22 Apr Breaking News: Google Adds Family Link to Chromebooks
Supervised Users disappeared!
Three months ago, Google froze their Supervised User feature without adding a replacement feature, and homes using Chromebooks were astonished. Other than services like Mobicip (which we’ve recommended for years), Google’s Supervised User functionality provided parents some monitoring and peace of mind for the millions of children who depend on Chromebooks at home.
Then in an instant, the feature was gone. Google gave users less than a week’s notice.
And now, in an equally baffling move, Google seems to have quietly added some Family Link features to Chromebooks. Mentions of Family Link started showing up on Google Support Articles slowly and without any mention or fanfare from Google. If you go to Family Link and click on “Supported Devices,” Chromebooks aren’t even mentioned! No one knows why. From the beginning, Google has labeled itself as an unconventional company and this approach certainly fits that label.
What is Google Family Link?
Family Link was created as a way for parents to control how their <13 year old children navigate their Android devices (phones and tablets). The key there is less than 13 years old. This is the age that Google has determined to constitute the age when parents no longer have a direct say in how their children navigate technology through their parental control services. This is an important detail, so don’t forget this.
Note – for now, the Family Link features we describe below only work in the United States.
Family Link now (partially) works on Chromebooks!
That heading is true. Not all of Family Link’s features available on Android are also available for the current Chromebook release. Here is the current feature set, showing which are available on each Google platform:
**April 28, 2018 Update – the red circle points to a very exciting development. After some interaction with Google support, we obtained a more clear understanding of how Family Link preserves web browsing history on Chromebooks (which is AWESOME). At the bottom of this post, we will explain how parents can control web history with Family Link.
Setting Up Family Link on Chromebooks
We’ll provide explanations and a few screen shots to show you what to do.
STEPS 1-4 OCCUR ON YOUR OWN MOBILE DEVICE
1. Download the Family Link app from your app store (Google Play for Android or App Store on iPhones).
(Family Link App Icon)
2. Follow the three steps. At step two, you’ll be asked to create your child’s Google Account. Some parents might have questions like this:
FAQ: “My child has a school account. Can I use that to set up their Family Link account?”
Answer: No. Not currently. You must create a new account for your child. This is a significant limitation of Family Link and PYE has started a campaign to send regular feedback to Google about this inability to use a school account. We’re baffled as to why Google doesn’t at least allow someone to use a second Gmail account after logging into the Chromebook with a Family Link Gmail account. This means that for kids who need to use the Chromebook for school, they will need to use a paid service like Mobicip to monitor the account.
FAQ: Why do I have to create a new account?
Answer: Family Link is intended to be used by children under age 13. Google assumes that the only children under age 13 who use Gmail are those with a school account, which cannot be used for Family Link. If your child is under 13 and has a non-school Gmail account, this violates their policy. If your child is already at a teen, then according to Google, they are not eligible to use Family Link. Parents can skirt this rule by creating a new account for their teen son or daughter with whatever birthday they want.
FAQ: What happens to Family Link when my 12-year-old turns 13?
Answer: Copied from Google’s Family Link Support page, “When your child turns 13, they have the option to graduate to a normal Google Account. Before a child turns 13, parents will get an email letting them know their child will be eligible to take charge of their account on their birthday, so you can no longer manage their account. On the day they turn 13, children can choose whether they want to manage their own Google Account or continue to have their parent manage it for them.”
3. Pay for your Family Link account. This happens during step 2. Don’t worry – it only costs $0.01. Google does this to ensure you’re an adult that has a credit card to pay for the account.
4. Note – as you go through the Family Link set-up will also receive a series of emails for (1) Creating a Family, (2) Informing you about Family Link features, and (3) confirming your $0.01 payment.
STEPS 5-9 OCCUR ON THE CHROMEBOOK
5. On the Chromebook, make sure everyone is signed out.
6. In the lower left corner, click “Add Person”
7. Following the Google prompt, type in the email address of the child for the account you just created in the Family Link app.
