Google has just angled Apple on mobile in a compelling way: today the company made an announcement regarding the launch of Family Link, an application for parents that enables them to establish child’s first Google account, as well as utilize a series of parental controls to track and manage screen time, daily limits, device “bedtimes,” and which apps kids can use. While all the major mobile device providers Google, Amazon and Apple included offer parental controls on their devices Family Link is different because it’s a two-party system. Instead, it works more like the third-party parental monitor and controlling software already on the market, where an app installed on a parent’s device is used to configure settings and keep an eye on kids’ digital behavior.
For the system to work, Family Link requires that both child and parent use Android. The parent will first need to download the Family Link mobile app to their own device, running Android KitKat (4.4) or higher. Google says an iOS version is not yet available. From this app, parents will set up the child’s Google account. Google has designed this app for those children under the age of 13. Then, on the kid’s device, the child signs in using these new credentials. The child’s tablet or phone must be running either Marshmallow (6.1) or supported device running Android Nougat (7.0).
After signing in, parents would be able to track and log child’s phone usage and they can see how much time kids spend in various apps, via weekly and monthly activity reports. From the parent’s app, moms and dads can set a number of rules for their kids, including how long kids are allowed to be on their mobile devices every day, which apps can be installed and at what time the devices can no longer be used that day. Parents can block or approve apps the child wants to download from the Google Play Store, much like how Apple’s iCloud Family Sharing’s “Ask” feature works today. Similar to Apple, Google doesn’t offer any suggestions as to whether a given app should be approved, however that decision is left up to the parents’ discretion.
“Family Link can’t make the apps or services on their phone that were designed for adults kid-safe; it’s up to parents to choose what’s right for their kid.”
A deficiency of guidance is one of the gaping holes with many parental control systems today. That’s unfortunate given that all the app stores have app ratings. It appears 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 distantly configure the filtering options for some of Google’s own apps, like the Chrome Browser and the Google Search app. This will protect kids from adult content and other inappropriate material when doing web searches.