Child monitoring apps have been available to parents for several years, but only recently have the app platforms themselves begun integrating their own website filters, timers, app whitelists, and content management within apps. For adults and kids, Apple introduced Screen Time with the arrival of iOS 12 in September, and Google came up with Digital Wellbeing for Android 9 Pie.
Now Google is adding parental control tools to its Chromebooks, which are laptops with a streamlined operating system of its design that can run some Android apps. Adults will be able to use the company's free Family Link app (download for iOS and Android) on their phone or tablet to manage how their kids interact with their Chromebooks.
The primary use of Family Link is to set limits on how many hours a day a compatible device can be used, and to create bedtime hours where a device cannot be used at all. Then the app produces activity reports to verify that it's working as intended (crafty kids have been known to figure out ways around these obstacles).
But Family Link can also block specific websites from loading, and parents will have full control over which apps are allowed to be installed. You can also hide installed apps that you don't want your kids to use, and you'll even be able to approve or deny their in-app purchases.
This last one may prove important, as we've seen stories of kids racking up huge bills in games where loot boxes can become an endless parade of prizes.
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Also, if you decide that you need to lock down the Chromebook while little Timmy goes to his room and thinks about what he's done, you don't need to have direct physical access to the Chromebook in question, right at that moment.
Through the Family Link app on your phone, you can lock specific accounts on your Chromebook with a few taps. Since logging into an account on a Chromebook requires it to contact Google's servers, those servers can simply be instructed by you to deny entry.
And just a couple weeks ago, the company also announced that the Google Assistant can now read bedtime stories to your children and even teach them some manners. But with all of these efforts coming together, one wonders where the competition will go, since it's gotten used to being able to charge for a service that Google now gives away for free and embeds deeply into its devices. We'll see where 2019 takes us.
- Google has added support for its Family Link child monitoring app to its Chromebook line of laptops.
- Parents can now block apps, hide apps, manage in-app purchases, set time limits, enforce bedtime hours, and block specific accounts from logging in.
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