The Google Play Store’s massive catalog of 1 million apps could use better curation, especially for younger Android users. It’s all too easy for the cutest child-friendly game to become buried in unrelated apps. That’s why Google’s mounting a campaign called “Designed for Families” to make family friendly apps more visible to their intended audiences.
Updated on 05-28-2015: Added details about user-facing changes coming to the Play Store.
It’ll work like this: Developers will submit their app for consideration under specialized guidelines, that are separate from the pre-conditional Google Play Developer Content Policy and Developer Distribution Agreement. In the United States, if the app in question receives a rating of “Everyone” or “Everyone 10+” from the Entertainment Software Rating Board and is found to comply with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, it’ll be given a “family-friendly” designation and promoted in “new ways” on the Play Store. According to a Google spokesperson who spoke with TechCrunch, reviews originated in other countries will take applicable privacy laws into account.
On user side of things, Play Store customers will see a new label, “The Family Star,” next to apps that’ve passed muster. And Google’s adding password-protected parental controls for locking down certain aspects of experience. The changes will roll out “in the coming months” to compatible Android devices.
Google is taking a page from Apple’s book when it comes to advertising. In order to be approved, apps can’t incorporate behavioral advertising (advertising based on in-app activity), interest-based advertising, or re-marketing. Ads must also be limited to one placement per page and be easily distinguishable from the surrounding content. The rules seem carefully tailored to avoid controversies like the one that surrounded the February launch of YouTube Kids, in which consumer advocacy groups filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) over what they alleged were “excessive” amounts advertising.
That wasn’t great news for Google, which first raised the ire of the FTC last year for failing to adequately prevent children from making accidental in-app purchases. It settled a suit in September for $19 million. Apple, faced with similar accusations, paid $32 million in January of last year.
With the Designed for Families program, the expectation is that high-quality, age-appropriate, easy-to-use apps like Little Big Foot and PocketPhonics will gain better visibility. Google isn’t talking about front-facing changes to the Play Store just yet, but an aggregate portal for kid-focused apps and games, much like “Kids” section in Apple’s App Store, seems likely.
The program, along with the improved app approval process Google announced in March, shows a renewed focus on giving well-crafted apps prime placement. When the app labels begin to appear in a few weeks, users can expect a much better Play Store experience.