need to enable parental control on your iPad (from the settings icon) so that your kids can't circumvent the browser by just using another browser such as the iPad's built-in Safari browser. The best way to do this is to turn off Safari in the restrictions configuration area and turn off "Installing Apps" as well. You will also want to remove any other 3rd party browsers on your iPad.

After setup is complete, you are presented with a Google custom search page that appears to filter links to prevent inappropriate content. Your child can also go to the URL bar at the top of the screen and manually enter in a web address if they want. I entered Google and was taken to the main Google search homepage.

I decided to kick the tires and clicked on the images tab on the Google homepage. I typed in a search term that any red-blooded, hormone filled 13-year-old boy might attempt and was greeted with results that, while not extremely explicit, were still highly inappropriate.

I tried typing in URLs for some well-known adult sites and the McGruff browser did not allow me to visit any of the sites attempted.

One of the features that the browser touts is the ability to monitor what your child is doing online. The first place I checked was the history tab. Unfortunately, there appears to be a glitch with the app because it did not show any history for me even though I had been using the browser for several minutes. There was another area in the password protected parental control section that has a "view log" option but the log is extremely cryptic and difficult to understand. It appeared to be geared more toward a developer who is debugging a program versus a parent trying to figure out where their child is trying to visit on the web.

I was finally able to see what sites were blocked by visiting the "Allow recently denied sites" settings area. While not intuitive, it did at least provide a list of the sites that were blocked by the filters. While it did show blocked sites, it did not show sites that were visited successfully, nor did it give you an option to block specific sites that may have slipped through the filters.

The McGruff app also states that it will send you a summary of your child's internet activity (or inactivity) each day. I did receive an e-mail from McGruff, however, it did not provide specifics, it only stated that X number of sites were visited and X number of sites were blocked. As a parent, I need more details. What sites were blocked? What sites did they go to? These are basic things that parents want to know.

One other thing that bothered me was that, while this is an ad-supported free app with an in-app purchase to turn ads off for 99 cents, the ads in the free version are completely irrelevant. My child was getting ads from car makers, insurance, and all manners of other things that were not age-appropriate. If you're going to have ads, at least gear them towards the age group that will be using the browser.

The app itself is a little rough around the edges and has a very "1.0" feel to it despite its 2.4 version moniker. I had a few rotational screen orientation issues where I would click something and the screen would rotate from landscape to portrait even though I had not moved the iPad.

All faults aside, the app is free and is a great concept. Filtering out all the bad content that is out on the net is a daunting challenge to say the least. The McGruff folks should be commended for even attempting it. If they can work out some of the kinks in a future update then I think this app has the potential to be a great tool to help parents shield their kids from at least some of the crap that is on the Internet.

McGruff SafeGuard Browser is available fro Free on the iTunes App Store.