8. You’ll then be prompted to go through a series of screens verifying that you’re the parent, starting with the one below. Whatever parent email you established as the primary account during the Family Group set-up in Family Link will appear here:
9. Toward the end of the set-up on the Chromebook, you’ll see this screen titled, “Important Note for Parents,” which tells you what Family Link features are and aren’t available. Similar to our feature table above. Also, the final screen you’ll see is where Google wants to make sure the Chromebook was set up correctly by an Administrator to prevent circumvention of the Family Link settings. You can verify the accuracy of your initial Chromebook set-up by following our step-by-step instructions in our Device section (don’t miss this step! It’s super important to make sure the parent is the device administrator and that login is limited to only certain people). Hint: your Chromebook settings should look like this screen:
STEPS 10-13 OCCUR ON THE MOBILE DEVICE IN THE FAMILY LINK APP
10. When you complete the Chromebook set-up, Family Link will complete step three, “Connect to your child’s device,” and you should then see the newly added Chromebook listed in your child’s account in the Family Link app.
11. Next, ensure the correct limits are in place. Click the “MANAGE SETTINGS” link in your child’s Family Link account as shown in the image on the left (which will then take you to the image on the right).
12. You’ll want to click through each of the items in this list. Under Controls on Google Play, you’ll want to set age ratings for apps that you want your child to have access to. Under Filters on Google Chrome, you’ll want to make sure “Try to block mature sites” is checked. Note that you can also create a white list here also. A white list is a short list of the ONLY sites that you want your child to have access to, which can be nice for young internet users. Under Filters on Google Search, you’ll want to make sure “SafeSearch” is toggled on.
Note: for now, Location setting doesn’t work for Chromebooks, even through you can set it in the app.
13. Under the “…More,” you can Manage Google Activity. In there, you’ll see an option “Choose who can manage activity controls” and if you select “Only parents,” Google shows the strange pop-up notification, shown below:
I don’t have a clear understanding of what “certain Google services” will be restricted, but I’ll report back when I do. The statement, “Your child will still be able to access and delete her past activity” initially made us upset, but after some interaction with Google’s support, we actually discovered some very good news.
We discovered that if parents follow the steps above, they will be able to prevent their son or daughter from deleting web history, which we’ve tested and are really pleased with.
Understanding How Web History Works on Chromebooks With Family Link
In images 1-3 below, we are in the parent Family Link app.
In image 4, which we get to after clicking on “Chrome Dashboard” in image 3, we are transported to a Google Chrome page in Safari where you can click on “Clear History.” Based on our testing, this is the only way to delete the search history. Image 5 below is from the Chromebook after clicking on the three vertical dots in the upper right corner of Chrome where you can drill into Chrome web history. As you can see, there is a “Clear browsing history” option in the left menu, but when it’s clicked, what you see in image 6 doesn’t give the user the option to actually clear the websites. The user (child) can only clear cookies and the cache when clicking the “Clear Data” button. Yes!
Limitations of Family Link
We’ve already mentioned the inability to use a school-issued email account to create a Family Link profile, which is significant. Additionally:
- Family Link profiles are locked into using YouTube Kids. This is a real problem for kids in junior high who are under 13, but often required to use YouTube for school. In Safe Mode and under adult supervision, YouTube should be fine to use.
- You cannot add any Chrome extensions to a Family Link profile. Meaning, you can’t add Mobicip’s monitoring on top of Family Link.
For 1., we’ve started a feedback campaign that includes the school email account limitation and the issue of being locked into YouTube Kids. Both of these really need to change in order for Family Link to be a useful replacement for Supervised Users.
There you have it! Finally, a step in the right direction and one that I hope Google will build on with more control for parents. The winds are blowing in the direction of parents with recent data privacy legislation passed in Europe. We will continue to keep you posted!
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