Google’s Family Link gives parental controls to Android – in return for kids’ data

kid using ipad

Google Inc. today announced a new Android app called Family Link aimed at helping parents monitor their kids’ mobile device usage.

The app has the handy side effect of getting kids under 13 to sign up for their very own Google accounts, along with all of the valuable data that entails.

In a blog post, Google Vice President of Engineering Pavni Diwanji explained that Family Link lets parents “set certain digital ground rules,” allowing them manage what apps children can access, monitor usage and set time limits on when the device is active. In order to take advantage of these features, young users must have their own Google accounts, which Diwanji says are just like regular accounts with parental controls added in.

Diwanji was quick to point out that while Family Link can make it easier for parents to control their children’s smartphone experience, the app cannot do all of the work on its own.

“While Family Link can help you set certain ground rules around how your child uses their device, it can’t make the apps or services on their phone that were designed for adults kid-safe; it’s up to parents to choose what’s right for their kid,” Diwanji said. “When you make the decision to give your child their own device, Family Link can serve as a tool that keeps you in the loop as they begin to explore.”

Family Link is still in testing and is currently an invite-only app, but parents interested in trying it out can apply for the Family Link early access program. Diwanji noted that Google will be taking feedback from parents in the test program so it can improve the app before it gets a wider release.

Small children, big data

Although Family Link could certainly be useful for parents who want to introduce their children to mobile devices at a young age, the app comes with one major caveat: Google will still collect all of the usual data from the underage accounts.

Looking at the Family Link Disclosure for Parents page, there appears to be little to no difference between Google’s standard privacy policy and the policy in effect for underage users.

“We automatically collect and store certain information about the services your child uses and how your child uses them, like when your child saves a picture in Google Photos, enters a query in Google Search, creates a document in Google Drive, talks to the Google Assistant, or watches a video in YouTube Kids,” the disclosure page says.

Google also says that it tracks location data and even voice and audio information. The disclosure says: “For example, if your child uses audio activation commands (e.g., ‘OK, Google’ or touching the microphone icon), a recording of the following speech/audio, plus a few seconds before, will be stored to their account from any of your child’s signed-in devices, when the Voice & Audio Activity setting is enabled.”

According to Google, the data it gathers from children will be used in much the same way as data gathered from adults, with the exception of targeted advertising, which will rely only on the websites or apps that a child is currently viewing rather than their data history.

The amount of data gathered from underage accounts may be troubling to some users, but then again, parents who have their own Google accounts have already agreed to this sort of data collection for themselves, and they may have no problem with the information their children might share with the search giant.

Google notes in its disclosure to parents that users can also view, modify or delete their children’s personal information at any time by logging into their account. Parents can also choose to delete their children’s account to remove all of their data, which will be deleted “within a reasonable period of time.”

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