Technical advice for limiting a young person's Chromebook usage
November 16, 2019 5:08 PM   Subscribe

If you wanted really careful logging of someone's Chromebook activity, and to have fine-grained control of various kinds of restrictions (i.e. can't use it at all between certain times, can't use any app but the web browser at certain times), how would you go about doing it? Details below.

So, this question isn't about whether or not it's good to control a tween's computing behavior, or how to parent tweens, or anything like that. I am not a parent, in this case, but I am acting on behalf of this kid's parents. Looking for the technical side only, right now - I am not opposed to hearing about computer contracts and suchlike, but that stuff is already in place, and not really creating much behavior change, so I really am looking for tech advice and app suggestions and the like.

Kid in question is a tween, and has a bit of a screen addiction. I.e. claims to spend an hour on homework, but if you observe his behavior, he spends maybe five minutes on homework and the rest of the time playing games, or looking at memes or whatever. I've been asked if I can help set up some boundaries, and some logging for within-boundary Chromebook usage. I have some ideas, but I'm hampered by the fact that I haven't adminned anything at all since like 2007.

The house in question has, like, one device from every ecosystem. So the house's Android phone and iPad and Roku and Chromebook and etc. all get net access via the Time Capsule. I am empowered to replace said Time Capsule with a router with parental controls (or perhaps even just, you know, IP logging). I am empowered to install whatever on the kid's Chromebook, in order to get the parents what they're hoping for:

1) Chromebook kicked from network at 9 PM every schoolnight (but comparatively tech-savvy parent can log into router and grant the kid an extension, hopefully without requiring too much command-line mojo);

2) Some or all non-browser apps restricted at parental will (i.e., games don't work during homework hour, which is not scheduled, but once again must be easy enough for the parent to, I dunno, log in and run a shell script?); and,

3) Internet activity logged (i.e. browsing histories kept, and I assume that it would be possible to grep the logs looking for e.g. Forge of Empires activity at particular times).

Seems to me like this is actually non-trivial! I probably could have done it a decade ago, with a Sonicwall, and like 20 hours of work and research. (Like, play all the games in an hour, then filter all the IPs in the logs from that hour?) I've looked at some Parental Total Information Awareness apps, but haven't found one that will do all of the above out-of-box. Heck, I can't even figure out how to do the temporary disable-all-the-games trick. How much of 1-3 above is implausible? Lots of work? Downright impossible? Would it all be easy if we just moved over to a Google Home wifi mesh network? (Looks like: "no" to me.)

I imagine that someone has done most or all of this with Tomato or DD-WRT but I must not be searching with the right terms, because I haven't found it. Where should I look? Thanks in advance for your pointers, and for your respect for my request that this not turn into a discussion of the moral aspects of this plan. (I'm getting enough of that from the kid! On the plus side, he's finally found a moral system - one that lambasts parental net-access-blockage as frankly Soviet. And now he actually wants to hear stories about the Stasi and the KGB. A win, I suppose.)
posted by BrunoLatourFanclub to Technology (6 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
My router allows me to set everything you mention above for each person who will use it. Other stuff too like setting 'homework' time when you can use educational websites but not gaming websites. It's dead simple even for a not great user like myself. I have a Gryphon. I imagine there are other routers that do the same thing, possibly better.
posted by Patapsco Mike at 5:14 PM on November 16, 2019

Chromebook kicked from network at 9 PM every schoolnight

is probably the wrong angle to be looking at that particular access restriction from, because it's relatively easy to spoof the MAC address on a Chromebook (or any other device, really) and make the router think it's something else.

The way this happens at our house is that our WAPs (a pair of rather ancient D-Link DWL-8600AP units given away when the school they were used in superseded them) are set up with multiple SSIDs, each with its own unique WPA2 passphrase, and the only passphrase that kiddo's devices ever get told about are the ones for the SSIDs controlled by the scheduler in the WAPs.

Given half-decent opsec around management of the other SSIDs' passphrases, this is completely effective regardless of the level of technical expertise brought to bear on trying to work around it.
posted by flabdablet at 10:27 PM on November 16, 2019 [2 favorites]

That said, you know that as soon as your house wifi starts being restricted in any way, kiddo is just going to work out how to run Internet access via their cellphone, yes? The tween brain interprets parental restrictions as damage and routes around them.
posted by flabdablet at 10:29 PM on November 16, 2019 [2 favorites]

Does this help? Built in chrome book parental controls. ( The search keyword I used was "screentime chromebook parental controls" - screentime being the name of Apple's parental thingo on iPads.
posted by freethefeet at 3:59 AM on November 17, 2019

Have a look at Family Link. You can remotely manage and control activity and screen time, app use etc. Here’s a fairly recent how to. It’s the most comprehensive plug-and-play parental control tool I’m aware of and it works across android devices and iPads.
posted by mkdirusername at 9:13 AM on November 17, 2019

I work in cybersecurity and recommend Familyzone for something like this. Not, you don't need to purchase the $100 router package (thought it's good), the app solution is effective and much much cheaper.

I like FamilyZone for parents that are not super IT savvy because:
1. It works on mobile devices and tablets, and on pcs, and if you have the router, also directly on your network connection
2. It makes its own recommendations on filters which are pretty good and can be customised if you need, rather than having to build up a list itself. The filters as based on age range which is great.
3. It's virtually impossible to circumvent without the master password, and if the teen/kid does somehow manage to, a list of domains and times are sent to the parent through the app. This also happens if they remove the app.
posted by smoke at 1:17 PM on November 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

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