A Complete Guide to Accountability Software
What is Accountability Software?
Internet accountability software is a type of computer program used and promoted by groups opposed to certain types of obscenity or pornography, chiefly Christian groups in the United States. The function of accountability software is to deter access to porn, adult entertainment, or other obscene software via a program which makes use algorithms to sense when a device’s user might be looking at porn or other objectionable content.
Internet accountability refers to a commitment to stop oneself from using the internet to access porn or other obscene content. Internet accountability software typically functions by monitoring activity on the device it is installed on, or monitoring Internet activity for a specific user on that device. The application then creates a report of the Internet activity which is viewable by an accountability partner, or another person whom is supposed to help keep the individual accountable.
These programs can usually be installed on a multitude of different devices such as smart phones, tablets, and desktop PCs. Some people install internet accountability software on their own devices to keep themselves accountable to other people, but other people install accountability software on their children’s devices and computers to keep their children accountable. Typically, the biggest clients of accountability software are families, usually religious families, and religious groups in general.
Some of the biggest providers of accountability software are Ever Accountable, Lion, Accountable2You and Covenant Eyes. These companies sell internet accountability software for use on a variety of different platforms, though each has a slightly different approach and method that their software uses to keep people accountable.
Most internet accountability software apps or programs cost money, however there are a few free internet accountability software options out there for those who want to make use of accountability software but cannot afford to shell out the money for a higher-end accountability product.
Why Use Accountability Software?
The internet can be both a blessing and a curse. While it is an incredible tool to stay connected to others, helps us do our jobs, and is a powerful educational resource, it can also be used in ways that that are damaging to a person’s well-being. It is important to remain vigilant and be responsible about Internet use, to make sure you maximize the benefits it can give you while minimizing the harm it can do. Internet accountability software can be help you achieve this.
If you’re looking for protection on the internet, to help you stay away from pornography or obscene content, internet accountability software can be a fantastic tool in your toolbelt. Accountability software will not prevent you from accessing certain material, rather it attempts to encourage good behavior by giving someone a reason to take responsibility for their actions and decisions. Internet accountability software will monitor your internet use, and if you are engaging in activity you consider damaging or immoral, it will generate a report about the action and send it to a chosen accountability partner.
The accountability partner will then be able to speak about the nature of the problem with the user of the accountability software, in order to help the individual grow past their temptations. This makes internet accountability software a relationship-driven way of encouraging healthy and positive internet engagement, with the goal being an attitude of accountability that will also extend into other areas of the user’s life and confer additional benefits.
As an example of how the benefits of accountability software can benefits other aspects of a person’s life, consider social media. Accountability software need not be used for porn, as it can instead be easily employed to limit the amount of time an individual spends on Facebook, if that is an issue the user struggles with. Facebook, much like the internet in general, can be a helpful tool for communicating with others, or a distraction which prevents you from being productive. If Facebook is limiting someone’s productivity by tempting them to continually scroll through its news feed four hours a day at the expense of their responsibilities, they could use instant alert accountability software and a pact with an accountability partner to ensure that their use of Facebook is more limited and more beneficial, rather than distracting.
Router Based Accountability vs. Software Based Accountability
When it comes to accountability software, there are two main methods of monitoring activity. A router based accountability program essentially monitors all traffic that occurs over the internet through that specific router, and then checks the activity that is happening on a specific domain name. Router based accountability options are somewhat difficult to find because of the complications in tracking online activity through a router, and they are also typically more expensive than software-centered accountability solutions.
Software- accountability programs are more common than router based accountability options. The user installs the software to their computer and during the installation of the software, the software will ask for identification of some kind. After the installation is complete, the software runs in the background and monitors activity on the computer. Those records are than sent to a central server where they wait for an accountability partner to view them.
Mobile Accountability Software
Being held accountable over a mobile device can be difficult does of the unique framework of a mobile device, which allows for a variety of apps. This problem is exacerbated with iOS or Apple based operating systems. Mobile accountability software for Android platforms is typically easier to use, because Android devices allow for the accountability software to see activity generated by all the different apps. By contrast, Apple restricts apps to only logging activity that goes on within that specific app. As a result, accountability software providers such as Accountable2You have to come up with workarounds for Apple devices like a custom browser app, or use of a VPN which gets past Apple’s method of restricting information to specific apps.
The Importance of an Accountability Partner When Using Accountability Software
Having an accountability partner is important, because the installation of online accountability software alone will not keep you accountable. The idea of an accountability partner is that they are someone who you trust and whose regard for you you value. When an accountability partner receives a report from online accountability software regarding suspicious activity, they will first want to determine what the activity is and why they were alerted to it. Many online accountability programs will allow accountability partners to change the types of alert they get, and customize the information that is delivered to them by these alerts, to help them understand the context of why the alert was sent.
What’s Filtering Software and How is it Different from Internet Accountability Software?
