Circle with Disney lets you rule your household Internet with an iron fist

The NSA may make it look easy, but any parent knows monitoring your kids online time is practically impossible. Ever try setting up parental controls on a smartphone or tablet? It’s an exercise in frustration and futility, because even if you do wade through the right menus and manage to place content and access restrictions on a device, chances are your tech-savvy kid will have a work-around figured out in a matter of minutes. And that’s just one device; what about all the other Internet-connected stuff in the home?

Indeed, today’s Internet control and monitoring solutions are largely ineffective. Why? They’re device-based. They live on individual phones, tablets and computers, and only affect that one device. That’s why Jelani Memory, Lance Charlish and Tiebing Zhang created Circle, a little white box that gives a family control of their home’s Internet connection, and the content that flows through it, for any device. It’s a great idea — so great, in fact, that when Disney caught wind of it, the famously family-friendly company wanted to partner up. Now, the device is called Circle with Disney.

The new sheriff in town

On the outside, Circle is an unassuming, Apple-white box with a face reminiscent of the iconic iPod. But inside, Circle is an Internet gatekeeper with the brains to control which devices can connect to the Internet, when they can connect, which apps and websites can be used,  and how long those apps or websites can be used. It can block ads, pause and restart the Internet at the touch of a button, and let its user(s) access historical data about what kind of content devices have accessed, and when. If the Internet is the wild, wild, West, then Circle is the new sheriff in town. Only you control the sheriff, and you do it with a dead-simple mobile app.

How Circle works

Circle with Disney is not a router, so you don’t have to replace any equipment to use it. You simply add Circle to your Internet connection by giving it access to your router. This can be done by either connecting it to a router with an Ethernet cable, or by connecting wirelessly. Once Circle is connected, it has complete reign over anything connected to your Internet connection, and that’s when you can start establishing some rules — or, you know, at least some guidelines.

One App to rule them all

If ever there was a more apropos use of this beat-to-death reference to The Lord of the Rings, we’ve yet to see it. The Circle with Disney app (free at the iTunes app store) is the interface through which access to the Internet is granted or denied. It controls Circle, which controls everything else. And the good news is, it is dead simple to use.

The good news is, Circle is dead simple to use.

Now might be a good time for us to point out that Circle recognizes devices, not users — that’s because Circle affords control without having to install software on any device. So, if 16-year old Jacob is limited to two hours of YouTube time per day and burns through his allotment, he could potentially pick up Sally’s iPad and start burning up her allotted time. The system isn’t perfect.

Still, Circle has the ability to attribute certain devices to certain people in the home. Say Jacob has an iPad, an iPhone and an Xbox One he likes to use to access Facebook: All three devices can be added to Jacob’s profile, and any limit placed on Facebook access — let’s say Jacob gets three hours max per day — will be enforced across those devices. It doesn’t matter whether Jacob uses Facebook on his phone for 30 minutes, his tablet for 10, and his Xbox for 50, Circle will add it all up and count it toward his allowance.

Circle can also manage when certain devices can or can’t access the Internet. For example, bedtimes can be assigned to specific devices, or all of the devices under a user’s profile. Or, devices can be denied access for periods throughout the day … say, homework time.

Circle with Disney is positioned as a tool for parents, but it can be useful for anyone who wants to keep tabs on what’s going on with their Internet connection without having to log into their router and deal with its horrendous user interface. Circle can tell you if anyone is “borrowing” your Internet connection and let you put an immediate stop to it, track down the bandwidth hog causing your Netflix binge session to buffer, or simply clue you in to how much time you spend streaming YouTube video, all through an easy-to-use smartphone or tablet app.

If you want to see more about how Circle works in practice, be sure to check out our video above.

How does Disney fit in?

Jelani Memory, founder of Circle Media, told Digital Trends in an interview that Disney was the perfect partner to help he and his co-creators see the Circle device make it to market. Not only did Disney offer its help in finessing and distributing the product, but it has become a content partner of sorts as well. Now, Circle with Disney will offer a curated selection of Disney videos, music, games, blogs, and more through a feature called MyCircle. This content is made available whenever someone is cut off from access. For instance, if Sally burns through her allotted time playing Minecraft, she’ll be offered several pages of Disney content to watch instead. Not big on Disney? Well, you can ignore it. After all, the Circle is still a pretty outstanding device without the “with Disney” part.

Ummm, Privacy?

Naturally, privacy is a big concern here. At a fundamental level, Circle is monitoring Internet traffic, and if a big company like Disney is involved, maybe they want to harvest data to learn about your family’s viewing and shopping habits so they can better market to you. After all, the device can block ads; could it then also insert ads it would rather you see? Technically, yes, it could. But that’s not going to happen.

