Social networking and children isn’t a particularly comfortable mix. The dangers are frequently hyped, but they are real: inappropriate content, cyberbullying, internet grooming – it’s enough to make parents consider the impossible task of banning their children from the internet.

There’s no easy one-fix solution to this problem, which is why ZoneAlarm SocialGuard limits itself to simply providing parents with an easy means of monitoring their children’s Facebook accounts. For $1.99 a month, or $19.99 a year, ZoneAlarm SocialGuard provides real-time monitoring tools that scan selected Facebook accounts using special algorithms that help determine if specific threats are taking place: cyberbullying, friend requests from strangers, age concerns, dangerous links, hacked accounts and inappropriate content.

If any of this is detected, ZoneAlarm SocialGuard will alert the parent to potentially suspicious behaviour, and provide details to allow the parents to make an informed decision about what to do next. The program is keen to stress that it’ll only alert parents to “red flag” events, so while your children are safe, their access to Facebook is completely private.

The program installs only on a single user account, and can be configured to start with Windows so you’re immediately alerted if something suspicious is detected. It’s not designed to interfere with other security software, and you only need to pair SocialGuard with your child’s Facebook account once. That means you need to get their permission to log on to their account – if necessary, let them type in their password while you’re not looking.

After logging on, confirm your child’s real age and click Finish. The program will immediately get to work, alerting both child and parent via email of any concerns it finds. You can modify this behaviour from the Account Settings dialogue box, plus add extra accounts (SocialGuard supports up to five) for other children in your family.

If you’re worried by your children’s exposure to Facebook, then ZoneAlarm SocialGuard could provide you with both the reassurance and the tools to act if the worst happens, making it of keen interest to any parents. The program - which is a reporting tool only - functions for seven days as a trial version before registration is required. 

Verdict

A well-constructed and thought-out tool let down mainly by the high price tag. Hopefully future versions of SocialGuard will justify the expense by broadening their reach to other popular social networks.