While internet accountability software is one of the ways that an unhealthy interest in pornography, obscene material, or otherwise damaging material can be combated, it is not the only way. Filtering software can also be employed to assist in deterring access to pornography or other material. Filtering software functions by monitoring and filtering internet traffic. If the filtering software’s algorithms detect that the website being accessed is potentially objectionable, the software creates a digital wall of sorts that will prevent the device’s user from gaining access to that content.
Unlike online accountability software, internet filtering programs usually give people the ability to create specific user IDs for different people using a device. This enables people to set certain restrictions for certain individuals based upon how appropriate the content is for each individual. The software allows you to “blacklist” or block certain sites, and “whitelist” or allow access to only certain sites, or do a combination of the two. It is also possible to block websites depending on the type of content that they display, such as pornography, violence, alcohol, or drugs.
Examples of Filtering Software:
Some of the most notable of filtering programs are Net Nanny, SpyAgent, and Qustudio. These programs typically have features like email alerts when objectionable sites are visited, text alerts when objectionable sites are visited, summary reports of all internet activity over a given period of time, chat reports of dialogue had with other people online, screenshots of internet and computer use and activity, and remote reporting. Remote reporting allows for the user to monitor the activity of a person while they are away from them. Some filtering programs also deliver reports about internet usage, similar to accountability software, though the reports are not as targeted as the ones used by accountability software and may be less useful.
Programs like NetNanny may also offer things like monitoring the social network activity of a user, monitoring of online searches performed, different filtering categories, anti-cyber bullying features to protect children from online bullying, time management features, online search filtering, profanity masking, and more.
Accountability Software vs. Filtering Software
Filtering deters accessing of content by making the content more difficult to access, however it may not address the root cause of the issue, which is taking responsibility for one’s actions and maintaining their integrity. By contrast, internet accountability software cannot force a person to stop accessing certain content, but it encourages them to behave with integrity. Online accountability software puts more of a responsibility on the individual using the device to make healthy choices about their use of the internet. Encouraging personal responsibility in this fashion would have the added benefit of helping the user be more responsible in other areas of their life as well. A filtering program would not have this self-growth benefit.
The delivery of reports by online accountability software also allows a chance for accountability partners to have productive conversations with the user of the software, a chance which might be denied if only using filtering software.
The Benefits of Accountability Software Over Filtering Software
Internet accountability software also has other benefits that filtering software does not. Christian accountability software has advantages for its Christian users. Because it is designed primarily by Christian groups, online accountability software often has features tailored to Christian needs specifically, and can thus be of more utility than similar features found in filtering programs.
Many filters are imperfect and often fail to block certain inappropriate or pornographic websites, and they also sometimes block material that they should not be blocking. This leads to frustration when sites that are not objectionable are blocked. By contrast, a simple online accountability program would not block anything, but simply reveal upon reading of the logs whether or not the content that was accessed was obscene.
Another limit of filters is that they usually function by just blocking access to a certain website. There frequently isn’t an option to allow access to content but only for a certain amount of time. If your goal was to use accountability software to spend less time watching sports videos or browsing your Facebook feed, a filter would not help with this. However, accountability software could benefit you, as you could still access the site but you and your accountability partner would have an idea of how long you spent on it. This could help a person to curtail unhealthy browsing habits when it comes to content that is not explicitly obscene, but is possible to overindulge in.
Accountability software offers particular benefits when compared to filtering solutions on mobile devices. More than half of all pornography or other objectionable material is viewed over more mobile device, so it is important for accountability software to serve mobile platforms in a way that maintains the functionality of the device. Most filtering options for mobile devices work by essentially limiting the device’s function and forcing its user to browse the internet via a “safe browser”. Many of these can be circumvented by different browsers or apps which will allow access to the Internet unrestricted.
Enforcing use of the safe browser would essentially require that almost all apps were disabled, which would frustrate users. Such extreme limiting of the device’s functions would just encourage its user to circumvent the filter or use a different device altogether. Therefore, accountability software can help achieve the correct balance of maintaining a device’s usefulness, while at the same time offering a level of monitoring and protection.
An advantage of online accountability programs over filtering software is that some internet accountability programs do not show URLs in the reports. This way an accountability partner is never tempted to click on the link, ensuring they have an added layer of security. Instead, only titles will be shown if using this feature.
Another benefit of accountability software over regular filtering software is that accountability software can have a “panic button” feature. This option will temporarily cut off access to the internet when pressed. It is intended to be used when an individual is dealing with extreme temptation, and it is a feature only an internet accountability program would have thanks to the fact that they are designed with Christian needs in mind.
Internet accountability software can also excel over pure filtering software because they can offer a “reason for flagging” option which will provide more info about the nature of the website and why it was flagged by the program. This assists in helping an accountability partner determine why a website was flagged without having to view the website themselves. This feature can also be deactivated if the accountability partner does not want to be exposed to the keywords, which is an option that many filtering programs lack.