Memory tells us, unequivocally, that neither Disney, nor Circle Media, has access to that what little data is stored on the device. “We’re not mining that data, we’re not selling that data, and Disney has absolutely zero access to that data,” said Memory. “A philosophy with our company is … we don’t even want to have access to that data. All that data still lives on the Circle device, and never actually leaves the home other than to be routed to the app, and it’s all metadata at that point.”

It’s about time … literally

If you don’t let your kids watch any kind of TV they want, anytime they want, chances are you don’t want them having carte blanche Internet access. Circle with Disney offers the granular content and access control we think many parents have been looking for since smartphones, tablets, and computers started replacing the television as the go-to entertainment device in the home.  At $99, it’s small investment for a tool that can put’s access to the Internet firmly in the hands of the head of the family, and put some limits on something that might better be considered a privilege, rather than a right.

You can purchase Circle with Disney now from meetcircle.com, and the device will be available soon from DisneyStore.com/circle. The free Circle app can be downloaded now at the Apple App Store. And for a more hands-on look at Circle with Disney, be sure to check out our video up above.

Gaming

‘Battlefield V’ adds Squad Conquest mode in ‘Lightning Strikes’ update

Electronic Arts and DICE have detailed what is included in the Battlefield V update Lightning Strikes. The update includes access to the mode Squad Conquest through the end of January.
Home Theater

Here’s why you’re not getting Netflix in HD or 4K, and how to fix it

Are you having trouble watching your favorite movies or TV shows on Netflix in HD or 4K? We explain why loading takes so long, why the picture quality fluctuates, and what you can do about it.
Home Theater

What is Netflix Roulette, and how exactly does it work?

For years, educated viewers have been using Netflix Roulette to broaden their horizons. The web app can help you find movies and shows you'd never think to watch! What exactly is it, though, and how do you use it? We explain it all.
Computing

Enjoy Windows on a Chromebook with these great tips and tricks

If you want to push the functionality of your new Chromebook to another level, and Linux isn't really your deal, you can try installing Windows on a Chromebook. Here's how to do so, just in case you're looking to nab some Windows-only…
Home Theater

Throw away those EarPods -- we dug up the best headphones in every style

Trolling the internet for hours to find headphones is no way to live. Instead, leverage our expertise and experience to find the best headphones for you. Here are our 10 favorites.
Music

Tidal faces legal jeopardy over fake stream numbers accusation

In another challenging chapter for music subscription service Tidal, Norwegian authorities have begun a formal investigation into charges that the company faked millions of streams for artists such as Kanye West and Beyoncé.
Home Theater

Sony’s 360 Reality Audio is the epic sound revolution you didn’t know you needed

After Sony’s utterly bizarre press conference, I almost missed what was perhaps the most impactful sonic experience at the show. Luckily, I went back to Sony’s booth on the last day of the show, only to have my mind blown.
Home Theater

Need to get rid of an unused Netflix profile? Just follow these simple steps

Need to delete an unwanted profile from your Netflix account? It's easy to do, no matter what kind of equipment you've got. Check out our handy how-to guide for step-by-step instructions.
Home Theater

The seven best TVs you can buy right now, from budget to big screen

Looking for a new television? In an oversaturated market, buying power is at an all-time high, but you'll need to cut through the rough to find a diamond. We're here to help with our picks for the best TVs of 2019.
Computing

Beam up the videos: AirPlay support is coming to VLC player

At CES 2019, the developers of VLC player announced they are adding support for Apple's Airplay feature, allowing consumers to beam video and other content from their iPhone and Android devices to an Apple TV. 
Home Theater

Not chill: Netflix is hiking prices across all its tiers

Netflix has to get the billions of dollars it's spending on new content from somewhere. The streaming giant announced price hikes across the board, raising its monthly rates between $1 and $2 per tier in the next few months.
Home Theater

From the Roku Ultra to the Fire TV Cube, these are the best streaming devices

There are more options for media streamers than ever, so it’s more difficult to pick the best option. But that’s why we're here. Our curated list of the best streaming devices will get you online in no time.
Home Theater

Polk Audio’s Command Bar joins Alexa’s multiroom music party

Polk's Command Bar is a home theater soundbar with Alexa built in. But with a new update, it can also be grouped with Amazon's Echo products and other third-party speakers for a multi-room experience.
Home Theater

Sling TV offers free shows, a la carte subscription channels to Roku users

If you are among a select group of Roku users, Sling TV has added free TV shows and the option to subscribe to individual channels without having to subscribe to the company's base level of channels.