Parents looking to manage their children’s internet usage and screen time have a new option with today’s launch of Circle with Disney, a hardware device that works in conjunction with an iOS application that allows moms and dads to filter web content, set “bedtimes,” block ads, view insights and usage history, and even pause the internet entirely.
In addition, the independent company has forged a partnership with Disney for use of its brand name and access to select, short-form Disney content, including trailers, video clips, games, social media postings, promos, and more.
This content comes from across Disney’s properties, including Pixar, Star Wars, Disney Animation Studios, and its Babble content network, and is available through the company’s MyCircle feature. This is essentially a personalized, web dashboard for each family member where you can view your own settings, usage and time limits as well as browse age-appropriate Disney content, including videos, music, games, GIFs, blog posts and more.
Founded around two and a half years ago, Circle Media is headed up by a team of three, Jelani Memory, a former creative consultant, photographer, and videographer; CTO Tiebing Zhang; and Lance Charlish.
Memory, a parent to a six-year old daughter himself, understood first-hand the challenges today’s parents face in a multi-screen, always-on world.
“[My daugther] has her own iPad,” says Memory. “I remember when she was two, she was able to grab my iPhone, unlock it, and find apps. And I realized, all bets were off,” he says, laughing.
While there are numerous parental control solutions on the market, ranging from locked-down web browsers, specialized routers, connected devices, software applications, and more, the problem with many of these options is that they’re confusing for non-technical parents, poorly designed, or only work to manage and monitor usage on a single device or platform.
Circle with Disney, however, offers parents a holistic view of their home network and devices, and doesn’t have to be plugged into a router, much less serve as a replacement for your current router.
Instead, the small device works wirelessly and can be charged via a power cord or via microUSB. A charge keeps the device online for a couple of days, so you don’t necessarily have to hide it away in the office with your other networking equipment. And the “on” button isn’t an “off” button exactly, in case your kids are sneaky.
Meanwhile, everything you do via Circle is managed through an iOS application.
Unlike some other apps I’ve tested in recent days, including a hardware and app combo called KoalaSafe and a kid-safe browser from Mobicip, Circle comes with age-specific filters you can enable without having to monkey around much with its settings. These filters include: pre-K (ages 0-5), kid (6-12), teen (13-17), and adult (18 and up).
The app will then provide defaults which are appropriate for those ages, which parents can customize further if they choose.
In addition to the web filtering component, Circle can also block apps from working – if installed, the app could be opened, but not used. And parents can set time limits on web usage, or specifically by app or content category. They can also set a “bedtime,” which will disconnect all devices from the internet until the next morning.
Parents can pause the internet, too, including pausing access for only a specific device. Call it the modern-day “time out.”
But the company doesn’t want to be thought of as only a “net nanny,” we’re told.
“One of the things we despise here at Circle is being called ‘parental controls.’ Circle is so much more than that,” says Memory. “What we do filter-wise is only one piece of what we do.”
Another key feature to Circle’s software is its “insights,” which displays how each family member spends their time online by platform, category, and website and by day, week and month. The idea is to not only give parents an idea of what kids are doing, but also help spark conversations about that activity and the child’s interests.
And because the negative content is blocked, those discussions aren’t disciplinary in nature, but can actually be positive.
“Parents don’t have any idea how kids spend time online and almost always view it as a negative…they’re on Facebook too much. Maybe that’s true, but parents don’t actually have the data to back that up,” Memory explains.
And who knows, maybe parents themselves will gain better understanding of their own web habits and addictions, as they use Circle alongside their kids. (Of course, they can opt of filtering, if they choose.)
The Circle with Disney hardware device is $99 and is the first product in what Circle Media hopes will be a suite of hardware and software products for connected families in the future.
The company, based in Portland, is backed by $1.5 million in angel funding.