Combining Accountability Software and Filtering Software
While accountability software offers advantages that regular filtering software does not, the two programs are not mutually exclusive and can be used in combination with one another. Accountable2You recommends that while online accountability software should be at least one part of a strategy to avoid obscene content, online filtering software can be used as a tool to augment a strategy of accountability. There are many free filtering options that can be used in conjunction with accountability software.
Examples of Online Accountability Software and Features:
Different online accountability software packages operate on different platforms, have different features, and assist in a variety of different ways. It’s important to get acquainted with the individual programs and learn about their unique features, so that you can find the best accountability software for your needs.
Accountable2You was initially started by a Christian developer, who wanted an accountability tool that didn’t negatively impact internet speed or create other problems, as most did.
It functions on Windows, iOS, Android, Chrome, and Linux devices. An individual plan will cost $4.99 a month, while a family plan is available for $8.99 a month. A group plan costs $4.99 a month plus an additional $1.99 per member per month, and a business plan costs $4.99 a month with an additional $.80 per device per month.
The online accountability program does not show URLs in the reports, because the creators of the program have determined that doing so may tempt an accountability partner to click on the link (a feature that filtering programs may lack). So they typically only show the title of the webpage in question. Accountable2You advertises its biggest advantage to be its reporting features. The program provides a large amount of information to accountability partners about the activity of the device’s user, while still respecting the privacy of the user, since it will never share information with people outside of the user and their accountability partner.
Covenant Eyes monitors the websites that a person visits, and files reports about these visits to the individual’s selected accountability partners. The online accountability program also has filtering options to restrict certain types of content. The software is usable on Android with app filtering options included, Mac, iOS, and Windows. The program costs $10.99 per month for an individual plan, $14.99 a month for a family plan, and for a group plan it is $14.99 a month.
The Covenant Eyes accountability software supports a “panic button” feature which cuts off access to the Internet when pressed, in case an individual is dealing with temptation, another feature often lacked by pure filtering programs. The reports generated by the program are customizable and very comprehensive. The website says it will never disclose information to any unauthorized third party, only to authorized accountability partners.
Ever Accountable is an online accountability program which supports Android, iOS, Windows, Chromebooks, and even Kindle devices.
An individual plan will run you $6.99 a month, while a family plan will cost you $9.99 per month. The software does have a free 14 day trial, and the company gives discounts for those who pay up to a year in advance.
The creators of the program says that the app cannot be uninstalled or disabled without alerts being sent to the accountability partner. The online accountability program can also monitor what is happening inside of apps like YouTube, Facebook, Instagram or other apps. The program is even capable of monitoring activity done in a browser’s incognito mode. The system was designed with security in mind first and foremost, and uses a secure HTTPS encryption to handle the transfer of all user data.
Lion monitors the browser activity for iOS devices and logs any obscene websites that a person visits, then it emails a list of all of those websites to the specified accountability partner. Lion is one of the iOS accountability software packages that offers a “reason for flagging” option which will provide more information about the explicit keywords which are found on the website, though it can also be deactivated if the user is not willing to be exposed to the keywords, which is an option that some filtering programs do not offer.
Lion is free to download and install, however it costs $9.99 to be able to add accountability partners. Lion claims that they do not store any data whatsoever on their end, and that all information stays with the user and their accountability partner.
Unlike most of the other internet accountability software packages you’ll find out there, Router Limits functions at the router level. The fact that Router Limits works at the router level to report on internet activity means that any device which is connected to the router with Router Limits can be managed with and reported on by the program. The browsing history logged by the device can be categorized by a specific device, a group of devices, a type of visit, or timestamps, which makes viewing easy. An accountability partner can also view information about why that specific request was reported by the software.
Router Limits offers its own routers starting at $99, and they offer various services for different levels of payment. A three day long browsing history as well as pornography filtering is always free, but the premium service that includes all features costs $15 a month.
Similar to many of the above online accountability programs, X3 Watch lets you block certain content. However it includes the ability to send accountability reports up to 10 different people of your choice. The accountability software functions on Mac, iOS, Windows, and Android devices. X3 Watch offers a month-long plan for $6.99, or you can purchase a year-long plan for $64.99.
X3 Watch has its own iPhone accountability software, which functions through its proprietary browser. It will also include a free copy of X3Pure with every purchase of the premium version of the product. X3Pure is an online video workshop, which is intended to help people get the maximum effect out of the accountability software.
Free Accountability Software
Free accountability software exists for those who still like to employ accountability software but cannot afford a monthly plan. Net Responsibility for Linux and MAC OS offers a free version, and there is also a free version of X3Watch available for both Mac OS and Windows.
There are many different accountability software packages out there, and people should familiarize themselves with the features of each accountability program and compare them with their needs to find the best accountability software for them.