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 children navigate their Android devices (phones and tablets) and Chromebooks. Family Link is stricter if the child is less than 13 and has slightly different features if the child is 13-17.
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 PARENT MOBILE DEVICE
1. On your own parental device, download the Family Link app from your app store (Google Play for Android or App Store on iPhones). Even though you can only control an Android device used by a child or teen, the parent can use the Family Link app from either an Apple or Android device.
(Family Link App Icon)
2. When you open the app for the first time, you’ll see a screen that asks you to “make sure your child’s device is nearby.”
3. Next, the app will lead you through a series of screens asking you if your child already has a Google account. If the answer is “no,” the app will allow you to create one. It assumes you are creating an account for a child who is <13. Anyone 13+ can create an account through the normal Google channels. If the answer is yes, you move forward.
4. For Chromebooks, here’s where the APP process breaks down. After you establish an email account for your child, you’re told to get your child’s device, download Google Family Link for children and teens on that device, and when prompted, enter a 9-character access code which is supposed to let you “pair” the parent app to the child’s device.
Unfortunately, there’s no where to enter this 9-character code into a Chromebook! You can log into the Chromebook with the newly created Gmail account, but it doesn’t do any good for Family Link.
Therefore, the only way to complete the set-up process on a Chromebook to supervise a child who is <13 years old is:
- Log into the Chromebook as an adult
- Download the Family Link app to the Chromebook
- Click the “add” in the upper right to become a Family Manager and add the child’s account. This only works if the child is <13 (right now, Family Link doesn’t work on Chromebooks with Gmail accounts belonging to kids 13+).
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”
Note: it’s possible that when you, as the parent administrator, set up the Chromebook, you set it up in a way as to NOT allow to users to be added to the Chromebook. Actually, we recommend that parents set up their Chromebooks in this way. Therefore, before you click “Add Person,” you will probably have to do the following:
- Click your profile in the lower right corner.
- Click the settings (gear) icon.
- Select “Manage others users”
- Click the plus sign to “Add person”
- Type in the name and email of the newly created account of the <13-year-old child (this is the process to follow anytime you want to allow a new person to access the Chromebook).
7. Now, back to the “App Person” option in the lower, left, 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. This is what we explained above in step 6 where you added a person. In the “Manage other people” settings, it should look like this if it was done properly:
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 on Chromebooks
Overall, Family Link has a lot of room for improvement.
- You can’t set up Family Link for teens (>13) on a Chromebook without first setting up Family Link on an Android device. In other words, if a parent has an Android or iPhone, downloads the Family Link app, and tries to add a teen with a Chromebook to their account, it doesn’t work. You can only add a teen to Family Link through an Android device. It took 2 weeks and multiple conversations with Google support to figure this out.
- Profiles for kids <13 are locked into using YouTube Kids. This is a real problem for kids in junior high, who are 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.
- You cannot access school G-Suite accounts once you’re logged into a Chromebook with Family Link. This one totally baffles us.
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. They have a long way to go for Family Link to be easy for families to set-up and use.
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