Sunday, March 25, 2012

Review: Action Alert


About this time last year, we purchased my daughter (15) her own laptop. She does most of her school work using the computer, taking several online classes. It was also getting to the point that she sometimes needed to get out of our main school room and into the quiet, solitude of her own room for study. That also meant that she would need to take her computer, unsupervised, with her.

While I completely trust my daughter to not visit inappropriate sites, I do worry that she may unexpectedly come upon something. I also am concerned about the distractions of the Internet. After all, browsing YouTube or chatting with friends is much more appealing than writing that paper that is due. I’ve been looking for monitoring software that provides accountability without being so controlling that it is more hassle than it is helpful. When I was given the opportunity to review Action Alert, I was cautiously hopeful.

Action Alert has two versions, a Free Protection version and a Maximum Protection version. I was provided with the Maximum Protection version ($29.99), which has the following features.


I opted to try this program on an extra computer used primarily by my son. The software loaded easily. Not everything went as smoothly after that.

The software reset my home page to the Action Alert Safe Search, which is simply Google Safe Search. The idea is to direct and encourage use of a safe search engine and the resetting of the home page was exactly how the program is supposed to function.  However, when I went to my settings, since I preferred a different home page, I could not override the software nor could I find instructions in the manual.  I did eventually email Action Alert to find out how to override the home page setting and received a prompt reply. I understand that resetting the home page is just the first step of defense, but I did not find it to be very effective since the user can just open another tab and select a different search engine.

The Site Blocking and the Activity Notification Alerts were the next two tools I tried.  I blocked Facebook for a test run, and that did seem to work well.  It didn't matter if I opened a new tab, the site was blocked.  The Activity Notification Alerts are sent via email or text and are generated if inappropriate keystrokes are typed. However, there was sometimes a delay in the reporting. If you are looking for accountability, this should be fine.  If you want notice for immediate action, it might not be as useful of a feature.

I loved the 60 hours of recorded screen shots with the Activity Video Recording feature.  Since I was looking more for accountability than filtering and blocking, this was a very useful tool.  A child cannot exactly dispute their activity with a screen shot.  Unfortunately, I suspect this feature, which saved a screen shot every 5 seconds (as default, users can set a different interval), contributed to a larger problem I had.  My computer seemed to be running some programs very slowly.  Suspecting that Action Alert was the cause of the sluggishness, I decided to remove the software.

After I removed the software through the uninstall option in the program, I opened up my browser to see if things were back to normal.  While the program was removed, Facebook was still blocked.  The tool bar search field was also still set to Action Alert.  I phoned customer service, who helped me work through the problem by advising me to clear my browser's cache. Action Alert seems to utilize browser add-ons,which are readily available for free, to block websites. Regardless, I did quickly get the information needed to get everything back to normal.

While helpful to the problem at hand, I  did have an uncomfortable exchange with customer service.  At the closing of our phone call, my email address was requested.  I declined.  Frankly, I didn't see the need to supply it, especially since I had removed the software. The customer service representative seemed to have an issue with this and wanted to argue my decision with explanation that I had chosen to download the free software (unaware I was supplied the full product for review) and that the information was for their "notation".  After politely declining to provide my personal information several times, I finally had to just thank him for the help on my issue and hang up rather than further engage.  While everyone is allowed a bad day, I felt this exchange worth noting as I did not feel that my desired privacy required an explanation.

Since my computer was back to running normal speed upon removal, I did not reinstall the software and was unable to test out the other features. 

Based on my personal experiences, I cannot recommend Action Alert at this time. It may be worthwhile to check back as they make improvements.  If you would like to give Action Alert a try, a free version is available. The Maximum Protection, which is available for $29.99, comes with a 100% refund within 30 days if you are not fully satisfied.

 Disclaimer: This review was provided as a result of my participation in The Old Schoolhouse Magazine Crew. I was provided the product free of charge in exchange for my honest review. I have received no other compensation. I strive to give a balanced overview of each product, detailing my opinion of both pros and cons and how the product worked for my family. What works for one family may not work for another. I encourage you to read reviews of other Crew members and research sufficiently to determine if any product will be a benefit to your homeschool. You may read more reviews on this product by visiting here.

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