[This post was originally published at Forbes.com on 3rd October 2012]
One of the virtues of a Mac that I have always heralded to anyone who might ask was their parental controls. Unlike PCs, these were built right into the operating
system. And in a typical Apple way they have always been very easy to use. You can set it up to allow your children to open certain apps, you can set the time limits on use sensibly (including time of day as well as total time per day) and you could manage the websites they visited. What is more, if there was an issue, you could simply create an exception with a username and password. What is more, it would keep logs of precisely what it was your child was doing.
Put simply, it struck the right balance between control but also annoyance. So many other gatekeeper programs I had experienced would lead to continual restrictions. They basically handcuffed children so that you might as well be sitting there with them. Apple's solution allow the children to roam relatively free. In other words, they were a hands off approach to being hands on. And when I would explain this to other parents, it was often the key factor that caused them to switch to Macs.
But Apple recently updated its Mountain Lion operating system and completely broke parental controls. My 8 year old, started to complain that she wasn't able to access websites. This included the school sanctioned, IXL program. A message would pop up saying "Parental controls restricts access to secure websites." I then could supposedly sign in and give parental permission to add the 'secure' website to the list of permitted ones. The first time this happened I duly entered that permission thinking it was just something new. But then, each and every time the website reloaded or who knows what, it would ask again. For the very same website! I shouted at the computer but to no avail. No Siri to complain to here. I entered it again and again. I tried other websites. It was a continual problem.
So I did what most people would do. I rebooted. Nope. I reset the parental conditions to allow her to visit all websites. In fact, that didn't work either. I then searched Apple's forums to see if the issue was widespread. I found this one but alas I was logged on to my daughter's account and wasn't able to give myself permission to view it. Apple were blocking their own darn help site!
Anyhow once I logged on as myself, a verified adult, I could access the site. I was joined by one hundred or so other grieving parents. It was there that I discovered the term 'parentgate' or something to its effect. This had been going on since September 21.
The evolution of that forum is interesting. First, there was denial. "I think it must be me, but is anyone else having this problem." Then there was anger. "I can't believe that Apple have let this happen." That was my current stage. Then I read on to bargaining. "Is there anyone out there who has come up with a solution to this?" or another "[m]akes the mac almost unusable for them. FIX THIS PLEASE SOON APPLE." And there were some solutions some of which required the use of the terminal program which, of course, led to depression. "It has been three weeks, I can't understand why they have abandoned us to run code." And finally there was acceptance.
I jumped right to that. Like many others on the forum I decided that parental control was gone and I would just have to let go. I opened up system preferences, selected my daughter's name and switched parental controls to off. She was completely free. (Well, as free as you get with out the coveted administrator control). Apple had forced my daughter to grow up too quickly. How could they. Oops moving back to anger, need to look to the future. It will be OK. How bad could it be?
Chances are I won't find out how bad it can be until she hits puberty but by the then her web surfing will probably be the least of my worries.
Following the Apple parent group's acceptance of the situation and its confirmation that someone in Apple had acknowledged the issue, their focus turned to "how?" It is pretty clear that they didn't test the new operating system upgrade properly. Let's face it, that is kept to employees and some developers and likely not to anyone with children to control. Quality control failed because Apple has so much secrecy that it cannot deal with kids.
For the moment, Apple have shipped a faulty product. I am an Apple fan and so this distresses me. I can't sell this feature on their behalf anymore as it is turned into a bug. But I did note that with all the MapGate controversy there has been no attention on tech blogs to ParentGate. Hopefully this post will fix it and spur Apple to action soon.
[Update: Well, less than 24 hours after I first posted on this Apple has released a 'supplemental' update to OSX that is reported to fix this issue.]
[Update 2: I have tested the update. It works but what has happened is that Apple have changed the way websites are approved. Previously, this was done in the background with the occasional problem. Now it seems that you have to approve every site for your child. Suffice it to say, if your child is experienced this is a big fat pain. I ended up opting for unrestricted website usage and decided to use Chrome as the browser rather than Safari. That way I could use Google's safe search to at least prevent unwelcome sites randomly popping up.]