Key takeaways at a glance:
- Children’s safety on the internet is a perennial issue for parents. Several types of parent control are available, but can they be voided by VPNs?
- VPNs affect several changes in internet traffic that can circumvent some features in some parental controls.
- Some parental controls are VPN-proof, though, and remain effective even against the best commercial VPN services.
- In the final analysis, technology can help with the issue, but nothing can substitute vigilance.
There are two good reasons for you to be reading this. You more likely are a concerned parent or a somehow precocious minor. In both cases, the kind reader is trying to figure out if he or she can use a VPN to override the parental controls in a smartphone, a tablet, or a personal computer. If you are the concerned parent, don’t worry, we won’t give the secret away. But, on the other hand, if you’re a precocious kid, keep reading anyway, you may just learn something useful.
Types of parental control
Parents worried about what their kids watch on the internet were born at the very minute the internet slipped out of the academic world and became available at home. Unlike cable TV and other technologies that deliver content to users, browsing the web, downloading videos or books is not as easily noticed by parents. So the said parents need some extra help, and it’s available to them in the following ways:
- Blocked websites.
- Using filters from the most used services (Youtube, Google) to filter out inappropriate content.
- Keyloggers. Keeping track of every pressed key for future review.
- Scheduling. Have control over the time of the day and the length of the internet sessions a user has.
- Preventing third-party apps in a given device.
- Tracking social media, email traffic, and other communication tools.
- Geofencing. This means tracking a child using GPS.
So yes, some tools are available for parents, and no, they are not that clear cut, or easy to use, or overly automatic. The good news is that they cover a wide range of options, and some of the available software options can do more than one of the tasks listed above. The bad news is that if a parent is going to be effective, he has to be willing to use at least a few of those tasks simultaneously, which takes a bit of time, attention, and work. So no, it’s not something you can leave to the nanny.
So now that we know what parental controls are available in the market, we can move on to explore our fundamental question. Can a VPN render any of those measures void?
VPNs and parental controls
We start by considering what a VPN does for you, which could be especially useful if you’re not already one of its users.
VPNs encrypt your internet traffic. This renders all the things you do on the internet unreadable to any external observer (ISP, hackers, governments, etc.). They also mask your IP address so that the other nodes on the internet with which you interact can’t tell where your traffic is coming from. Some VPNs even use their own DNS serves so that your ISP can’t use your most innocuous browser traffic and turn it into a readable IP address.
So now we delve into the thick of it. This is how VPNs could just ignore some parental controls.
Avoid content filters
The filters in question often use a different DNS provider that blocks DNS requests deemed unsafe. Their main goal is to avoid malware and phishing sites to avoid unwanted attacks. Websites that include mature material such as drugs, alcohol, gambling, pornography, etc., are also on these DNS’s blacklist.
A VPN will almost surely use a DNS of its own. This means that it won’t use the DNS that filters out sites that prevent malware and adult material access. This applies to almost every commercial VPN. On the other hand, free VPNs could or could not behave like this. But You should never use Free VPNs anyway, for reasons that are beyond this article’s scope.
Go around the firewall’s rules
VPNs are usually going to ignore any firewalls as well unless they are configured to block VPN connections specifically. However, it takes an outstanding network manager to do that without rendering most of the network useless, so it’s not a very common option. Also, if the VPN in question is a decent, commercial one, the chances are that it has plenty of servers everywhere in the globe. Blocking every IP is, in that case, impossible unless you have all the information you need.