Google has just one-upped Apple on mobile in a significant way: today the company todayannounced the launch of Family Link, an application for parents that lets them establish a childs first Google account, as well asutilizea series of parental controls tomanage and track screen time, daily limits, device bedtimes, and which apps kidscan use.
While all the major mobile device providers Apple, Google, and Amazon included offer parental controls on their devices Family Link is different because its a two-party system. Instead, it works more like the third-party parental control and monitoring software already on the market, where an app installed on a parents device is used to configure settings and keep an eye on kids digital behavior.
For the system to work, Family Linkrequires that both parent and child use Android. The parent will first download the Family Link mobile app to their own device, running Android KitKat (4.4) or higher. An iOS version is not yet available, says Google.
From this app, parents will set up the childs Google account. Its designed to be used for those children under the age of 13, Google notes.
Then, on the kids device, the childsigns in using these new credentials. The childs phone or tablet must be running either Android Nougat (7.0), or a supported device running Marshmallow (6.1). (A full list is herein the Family Link FAQ.)
Once signed in, the childs phone usage is tracked and logged, so parents can see how much time kids spend in various apps, via weekly and monthly activity reports. From the parents app, moms and dads can set a number of rules for their kids, including how long kids areallowed to be on their mobile devices every day, at what timethe devices can no longer be used that day (through a remote locking feature), and which apps can be installed.
Parents can approve or block apps the child wants to download from the Google Play Store, much like how Apples iCloud Family Sharings Ask feature works today.
Like Apple, Google doesnt offer any suggestions as to whether a given app should be approved, however that decision is left up to the parents discretion.
[Family Link]cant make the apps or services on their phone that were designed for adults kid-safe; its up to parents to choose whats right for their kid.
A lack of guidanceis one of the gaping holes with many parental control systems today. Thats unfortunate given that all the app stores have app ratings. It seems that simply highlighting the rating to parents during the Ask process could go a long way to helping parents make better decisions.
That being said, Family Link does allow parents to at least remotely configure the filtering options for some of Googles own apps, like the Google Search app and the Chrome browser. This will protect kids from adult content and other inappropriate material when doing web searches.
Plus, having standalone application that lets parents remotely configure a variety of control mechanisms for childrensdevices will be generally helpful, and could become a selling point for Android phones and tablets.
Family Link isnt yet broadly available. Google is offering early access to testers willing to try the service during this early preview, and provide feedback.