The best free PC monitoring software
Track kids’ keystrokes and program use
When it comes to protecting kids from online nasties, there are two schools of thought. One school prefers to block inappropriate content, but that can have its problems: parents can’t know about everything dodgy online, and content blockers don’t necessarily block inappropriate content on chat apps or offensive content sent by friends or peers.
The other school is to have a big chat about the dangers, trust your kids to be sensible, and then spy on them just to make sure. If you suspect your child is being exposed to something awful such as cyberbullying or grooming, monitoring software may help you deal with the problem.
1. Windows Live Family Safety
Watch your kids online and stop them seeing the worst of the web
Family Safety was bundled into Windows 8, but if you’re running an older version of Windows you can download it via Windows Essentials.
The app offers a range of parental controls including restricting web browsers to specific sites or specific kinds of content; tracking your kids’ activities and enabling you to see what websites they’ve visited; locking down search engines so they don’t return inappropriate results; and limiting what can be done at specific times – handy if you’re trying to ensure your kids aren’t spending every waking hour in multiplayer gaming or social media.
It’s particularly good if you use Microsoft’s Internet Explorer or Edge browsers, making it our top choice for keeping youngsters safe online.
Where did they go, who did they speak to, and what did they say?
We’re in two minds about using logging software for children and teenagers: tracking every single keystroke, SMS, photo, instant message, Skype call and location feels like an invasion of privacy, but we can see the benefit for parents who suspect their child may be keeping something important private, such as online bullying or grooming.
The free version of Kidlogger tracks one device and keeps logs for nine days; upgrading to US$29 (about £22.39, AU$38.35) per year gives you five devices and 30 days of logging. The service is available for Windows, Mac and Android, and there’s a separate app for non-jailbroken iPhones and iPads.
3. Norton Family
More than just tracking – Norton also actively protects youngsters online
Norton would really like you to subscribe to the paid-for Premier version, but the free Norton Family does a good job without costing anything. You can block inappropriate web content and monitor the kids’ online activities, see what they’ve been searching for and how often they’ve been on Facebook (and whether they’re using a fake name or age), ensure they don’t accidentally give out personal information and lock down your internet connection at specific times.
The Premier version adds video supervision, location tracking, Android app and SMS use and time-locks for Android apps, and costs US$49.99 (about £38.62, AU$66.14) per year.
4. Spyrix Free Keylogger
Keyloggers have something of a bad reputation online, as they’re often used by hackers and criminals, but they can be a force for good too, and Spyrix‘s features enable you to see what your children have been up to. Although it’s dubbed parental control software, it’s really a monitoring program: it doesn’t stop the kids getting up to no good, but it does let you see exactly what they’ve been getting up to.
That means it isn’t really appropriate for younger children’s computers, but it may be appropriate for older children if you suspect online bullying or other unpleasantness.
5. Revealer Keylogger Free
A simple monitoring tool, Revealer only records keystrokes
Revealer Keylogger Free is one of the most popular Windows keyloggers around, and while its most powerful features are reserved for the paid version – screenshot capture, automated log sending and extra stealth protection – the free version covers the basics very well. It’s fast, doesn’t drag your system down, runs automatically at startup and cleans up logs after a set period to prevent them from getting too big.
Just be careful when you install it, as like many free programs its installer is rather keen on getting you to install potentially unwanted software too.
6. Refog Free Keylogger
Get reports on typing, software use and network connections
Refog Free Keylogger comes from the same stable as Refog Personal Monitor and Employee Monitor, which offer a huge range of features for monitoring home and office PC use. The free version is essentially a stripped-down version of Personal Monitor, logging keystrokes, URLs, app usage and chats.
The paid-for version adds email delivery of logs, webcam shots and notification of specific keywords, but if you don’t need such features then the free version covers the basics well enough – although it’s worth noting that the free version is only a trial, not a free-forever product.
7. Heavenward Free Keylogger
A simple logger with added password protection for peace of mind
Heavenward Free Keylogger covers everything you’d expect from a Windows keylogging program: it can monitor multiple users and keep itself hidden from them; it can track everything that’s typed into a Windows app; it can email you logs at specified interfaces and it can password-protect the logs so only you can see them.
It’s compatible with Windows versions from XP to 10, and it works in multiple languages too. It’s simpler than many rivals but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as it means it’s easy to set up and use.
8. Best Free Keylogger
Capture regular screenshots as well as keypresses
The name was poorly chosen – Google it and you get screeds of reviews of keylogging software, not this particular app – but Best Free Keylogger is a good package: it does almost everything its paid-for Pro sibling does except for unlimited screen shots, remote delivery of reports and premium tech support.
It records keystrokes, internet activity, chats and takes up to 10 daily screenshots, it’s invisible and password-protected and you can schedule the monitoring so it only takes place at specific times.
9. iWantSoft Free Keylogger
Dedicated tracking for Macs, but it won’t watch Facebook and Twitter
If all you want is simple keylogging for your Mac then iWantSoft Free Keylogger is worth considering: it doesn’t record chat sessions or social networking, which may rule it out for many parents, but it does log keystrokes, clipboard use, websites and programs launched.
It isn’t completely invisible – tech-savvy kids will be able to find it, although it doesn’t appear in the system tray – and it doesn’t email reports to you, but it’s small, simple, doesn’t take up many system resources and covers the basics just fine.
10. Widestep Elite Keylogger
A great tracker for Macs, but not the best option for Windows users
How’s this for confusing: the free Elite Keylogger on Windows is just a trial, but the free version on Mac is a full free program. On a Mac it records everything the user types, whether it’s in chats, on online forms or in forums. It monitors the clipboard too, takes screenshots at set intervals and works with OS X El Capitan as well as older Mac operating systems.
The Pro version adds username and password logging and recording both sides of chats and instant messaging session, and unlike the free version it’s completely undetectable – but the free version does more than enough to make this a recommended app for Mac users.