Pi-hole vs. CIrcle Home Plus for family internet safety

Between my son and my nieces and nephews, I’ve got 9 kids that are regularly at my house. And they’re growing up in a world that didn’t exist without internet access. So, as you can imagine with all the malware, scams, and mature content out there, I’ve been searching for a way to keep the family safe on the internet.

I’ve found a few options that might be helpful, and thought I’d share them here.

Option 1: Raspberry Pi + Pi-hole + 1.1.1.1:

1. RASPBERRY PI

The Raspberry Pi is a tiny computer that has nearly as much power as your phone (maybe more if you haven’t upgraded your phone recently). They originally were designed to help students learn to program, but became *very* popular within the tech community.

green and black circuit board
A Raspberry Pi (left), Arduino (Right – usually used for hardware projects) and a Raspberry Pi Zero (bottom)
Photo by Harrison Broadbent on Unsplash

2. Pi-Hole

The Pi-hole project running on a Raspberry Pi allows you to block ads. It is designed to just swallow ad/tracking requests (thus why it’s called Pi-hole). But it does a couple of other really useful things.

It lets you add your own personal block list. So you can block any particular sites that you don’t want junior checking out. You just block the whole domain. Bam! (not super useful if you need to block parts of websites – You wouldn’t want to block all of Google, for instance)

But also, it lets you define custom DNS servers (which is a staple of every modern router on the market). If it doesn’t have the lookups cached, it will use your custom DNS servers to do those lookups. that brings us to:

3. 1.1.1.1

Cloudflare has a wonderful service called 1.1.1.1 – It’s a DNS service that gives you more privacy. But they also offer a service for families. It allows you to filter out potential malware and optionally adult content as well.

Once you’ve got Pihole configured, you just point it to the DNS servers you’d like, and it takes care of the rest. It’s not bullet-proof, but it can save you a lot of headaches if you’ve got teenagers in the house.

Setup

  1. Once you’ve got the Raspberry Pi setup and the OS installed, you’ll need to install Pi-Hole. It’s a relatively simple setup, and only takes a few minutes.
  2. Once you’ve got Pi-Hole setup, you’ll need to point your Wi-Fi router’s DNS servers to it for lookups. This varies greatly between different routers, but almost every off-the-shelf router has this option – If it doesn’t, get a different router. (This is how anyone or anything on WiFi will be protected by default)
  3. And finally, since we want Pi-Hole to use the custom DNS servers from Cloudflare, you’ll define that on the setup page (get the values from the Family Page)
Custom DNS Settings
The custom DNS settings page of Pi-hole

Once you’ve got these set up, you’ll be (generally) protected on your network. There is one problem though: even if you’ve made it this far – there’s a lack of accountability. You might be able to block some “unsavory” sites, but if you’re not a big nerd like I am, you might not have the know-how to implement all of these options. Or what to do when something in this chain breaks.

Option 2: Circle home plus

Circle is a great solution that gives you accountability, with the ability to manage each users internet access with granularity.

The Circle device. Plug it in, and let it do it’s thing…

Adults can have no restrictions, teens can have communication preferences, and kids can have a relatively locked-down experience. Plus, with their subscription, you can even keep tabs while they’re not at home, a feature that would require a VPN to your home network with the Pi-hole solution.

Another benefit of Circle is the internet pause button. When it’s dinner time, you can call you teenagers, and know they’ll show up at the dinner table. Or ensure they’re not up late chatting / facetiming friends because they’re internet is paused.

Hope this helps in the ever-approaching fight for the attention of your family.

Raspberry-pi + Pi-hole:

Pros:

  • One-time cost of hardware
  • Open source
  • Inexpensive

Cons:

  • More advanced setup
  • Lessened accountability

Circle Home Plus

Pros:

  • Profiles for family members
  • Per-device blocking / pausing
  • Out of home control (with subscription)
  • Time limits / Internet pause button
  • First year of premium included
  • Option of lifetime upgrade (no more fees)

Cons:

  • Monthly cost ($10) for premium features
  • Hardware is more expensive

The biggest takeaway here: If you can afford it, go with the Circle. It’s less hassle and more granular. But if you’re a DIY kind of geek (like me), or a cheapskate (also like me) – the Raspberry Pi setup might be your go-to.

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