Google’s Family Link app lets parents manage their kids’ devices

family link
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Worried about what your kids are up to on the internet? Google’s made an app for that. Family Link, a new, free service for Android and iOS, lets parents manage the content of their kids’ devices.

Family Link, which is now available publicly after launching in a limited beta earlier this year, lets kids access Google services like Gmail, Maps, Chrome, and Photos. But it ties their devices to their parents’ devices, and parents get notifications about virtually everything their kids do.

Here’s how it works on Android devices: If kids try to download an app or visit a site, parents receive a notification that they can approve or deny. They get detailed analytics of what apps their kids are using, and even a rundown of which services they spend time with.

Once parents download the Family Link app to the child’s phone and their respective smartphones, they can allow or block access to any app on the child’s device, or limit the amount of time they can spend with a specific service. Ratings and information from the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) and Google’s own internal review board help to indicate the age-appropriateness of apps’ content (Maps is rated ‘G,’ for example).

Family Link includes broader device controls, too, like a feature that limits kids to a certain amount of screen time each day. Parents can set “blackout periods” during which kids won’t be able to access their devices (think dinner or bedtime), and a Lock Devices Now option instantly locks a child’s device.

Some Google apps offer more granular controls than others. Chrome, for example, allows three different levels of access: Unfiltered, SafeSearch (which filters websites and pages Google’s filters deem “inappropriate”), and restricted (where the child is only allowed to visit a list of sites the parent specifies). And most of Google services are available to kids.

YouTube is the exception to the rule. Family Link directs kids to YouTube Kids, Google’s child-friendly version of YouTube with built-in age controls and restrictions.

Family Link on iOS, which launched in April, isn’t as holistic. Because of the iPhone’s operating system-level security restrictions, Google doesn’t offer a Family Link client for kids’ devices — it wouldn’t be able to set time limits or remotely lock the device. Basically, parents can manage an Android device from an iOS device, but they can’t manage an iOS device from another device.

Family Link isn’t Google’s first attempt at kid-friendly controls. In Android 4.3 Jelly Bean, it introduced Restricted Profiles, which locked down potentially harmful features. But it was largely an all-or-nothing affair — kids were prevented from using Gmail, for instance, and couldn’t back up photos to Google’s cloud services.

Targeting services at the 13-and-under crowd is a difficult business. The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act restricts the kinds of information companies can collect from users 12 and under, and requires parental consent before children can share personal information such as their location, gender, or image of themselves.

Google thinks Family Link could be part of the solution.

“There’s always a concern if [kids] are going to stumble into some dark alley on the internet,” Amar Gandhi, Google’s director of product management told Mashable. “This is a problem we think Google can solve. A lot of the people who worked on this project are parents. We never think tech is a substitute for parenting, but we do think technology can help.”

Family Link can control Android devices running Android 7.0 Nougat or higher, and select Marshmallow devices. Parents need to have a phone running Android 4.4 KitKat or higher, or iOS 9 and higher.

Update: Added in information about Family Link’s public availability. 

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