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Google Families: What is it? And Should You Be Using It?

Words by
Jackie Baucom

JAN 12, 2024

Google Families: What is it? And Should You Be Using It?

In the age of constant technological advances, we need all the help we can get to keep our kids safe. Google Families is among the many tools aiming to assist families in managing their online experiences.

Read on to uncover the practicalities, limitations, and considerations surrounding the use of Google Families.

illustration of family with gps and kids on cell device

What is Google Families?

Google Families refers to a suite of tools and features provided by Google to help families manage and navigate the digital world in a safer and more organized manner. Google Families is available on any device that runs on Android version 7.0 or higher, and Apple devices with iOS 11 or higher.

It includes various services and controls aimed at parents and children to promote a safer online experience. The services most useful to families looking for online protection are:

  • Google Family Link
  • YouTube Kids
  • SafeSearch

Google Family Link is a free service provided by Google that allows parents to manage their child’s digital activities. 

A Google account must be created for the child, then parents are able to set parental controls from their own devices.

With Google Family Link, parents are able to do things like set daily screen time limits, remotely lock devices, track device location, and approve app downloads.

It’s always encouraging to see big companies invest in the digital safety of kids, and Google Family Link does provide some safety benefits compared to unrestrained smartphone access. But for kids just taking their first steps into the world of technology, some concerns still remain.

Google Family Link is designed for children under the age of 13.

Once the child turns 13, they can choose to opt out of Family Link, which might limit parental control. 

Parents should be aware that Google Family Link relies on an internet connection, and some functionalities may not work effectively with poor connection. 

Google Family Link does not block inappropriate content, but does provide filtering options. However, Google does warn that this feature is not foolproof, and only works on certain Google apps like Chrome and YouTube.

Our take? Google Family Link is a good start, but does not provide the whole protection kids need.

What is SafeSearch?

One of the features within Google Families is SafeSearch.

SafeSearch is a filtering tool designed to help users avoid explicit or inappropriate content when conducting searches on Google. It’s primarily focused on filtering out explicit images, videos, and websites from search results to provide a safer and more family-friendly browsing experience.

SafeSearch offers three filtering levels — filter, blur, and off — allowing users to customize the level of filtering.

SafeSearch only filters explicit content on Google search results, and not when the user visits a website directly.

The good news is that SafeSearch does work on multiple browsers such as Safari and Firefox, but it must be activated on each separate browser for it to work.

How effective is SafeSearch at protecting kids?

SafeSearch relies on specific keywords and algorithms to filter content. This means not all explicit content will be caught. Other reviews of SafeSearch have found that it tends to be quite accurate with pornography and sexual content, but less effective with violent content.

On the opposite side, SafeSearch can be overly cautious and block content that isn’t explicit or inappropriate, which affects the search results and limits access to legitimate information.

One limitation of Google SafeSearch is that it only includes “on” and “off” settings. That means that if you find it is blocking access to legitimate information then you have to disable it entirely to access that info. It does not allow users to create custom lists of websites to allow or disallow, or adjust sensitivity levels.

Every child is different so they deserve a tailored introduction to technology. Typically, any amount of protection and filtering is good when kids are just learning how to navigate a digital world, particularly on their own mobile device.

Many parents choose kid-safe devices that don’t allow web browsers but if your child is ready for that responsibly then SafeSearch is definitely worth using because it does prevent the displaying of most adult images and websites. You can also report content that was not filtered out by SafeSearch so they can review it and add it to their adult content list.

Is YouTube Kids Safe?

YouTube Kids is a version of YouTube that offers videos tailored to young audiences. Parents can set up and customize profiles for each child based on their age. 

With a YouTube Premium membership, parents can share the benefits to YouTube Kids with their children. Perks include being able to watch downloaded videos offline, and no paid ads.

Does YouTube Kids work for protecting kids?

YouTube Kids is safer than YouTube, but still not perfect. YouTube Kids relies on algorithms to filter videos (which may not always catch inappropriate content) as well as a human moderator.

Parents should still use caution when allowing children access to the platform. We’ve covered the dangers of YouTube Kids in a full article if you want to read more.

Parents should be aware that although paid ads are blocked with a YouTube Premium membership, unpaid ads are still shown. These ads often contain links which a child can click on and be taken to an outside website. Sometimes these websites are opened via an external web browser, allowing kids to then access the internet unsupervised.

Additional Features

Below is a brief breakdown of other popular features within Google Families to be aware of.

Google Play Family Library

This feature lets families (up to six members) share purchased apps, games, movies, and more across devices.

Calendar

Once a family group is created, a calendar titled “Family” is generated automatically. All members of the family group have access to this calendar across all devices, and are able to view, add, edit, and remove any event.

Google Keep

Google Keep is a note-taking and organization app that allows users to create notes, lists, and reminders. Notes can be color coded and labeled for better organization. Family members can collaborate on shared tasks and plans.

Google Assistant

Google Assistant is designed to help users perform various tasks, get information, and control smart home devices through voice commands and interactions. When used with Google Families, Google Assistant can recognize different voices and personalize responses, including age-appropriate answers for kids.

Google One

Google One is a subscription-based service that provides extra cloud storage beyond the free storage provided by Google services such as Google Drive, Gmail, and Google Photos. The subscription can be shared with the whole family group.

Family Link on smart phone

How Does Google Families Work?

First, a family group is created by a designated “family manager” using Google Family Link. The family manager can then invite family members to join the group. Family members will need to accept the invitation and follow the prompts to join the group. 

Once the family member joins, the accounts are linked and the family manager can use Family Link to set up parental controls. Members can only belong to one family group, and can only switch families once every 12 months.

illustration of dad and daughter looking at tablet

Issues with Google Families and Solutions

Like any tool, Google Families has limitations. It requires careful setup and active management to ensure proper safety. Even so, technology is never perfect, filters can fail, and kids can still be exposed to dangers.

Sharing information within a family ecosystem means data is flowing. It’s crucial to understand and manage privacy settings to protect your family’s digital footprint. When setting up an account for a child, be honest about their age to further protect them from data collection.

There are a lot of aspects that make up Google Families. It can seem daunting to get everything set up correctly. Parents will need time to understand and navigate the settings and features, so give yourself some grace.

Although Google Families offers excellent support, relying solely on it to monitor and guide a child’s digital life might lead to a false sense of security. Nothing beats open communication and parental involvement.

Understanding these potential issues can help parents navigate the use of Google Families more effectively and safely, while addressing concerns that may arise. 

Continue to have the tough conversations about the potential dangers found online, and support kids when they make mistakes. Provide them with safe tech designed for their age and maturity for additional assistance.

Does your family use Google Families? What’s your favorite feature? Have you had any issues with it? We’d love to hear about it in the comments.

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