Filtering Home Internet with Circle

Posted on Thu 11 May 2017 in howto

Meet Circle from Disney. According to Disney, using Circle you can "manage all of your home’s connected devices" and "parents can filter content, limit screen time and set a bedtime for every device in the home."

Circle is an extremely easy and simple to use home web filter, and one which is at least relatively effective with time controls, since I can hear my kids groan every time their alloted time has been spent.

Installation

Installation is super simple:

  1. Download the phone app
  2. Plugin the device
  3. Use the phone app to tell Circle which network to pair with (wired or wireless)

Profiles

That's really it. But unless you want to have the same Internet limitations as your kids (including time spent), you should setup User Profiles on the phone app and assign devices to those profiles. That's also super easy within the app.

With those profiles, you can specify time limits or website categories that are permitted or denied per profile. But there's not a lot of customization available here. Circle comes with several family friendly websites listed as "apps" that you can allow or deny per profile. You can also whitelist a given domain or URL per profile. Not much else there, really.

Unfortunately, any network activity counts as Internet time used. So even running Windows Updates takes up the time alloted to that profile. If you're an advanced home user, and you have any sort of centralized management software in place, that will get blocked once the profile's Internet time is up for the day.

Reporting

Ick.

You can see how much time a profile has spent on the Internet (today, this week, or this month) via the phone app. You can also see the list of recent connections. But there's no good way to export that data.

Pros

  • Installation
  • No agent required
  • Excellent mobile notifications
  • When a new device shows up on your network
  • When a user reached his/her activity timelimit
  • Works for wired and wireless devices seemlessly

Cons

  • Must be managed via the phone app - no web interface available
  • Filtering is done via ARP spoofing, so it's VERY noisy on the network
  • Customization of the filter is limited
  • Detailed reporting is lacking
  • Devices must belong to one user/profile
  • ARP spoofing(?!)
  • Infrequent device updates (has it updated at all since I received it?)
  • Can be bypassed via static ARP entry on the host
  • Can only manage one network segment (e.g. one wireless network)
  • This obviously only comes into play if you have more than one VLAN on your home network, which most people don't have. But for geeks, this can be a problem.

Conclusion

Circle could be a fine fit for your home, provided you don't have a complicated home network, and don't require detailed logging of activity.