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In a recent development, the tech giant is opening up its many online services to kids under 13 with a new tool called Family Link, an app that lets parents carefully manage the content on their kids’ devices. It marks one of the first attempts by a major tech company to directly address the reality of kids using tech products, potentially acquiring many more customers in the process — albeit in a limited way.
Family Link allows kids to use real Google services, Gmail, Maps, Chrome and more, not watered down. kiddie versions. However, kid accounts are directly tied to parent accounts, and there are many granular controls over what kids can and can’t do. Each app has an overall rating for its content, and parents can limit the time a child uses a specific app or service, or block it altogether.
The software giant is opening up a limited beta of Family Link on March 15. The company says it’ll solicit feedback for a period, then launch it generally later this year, starting in the U.S.
Opening up services to kids under 13 is something of a third rail among tech companies, mostly because of an almost-two-decade-old law, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. COPPA doesn’t prohibit kids under 13 from using the internet, but it does severely restrict the kind of information services can collect from users 12 and under. It also requires parental consent before the child can share almost any personal information, such as their gender, location or images of themselves.
Family Link addresses concerns about access with its extensive parental controls and limited collection of child data. Still, Google is potentially wandering into a minefield. The internet can be a confusing and dangerous place for children, and a lot of the success of Family Link will depend on the understanding of technical details, something parents aren’t exactly known for as a group.
How Family Link works
Parents will manage Family Link via an app they’ll need to download from Google Play. A similar app goes on the child’s device, and after the parent sets up the program on both devices, the two are linked. Right now, both phones need to be Androids, but Google says it’s working on an iOS version of the parent app. Because of the OS permissions needed, the child’s phone must be Android.