iOS vs. Android Security: Which One Keeps Your Child Safer Online?

So you’ve decided it’s time for the kids to get a phone.

If your little ones are anything like mine, you’re in for jumps for joy, effusive hugs and “I love yous,” and the odd tear in the eye. But 10+ years after I first bestowed my kids with their inaugural iPhones, I know so much more than I did back then.

And if I were to do it again, I’m not sure I’d opt for an iOS smartphone.

Why Android beats iOS for parental controls

After researching, testing, and comparing parental control apps, Android is the safer bet if you want to stay on top of your child’s online activity.

But, wait—I thought iPhones were more secure devices overall.

That may be true when it comes to protecting your personal data and keeping out viruses and malware, but those aren’t the most prominent online threats to children.

When it comes to keeping kids safe on the internet, things like cyberbullying, online predators, and exposure to inappropriate content are the biggest concerns. The best way to monitor and control what’s happening to your child in cyberspace is with a parental control app—and, sadly, every app I’ve seen is much more effective for Android devices.

Android plays well with others

Because Android is an open source operating system, it’s easy for developers to come up with parental control apps and software. These apps are made to address both specific and widespread vulnerabilities that can put kids at risk. They can also work as early warning systems that let you know your child is flirting with danger online.

It turns out that Apple’s built-in security features are its own worst enemy. Because Apple doesn’t play well with third-party developers, parental control apps don't work to their full extent on these devices. Some parental control products don’t even offer an iOS option since Apple’s operating system is too restrictive.

Here’s a look at what Boomerang, one of the parental control apps I tested, offers on iPhone vs. Android.

Compare Android vs. iOS features on the Boomerang app

Features

Android

iOS

Apps managementIcon Yes  LightIcon No  Light
Content filterIcon Yes  LightIcon Yes  Light
GeofenceIcon Yes  LightIcon No  Light
Location trackerIcon Yes  LightIcon Yes  Light
Remote time outIcon Yes  LightIcon Yes  Light
Screen time managementIcon Yes  LightIcon Yes  Light
Text message monitoringIcon Yes  LightIcon No  Light
Uninstall preventionIcon Yes  LightIcon No  Light
Website blockerIcon Yes  LightIcon Yes  Light
YouTube monitoringIcon Yes  LightIcon No  Light

It looks discouraging, but iOS has some built-in features that provide a few of the missing protections detailed above. Even with parental control software, you should take advantage of the built-in security features that come with your child’s smartphone—whether it’s iOS or Android.

Compare Android vs. iOS security: Built-in parental controls

Feature

Android

iOS

Restrict app store
Icon Yes  Light
Icon Yes  Light
Restrict app access
Icon Yes  Light
Icon Yes  Light
Prevent interaction with specific players in the game center
Icon No  Light
Icon Yes  Light
Block third-party apps
Icon Yes  Light
Icon No  Light
Block inappropriate content
Icon No  Light
Icon Yes  Light
Set age restrictions
Icon No  Light
Icon Yes  Light
View phone activity
Icon No  Light
Icon Yes  Light

Although Android doesn’t have as many built-in parental control features as iOS, it’s far more compatible with software created for the explicit purpose of protecting kids online. Apple doesn’t provide any way to monitor your child on social media networks or YouTube, which are common places where kids run into cyberbullies, potential predators, and explicit content.

With a parental control app like Bark or Qustodio, you can monitor your child’s social media accounts and block access to content on YouTube—but only on Android devices. With Apple devices, you have to search manually for activity and history information. Then you have to piece it all together to get a sense of whether or not your kid might be in trouble.

Notepad
A note of caution for Android users

There’s no doubt that parental control tools work more effectively on Android devices. But Android devices have more vulnerabilities overall. That’s because of the open-source format. While it allows developers to create apps with impressive parental control features, it also allows hackers easier access. Most malware and viruses are targeted at Android devices because of this.

What to do if you’re already an Apple family

Best parental control app for iOS families
FamilyTime
Starting from
$27.00
/yr
Pro Bullet iOS app blocker
Pro Bullet Geofencing
Pro Bullet Phone-wide content filter

Hey, I get it—once the Apple vortex sucks you in, it’s pretty hard to escape. Having multiple devices that all sync and communicate with one another is addicting. If you’re locked-in to Apple products, you can get the kids an iPhone and still take measures to keep them safe in cyberspace.

Of all the parental control apps our team has reviewed, FamilyTime had the most thorough iOS features. Read our take on this app to find out more.

There's more you can do through the iPhone itself to beef up your kid's safety.

Use the iCloud

The iPhone’s best parental control feature is the iCloud. This built-in iOS feature is the key to checking in on your kid’s smartphone activities. When you log into your family’s iCloud account, you can see your child’s emails, photos, FaceTime calls, and iMessages. Granted, it’s not instant alerts, but you can look at what’s been happening and address any concerns or potential issues you encounter.

Turn off risky features

When you enable Restrictions in Settings, you can turn off any iOS device features you don’t want your kids using on their own. This includes access to the camera, Siri, FaceTime, and web browsing with Safari. Make sure to set a unique passcode for the restrictions so your little digital native can’t go into Settings and turn everything back on.

Notepad
What about secret message apps?

One of the most significant drawbacks to Apple’s parental control setup is that you have no way to monitor your child’s interaction on secret messaging apps like Snapchat, WhatsApp, and Kik. These apps let users have hidden conversations that automatically disappear after a specific amount of time. More parental control apps are adding ways to monitor these secret messages, but there’s no way to do it on iOS at this time.

Block specific websites

If you don’t want to block an entire app, like Safari, you can limit access to sites and content based on an age rating. In the App Store, you can put an age limit on the types of apps your child can see and download.

But you can’t set different age limits on a single device—if you raise the threshold for one app, it will increase the age limit for the whole device. You can also block websites based on adult content or enter URLs for specific websites you don’t want your kids to access.

Protect privacy

Smartphones hold a lot of personal information, and that creates a slew of vulnerabilities for children. Not only are kids subject to identity theft, but things like location services and photos can make it easier for an online predator to target your child. Apple lets you up the ante when it comes to privacy settings in the Parental Control restrictions.

You can block apps from accessing location, calendars, contacts, social media accounts, and advertising settings. Plus, you can block access to the privacy settings so your child can’t accidentally (or intentionally) change them.

More ways to protect your child on any mobile device

It’s important to pick the right smartphone for your child. While both iOS and Android have strengths and vulnerabilities, the best way to protect kids online is to go old school. I strongly believe in the benefits of parental controls, but nothing’s more effective than education and ongoing communication with your child.

Whether you go with an Android device or iOS smartphone, here are some best practices every parent needs to adopt when you put a phone into your child’s hands.

  • Create and sign an online safety contract that includes guidelines for smartphone use.
  • Talk to your child about online dangers—including stranger danger—and how to spot them.
  • Get to know the most popular apps and sites kids are visiting online, including potentially dangerous ones.
  • Set screen time limits.
  • Explain parental controls to your child, including how you plan to use them and why.
  • Reassure your child that you’re not spying on them.

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Rebecca Edwards
Written by
Rebecca Edwards
Rebecca is the lead safety reporter and in-house expert for SafeWise.com. She has been a journalist and blogger for over 25 years, with a focus on home and community safety for the past eight. Rebecca spends dozens of hours every month poring over crime reports and spotting trends. Her safety expertise is sought after by publications, broadcast journalists, non-profit organizations, podcasts, and more. You can find her expert advice and analysis in places like TechCrunch, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Miami Herald, NPR, HGTV, MSN, Reader's Digest, Real Simple, and an ever-growing library of radio and TV clips.

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