I had the privilege to hear Saurabh Sharma – Sr. Product Manager with Google, speak on the abilities and development of Android’s parental control solution, FamilyLink. He covered many of the trends they were seeing in kids and families and how those stats encouraged their team to implement some full device control features on the monitoring system. As you can see in the video above, there are some pretty neat features in FamilyLink, including the ability to lock an entire device, not just the data connection. Also, time management and scheduling is a major part of the FamilyLink features. One of the coolest features spoken about at CES was the ability to use Google Home to control FamilyLink. Voice command was all the rage at CES2018 and Google’s parental control apps were no exception.
The app on kids’ devices allows them to see exactly what their parents are seeing. App usage stats, app blocking, bedtime and offtime, and setting the Google’s content filter, “SafeSearch.” While the SafeSearch filter isn’t the most extensive and customizable content management tool, it is a good start, especially for your younger children.
One Major Flaw
When FamilyLink was announced ten months ago my first question was, “Can our kids use this on the older phones we’ve handed down to them?” The answer is listed in the fine print on the Google FamilyLink homepage: “*Children can run Family Link on Android devices running Nougat (7.0) and higher, along with certain Marshmallow (6.1) devices listed in our FAQ.” This was immediately a problem for me since I know many families who use their older Android phones as the solution for their kids. It’s always been pretty easy to just hand down your phone to your kids when you get a new one. While there are many internet safety options available for Android, nothing works as well as an app developed by the same people who made your operating system.
After hearing Saurabh Sharma talk about FamilyLink, I followed him out of the room as he headed towards his next meeting and I asked him about the possibility of making FamilyLink backward compatible with older phones. He replied: Making FamilyLink backward compatible is a “difficult problem but one we are committed to trying to solve.” So there you have it. While it’s understandably not an easy thing to fix, we are assured that it is on the team’s radar and something they’re working towards.
Apple’s iOS has had native parental controls for a long time now. They’re pretty effective but haven’t been updated over the last several operating system upgrades. Hopefully, some time management and monitoring options can be added soon. Thankfully there are apps like Accountable2You and UnGlue to help with some of those needs.