Here’s a clever idea for parents who need to monitor their children’s online behavior… But first, a brief disclaimer. I’m not really interested in getting into a debate on the ethics of using a product like this. It is obvious that this product could be used to monitor unsuspecting adults (e.g. spouses), which I wouldn’t suggest. It could, of course, also be used to monitor employees, who in my opinion should expect nothing less (but don’t forget to tell them that in a formal signed privacy policy). As for children, though, I think that in today’s world it is too dangerous for parents NOT to have some tools under their belts.

The Snoop Stick is a USB key with software preloaded onto it, and each Snoop Stick has some form of unique ID.  To install the monitoring agent (i.e. the software that watches what is going on), you simply insert the USB key into the computer to be monitored and run the installation program.  You then remove the USB key and the software continues to run.  The software doesn’t show up anywhere (obviously you could see it with Process Explorer or similar tools) and then only [non-forceful] way to remove it is to reinsert the original Snoop Stick and run the uninstall program.  Clever so far.

To monitor computers, you insert the Snoop Stick into a computer and run the monitoring software.  Computers can only be monitored using the Snoop Stick that was used to install the monitoring agent.  This adds a layer of security that I like, because it’s tied to a physical device.

The nicest feature of Snoop Stick is that it lets you monitor what’s going on in real time, or view logs later.  It captures IM conversations, web site access, and e-mail activity.  You can also use the software to set times that users are allowed to access the Internet, block certain programs or ports, easily block all “social networking” sites (e.g. Myspace), remotely enable/disable Internet access, and even send a pop-up message to the remote user.

The Snoop Stick usually retails for $59.95, but using this link, you can buy it for $49.95.  You can run the monitoring agent on up to 3 computers.  If you want to monitor more computers, you can pay an additional $24.95 per computer.

One last note about this product — don’t let the power go to your head.   As Jimminy Cricket said: “Always let your conscience be your guide”.