Review: Circle With Disney - Internet Monitoring

We have quite a few internet devices in the AAAD household.

We also have a 10-year old, and it's difficult to limit screen time, or monitor what he sees when he IS on the internet.

Circle with Disney should help.

We've had it for 2 weeks - here are my initial impressions.

Circle with Disney is an internet monitoring device.

In short, this device allows you to track internet usage for every device on your network.

First, assign your devices to individuals in your "family circle".

Then, you can then limit the internet usage for each family member, in several ways.

Screen Time Limits

This was the primary draw for us - our 10 year old would watch YouTube Minecraft and trick-shot videos indefinitely, if given the option.

That's no longer an option.

With one click on the Circle App, we can kill network access for all of our son's assigned devices. (Right now, that's his iPad 2, and the basement Apple TV.)

Circle calls this "pausing the internet".

Preset daily time limits are even more useful, because they work when we aren't present. Our son is limited to a couple of hours of internet time per day, maximum. (Which can be over-ridden, if  there is a legitimate reason.)

You can assign a "bedtime" and "wake time" for each device, and change that up between weekdays and weekends.

Content Monitoring

It doesn't just keep track of how much internet your kids are consuming - you get to see what they're doing online, and limit - or completely block - sites you find objectionable.

You can apply a blanket child/teen/adult rating system, or get more customized... limiting access to YouTube specifically, or Facebook, or so on.

Limitations and Frustrations

Setup was incredibly easy. You plug it in, identify your wireless network, and that's pretty much it.

You have the option to connect via Ethernet, which I'm going to test out.

While the Circle is compact and pretty and "Apple Looking", it's yet another hub device.... ideally, it can live in the basement connected to our switch.

That said, device identification can be difficult. You're faced with a big wall of devices, some of which broadcast their names pretty clearly (i.e., Matt'sAppleWatch", and others of which are more inscrutable ("Private Device", "HUMAX device". Is that the DirecTV box?)

Identifying the 10-year-old's iPad 2 was a bit a of a chore - we ultimately had to go into its settings and find its MAC address.

Still, I'm not sure how this can be made more simple. Be aware - there is gonna be a little bit of legwork.

One Caveat - guest networks

Our Circle comes with a security hole big enough to drive the internet through - our Airport Extreme broadcasts a "Guest Network", which allows guests to log in without a password.

The Circle only monitors the primary "GasawayNet" network - our guest network goes completely unchecked.

So, it's a simple matter for an enterprising 10-year-old to get back online... just flip the internet over to the guest network, and he's watching Minecraft all night.

I'm going to have to explore options for blocking that iPad from our guest network - for now, we clicked "forget network" on the device, but that isn't permanent.

Ultimately, the Circle does what it's supposed to do. We can see what our kids are doing online, and limit screen time.

We haven't seen any effect on our network performance - really, ever since we turned off iPv6 on the Airport Extreme, everything has been going great.

It's just going to require some additional customization - and awareness that all the firewalls in the world won't keep a smart, unwatched tween from the internet.


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