By Larry Magid
Google’s Family Link is now out of beta and ConnectSafely has just published its Parent’s Guide to Google Family Link to provide parents the information they need to set up an account for their child and help guide their child in the safe, productive and fun use of an Android device and age-appropriate apps, websites and media, including music, movies and TV.
The service empowers parents to set up an Android device for their young children, giving parents the ability to manage and monitor their child’s use of the device.
Family Link is a big deal because it’s the first time this century that a major internet service provider is enrolling users under 13. The service is in compliance with the Children’s Online Privacy Act (COPPA). The law, which went into effect in 2000, requires verifiable parental consent before a site or online service can collect or use personal information from kids under 13, and it’s virtually impossible to offer many services – especially social networking or email — without collecting some personal information. In the case of Family Link, the child’s account is both authorized and supervised by a parent.
By setting up an account, parents are not only giving permission to their kids, but they are also empowering themselves to monitor and control how their child’s device is being used. Parents can manage what apps the kids can use or set guidelines for the types of apps or websites a child can use based on ratings from the Entertainment Software Rating Board. Google’s own YouTube app is blocked because it has material unsuitable for young children, but the YouTube Kids app is, of course, allowed by default.
The parents’ Family Link app allows them to manage and view app activity, including how much time kids are spending using each app. By default, parents must approve any app as well as any in-app purchase, but parents can loosen these restrictions.
Parents can authorize kids to have their own Gmail account and, by default, parents won’t see their kid’s email. Parents can, however, access and change their child’s password but — to keep kids from using their Gmail accounts on unprotected devices — only the child’s device can be used to log into that account. Parents do know how much time the child is spending using Gmail and all other apps. Parents can also control app permissions to, for example, protect the child’s privacy or prevent an app from knowing their location.
My kids are now adults but they had AOL accounts well before they were 13 because we wanted them to be able to communicate with friends and family via email and take advantage of all the other services at the time. And, back then, AOL offered “Kids Only” accounts which – like Google’s new kids’ accounts, gave parents control over what their kids could do.
We’re long passed the day that kids are clamoring for AOL accounts, but many young children now have smartphones and, frankly, many parents have little control over those phones or insights into how the kids are using them. With Google’s new service, parents have both control and knowledge, making it a lot easier for them to mentor and help manage their kids’ digital lives.
Google will notify both the parent and the child shortly before the child’s 13th birthday “to encourage a family conversation around when the child will be ready to take control over their own account and device.” The child has the option to transition to a regular account or remain in the parent-managed account until their 18th birthday. Even prior to a child’s 13th birthday, I urge parents to also think about loosening up restrictions as their children become more mature. The law doesn’t make any distinctions between 4-year-olds and 12-year-olds but smart parents do. Parental controls are like training wheels. I remember how exciting it was to equip my very young kids with bikes that couldn’t fall over, but it was even more exciting when we took off those training wheels and watched our kids learn to navigate on their own.