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Breaking News: Google Adds Family Link to Chromebooks

Chromebook Family Link Feature Image

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:

Family Link and Chromebooks**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(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:

Chromebook Family Link

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:

Chromebook Settings

Related Post: Step-by-step instructions for setting up a Chromebook Correctly

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).

Family Link Settings12. 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:

Family Link Set-up

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.

Chromebook web history

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!

Google Family Link

Google Family Link

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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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Living life to the full! That's why He died and how I try to live. I have an eclectic list of professional experience...CPA, business advisor, youth pastor, development director, now educational resource manager for Covenant Eyes. God shares wild ideas with me about life while I run. I want to show parents how to protect their kids from online dangers, which led to the creation of Protect Young Eyes. We recently created Virtue in Media, the first digital citizenship curriculum based on Scripture (www.virtueinmedia.com).

30 Comments
  • Jesse Siegand
    Posted at 14:33h, 23 April

    Great update Chris, thank you!

  • Ryan
    Posted at 12:16h, 25 April

    Have you tried to delete browser history as the child? I was a little confused by that as well, but when I actually tried to delete the browsing history on the newly set-up Family Link Chromebook, I couldn’t. Maybe I was doing it incorrectly. I’ll have to try again. Just curious if you had actually tried to and had the same experience I did.

  • Chris McKenna
    Posted at 20:25h, 25 April

    Hi, Ryan – I think you’re correct! I had the same experience and although I can click on “delete browsing history” and it seems to delete cookies and such, it doesn’t remove the URL history from Chrome! Awesome. Thank you for pointing me there and I’ll update the blog post accordingly!

    Chris

  • Adrian Bunting
    Posted at 15:02h, 26 April

    Just tried to do this in UK then saw in small print that Family Link is only available for Chromebook users in US 🙁

  • Ryan
    Posted at 16:33h, 27 April

    I wrote an email to Google asking about this, and this is the response I received: “From the information I found, you can delete your kids browing history from within the Family Link app but they won’t be able to delete browsing history from their device.

    The option to do so is grayed out.

    You can view your child’s web history with them on their device.”

  • Chris McKenna
    Posted at 22:36h, 28 April

    Hi, Ryan – we’ve found the same thing! I’ve updated the blog post to reflect our findings about web history. This is good news!
    Chris

  • Chris McKenna
    Posted at 22:37h, 28 April

    Unfortunately, you’re right. Hoping Google changes this soon!
    Chris

  • Ann Kaiser
    Posted at 22:25h, 07 May

    I cant seem to be able to set screen time limits for the chromebook through the Family Link App. Is this not available for chromebooks?

  • Chris McKenna
    Posted at 17:35h, 08 May

    Hi, Ann – you’re correct. Right now, screen time controls for Family Link are only available for Android tablets and smart devices, but not on Chromebooks. That’s one of those “not avail. yet” items in the grid in the blog post, but I sure hope they add that soon!

    Chris

  • Sue Landon
    Posted at 09:33h, 13 May

    I set up an account for my child through family link, and all the apps I had installed from Google Play Store in my parent account were not visible or accessible in my child’s account, meaning they couldn’t use any app other than the preloaded ones, and there’s was no way for me to change this. Did I miss something or is google play and the apps downloaded from there really not available to a family link account on a Chromebook?

  • Chris McKenna
    Posted at 01:12h, 16 May

    Hi, Sue – some of this is untested on Chromebooks yet, but from what I’m reading, apps that you’ve placed in your Family Library should be able to be accessed by your child on the Chromebook. I’m looking at the Family Link app on my phone right now, and in the settings for my daughter’s Chromebook profile, it says, “Choose what Lauren can browse on Google Play. She will still need your approval for new purchases or downloads, unless they’re from your Family Library.”

    Here’s a Family Library support article: https://support.google.com/googleplay/answer/7007852?hl=en

    Best of luck!
    Chris

  • Emiko Bigler
    Posted at 20:18h, 21 May

    So if my child has to use their school account on their Chromebook, Family Link won’t work?

  • Chris McKenna
    Posted at 14:48h, 22 May

    Hi, Emiko – Family Link connects to an email address that is used to access the device upon login. Once in the Chromebook, your child can log into their school Google account through Chrome. So, if the school account is the one that’s used to log into the device right now, that would have to change. Does that help?

    Chris

  • Tracie
    Posted at 15:47h, 28 June

    Chris,Thank you for the info we needed to help keep our Chromebook safer for our children. I have hit a roadblock however. I have completed all the steps to create a google account for my child, but when I go to his Chromebook and click on Add User it tells me Google won’t allow me to go here. Please help so I can continue to set up the controls we need.

  • Chris McKenna
    Posted at 02:37h, 30 June

    Hi! Is it because you’re not the administrator for the Chromebook? That’s the only thing I can point to. If you’re unsure, you might want to perform a factory reset to get a fresh start and then set yourself up as the Administrator.

    Hope that helps!
    Chris

  • ML
    Posted at 19:24h, 04 July

    2 Issues.
    1) Once logged in to child account in Chrome OS is doesn’t allow to login to any other Gmail account.
    2) You mentioned in another post https://protectyoungeyes.com/content/chromebook/ “Step 4: Use a FILTER. Mobicip has filtering for Chromebooks” The issue is that I have no way of adding this app MobiCip to child account, once I logout of the admin and switch users it doesn’t show or allow to add the app.

    Thank you

  • Chris McKenna
    Posted at 23:44h, 07 July

    Hello, thank you for your 2 comments. For 1), you’re absolutely correct, and we are changing the blog post to agree with this, which we did not catch during our initial testing. We’ve started a campaign to send feedback to Google to get this changed. 2) this one, I’m not sure. I’m going to poke around and get back to you.

    Take care!
    Chris

  • Estevan
    Posted at 21:14h, 08 July

    WELL THIS IS A CRAP SOLUTION!

    Yeah I have parental controls on my daughter’s Chromebook but it has removed the Play Store. So why the hell does it matter if she is authorized 10+ apps when there is no store to get then from!

  • James
    Posted at 17:35h, 09 July

    When I tried to log in with my child’s account, it says “couldn’t sign you in. Looks like your Google Account can’t go here”. I read elsewhere that you cannot sign in on a Chromebook with a Family Link child account. I was hoping that wasn’t the case.

  • Chris McKenna
    Posted at 01:10h, 16 July

    Hi, James – I’m not sure what’s happening. Family Link does work on Chromebooks. Is there anything in the Family Link Account settings that might be preventing you from using the account on a Chromebook? I’m not aware of being able to do that, but that’s the only thing that comes to mind.

    Chris

  • BD
    Posted at 14:26h, 18 July

    My son will be a freshman this year (over 13) and is going to a “bring-your-own-device” school. Is a chromebook off the table at this point? He will need to access his school gmail account so family link will not work. Mobicip is easily disabled from what I read. Any other alternatives? I wish the console management tools would be available to families…seems like it would solve the problems. Go to a windows device?

  • Terri A Starr
    Posted at 09:37h, 21 July

    Got a chromebook for my daughter’s birthday (age 11). Spent 4 hours on her b-day trying to set up Family Link, and she is still unable to access google play at all, nor any of the apps I downloaded on my account to family share. We’re close to returning it, and getting a windows 10.

  • Chris McKenna
    Posted at 08:17h, 23 July

    Hi, BD – I’m in the process of testing a possible solution for your Chromebook that is not easily disabled, like Mobicip. It’s called Blocksi, and I should have some results soon. This solution should provide some of the console management tools that you’re hoping for, if their features are true to their marketing. Please look for an update soon!

    Chris

  • Chris McKenna
    Posted at 08:18h, 23 July

    You’re right that Family Link doesn’t quite hit the mark for a lot of kids. I’m in the process of testing a possible solution for your Chromebook that is not easily disabled, like Mobicip. Please look for an update soon!

    Chris

  • Chris McKenna
    Posted at 08:20h, 23 July

    Hi, Terri – I’m in the process of testing a possible solution for your Chromebook that is not easily disabled, like Mobicip and is more useful than Family Link. It’s called Blocksi, and I should have some results soon. In the meantime, get the WIFI she’s using filtered so it stays away from porn. Do you have access to your router’s dashboard? You can change it’s DNS to OpenDNS’ Family Shield, which you can read about here.

    Chris

  • Paolo
    Posted at 15:26h, 26 July

    Very good review. Have a question: I downloaded the Family Link app on my iPhone and started the steps for creating a child account for my chromebook; right at the start, the app lists as a requirement that an android device with a certain sw level is available for the child to use; if you say that you don’t have such a device you are not allowed to proceed. The question is whether an Android device to be registered for the child is really a requirement and the account creation would not be allowed to complete successfully without such a device… or I can ignore that and instead of registering an Android device for the child I can just register the chromebook? My issue is, I do not have any Android devices and I wanted my child to use an old chromebook that won’t ever be enabled to run Android apps. Thanks.

  • P Leal
    Posted at 22:39h, 28 July

    Got chromebooks for the twins (7yr) and have spent the last two days trying to set it up for them. Success creating <13 google accounts, setting up Family Link, but when I log out and they log in they cannot access google play at all. In fact, the app is not even available. I;m tracing back my steps to figure out where I messed up; if I selected something that would have kept them from downloading google play altogether and I just can’t figure it out. Have you heard of others who are having similar issues?

  • Chris McKenna
    Posted at 01:00h, 04 August

    There’s no requirement (that I know of) to use Family Link by registering an Android device. I downloaded the Family Link app on my iPhone and created a test account on our Chromebook without any Android device registration. I hope that helps!

    Chris

  • Chris McKenna
    Posted at 01:08h, 04 August

    Hi, I’ve been hearing the same thing from other parents who are using Family Link on Chromebooks. Once the FL account is created for the child, then Google Play is no longer accessible. You may be able to purchase/download apps with your account and make them available via Family Share.

    Separately, if you’ll allow me to share this piece of advice, but 7-years-old is maybe too young for kids to start developing an idea that they have a device of their own. Our recommendation would be to have 1 family Chromebook that has separate logins for each family member. This helps put off the false idea that kids are entitled to internet privacy in the home.

    Best to you!
    Chris

  • MW
    Posted at 15:26h, 06 August

    Pretty disappointing this is only half implemented. I would like to have some management of our kids Chromebooks and allow them to install apps from the Play store. Right now it is basically all or nothing. Pretty disappointing.

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