Microsoft has unveiled the Family Safety features that are built into Windows 8. One of the main features of the software is a weekly report, seen below, that is emailed to parents detailing their child's computer use. The report details what websites the child visits, what they are searching for, what they are downloading, and how much time they spend doing various computing activities. Parents can then, directly from links in the email, block or limit their child's activities through a simple web interface. Windows 8 requires logging in with a Windows Account, which is cloud-based, meaning all activity on any computer logged into the child's account will make it into the report.
Steven Sinofsky, president of the Windows division at Microsoft, detailed how the Family Safety software will work over at the Building Windows 8 blog. Microsoft is touting Family Safety as a good way to teach children about internet safety and limit the amount of time they spend playing video games. From the blog post:
Windows 8 gives you a “monitor first” approach, which provides informative activity reports for each child. As previously discussed on this blog, signing in to Windows 8 with a Microsoft account makes setup much simpler: just create a separate user account for each child and then check the box to turn on Family Safety. As soon as you do, you’ll receive a welcome email followed by weekly email reports summarizing your child’s computer activities. We expect you’ll find activity reports a great tool for teaching your kids about responsible computer use. Of course, you can also easily add restrictions by just clicking a link in the activity report. With the simplicity of activity reports, we believe more parents will adopt Family Safety, resulting in a safer computing environment for children.
The sentiment is nice, and the software looks well-designed for this purpose. But there is no getting around the fact that these Family Safety Reports leave children no shred of privacy on their Windows Accounts. Perhaps that is OK for most parents, who will responsibly monitor their child's computer use with an understanding of childhood curiosity. However, there are parents who will use the software to keep their children trapped in a cloistered web of insular ideas. Parents who will punish children not for looking at porn, but for looking at ideas and world-views that contradict their own.
Also, while it's true that children aren't necessarily entitled to privacy from their parents, the feature could easily be abused to surreptitiously monitor the activities of an unsuspecting spouse or roommate. Like any tool, the Windows 8 family safety software can and will be used for both good and evil.
Take a look at the video demonstration fo the Family Safety features in Windows 8 and see for yourself just how easy the software makes it to monitor a user: