First Look: Snooper Can't Quite Deliver

SAN FRANCISCO (06/15/2000) - Don't think you need to monitor what the kids are doing online? Consider this: Last week, a major government-funded report found that one in five youths are invited to engage in cybersex or receive other provocative solicitations while online.

You can't constantly peer over your teenager's shoulders, of course. But a new $59 software utility from SpectorSoft Corp. called EBlaster 2.0 promises to track activities on any designated PC and send reports via e-mail to concerned parents or bosses.

Working in stealth mode, EBlaster tracks Web sites visited, applications launched, and characters typed, as well as user-specified keywords. You can receive a screenshot of activities or see the data in charts or reports.

Through its proprietary e-mail client, the program will send you reports as frequently as every 30 minutes, depending on your preference.

Not a Blast

That's the theory, at least. Unfortunately, in numerous tests I was unable to receive any reports from EBlaster.

After downloading, I followed the program's simple instructions and configured it with my e-mail address and password. Following installation, I asked EBlaster to send me a test e-mail. Despite my active digital subscriber line connection, I received the following error message: "EBlaster encountered a problem sending the test e-mail. Please make sure this machine is connected to the Internet."

After many unsuccessful retries, I installed EBlaster on another PC with a dial-up connection, but I hit the same wall.

I worked through various possible fix-it scenarios with the company's tech support staff, such as turning off Zone Labs' ZoneAlarm, the firewall software on my DSL-connected computer. After some time, the stumped tech support representatives said they hadn't experienced such problems with anyone else, and promised to locate and fix the problem immediately.

Given the persistence and earnestness of the SpectorSoft staff members I talked to, I'm confident they'll eventually work out the kinks. In the meantime, there are other "snoopware" alternatives. For instance, the $34.95 Cyber Sentinel 2.0 from Security Software Systems promises to automatically send warnings via e-mail or pager when someone has accessed on a PC material you designate as inappropriate.

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