Google's new Family Link app helps parents keep tabs on their kids' phone habits

The new invitation-only service lets parents remotely monitor their kids' phone usage, set time limits, and cut off access to sensitive content.

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Last week, it was discovered that the YouTube Kids app contained a hidden reference to a Family Link app, which was presumed to be a way for parents to remotely block and monitor videos their children were watching. Google has now unveiled the new service and it’s much more ambitious than we originally thought.

Family Link is a new app that connects not just your Google account but also your child’s. To set it up you’ll need three things: the app, an Android phone running Android KitKat 4.4 or higher (for you), and a newer Android phone running Nougat (for the little one). Once that’s all set up, the two phones will be linked and parents will be able to keep tabs on just about everything their kid is doing with their phone.

The missing Link: Granted, older children might balk at their parents spying on the things they do on their phone, but for parents of younger kids who like to play games and watch movies, Family Link is a godsend. While it might seem crazy to open a Google account for your five-year-old, the tools here will help kids and parents understand the inherent dangers of being so connected. With the rise of Chromebooks in schools and smartphone hand-me-downs, our kids are getting online at ever-earlier ages, so Family Link is a fantastic way to keep tabs on what they’re doing when we’re not watching, as well an opportunity to teach them how to be safe. We wouldn’t be surprised if the service ends up being baked into a future version of Android.

All in the Family

With Family Link, parents of children 13 years and under will be able to approve or block the apps they want to download from the Google Play store, monitor how much time they spend using apps with weekly or monthly activity reports, set daily screen time limits, and remotely lock your kid’s device when it’s time for a break or past their bedtime.

Additionally, parents will be able to remotely manage settings and content for Google SafeSearch and the YouTube Kids app, see the location of their child’s device, and allow a second family member to exercise the same controls you have over your child’s account. And according to a CNET hands-on with the app, you can also set a new unlock code when your child inevitable forgets theirs, ping a phone that has been misplaced, and control which apps have access to the camera or microphone.

google family link app Google

The Family Link app gives parents control over what their kids are doing on their phone.

Otherwise, your child’s Google account will be the same as yours, letting them access normal services like email and photos, and share information with their friends. However, Google says it will not deliver personalized ads to your child’s phone, so they won’t pester you to buy the latest Batman Lego after watching a YouTube video.

However, Google warns that the service isn’t foolproof. On the Family Link site it includes a page dedicated to ways you can stay smart online, including creating strong passwords, using content filters, and keeping information private. As it explains, “These tools can help you set digital ground rules for your family, but keep in mind that they have limitations and will not always work. For example, you won’t be able to see your child’s device location in Family Link, unless the device is on, connected to the internet, and recently active. Additionally, filters like SafeSearch are not perfect, so explicit, graphic, or other content you may not want your child to see makes it through sometimes.”

The app is currently in a limited invitation-only preview, so parents who want to try it out need to sign up to receive an invitation code. The service is only available on Android devices, and Google doesn’t say if it is planning to expand it to iOS.

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