So that I am not a hypocrite, let me start off by saying that I don’t use Android. I have used it, in the past and I have reeducated myself regarding it every year so that I can adequately assist my clients, so I am no stranger to it. However, I don’t use it. The one thing that makes android so great is also its weak point. Android is a vast open system. There are millions of apps, from thousands of designers and it can do anything. Anything. All of my tech associates, love it, use it and sing its praises, however, they are savvy, they know their way around the internet, and they most importantly know what to do when things go wrong. They see the signs, can recognize the symptoms of a malware attack and therefore can use the Android operating system and most of the devices that utilize it with significant effect. With that in mind, what I am about to say is honest, accurate and NOT in any way meant to be a hit piece on Google or Android or any device that uses it. Android is so free and so open and available on such a wide range of products. Because of this, it is naturally insecure. That is not my opinion, that is a documented fact noted in many well-respected tests and trade publications. Most people find it worth the risk as it is usually less expensive, always more flexible and most times more useful than any other mobile OS. In my case, I prefer the security of iOS. Since I have a family, I opt to use iOS and their parental controls that we already discussed. It is a closed platform, because of that it is more limited, more constrained, which is precisely what I want for my children. If you do, however, decide to utilize Android for your family and your children, here are some helpful tips regarding its parental controls.
First, like any other OS, you as the parent have to make sure your account is secure. Your kids will surely try to get past any restrictions you employ, and if your account is easily compromised, they will be the ones to do it. Google has several levels of security, and the top two tiers, starting with two-factor authentication, are the best. The highest level which is new and very inconvenient to use. I don’t know if anyone short of a high profile target like a CEO or public figure would want to use it as it is quite restrictive, but two factor, correctly set up, will keep everyone, including your kids, out of your account 99% of the time. Next, when you do set up your google account, remember to use strong and unique passwords and PINs. These are items that you may at some point be expected to type in with your kids in the room. They will be waiting for that “one important thing,” and if you use a password that you can’t afford to change or the same PIN you use at the ATM, they will pick up on that, and your life will get complicated sooner or later. There are few things worse than having to change all the passwords on every account because your kids watched you type the old one in to approve Edmodo for them at a parent-teacher conference. Only later do you find out that they used it to buy games and movies on their Xbox, turn off their restrictions on the WiFi and buy a subscription to YouTube Red? Yes, that is a very a very specific example. I pass this info on from my own experiences, so you don’t have to live thru the same mistakes I made. Instead, create a google password for your family account and for your children’s accounts that are only used at that half of Google, don’t even use it to secure your private google account. Also, to repeat myself, use two-factor authentication at the very least. I have had several clients and read reports online of people who set up a google account for their children, activate restrictions and parental controls, only to have the kids click the “forgot my password” link and immediately be able to log in to the device and move quickly past any restrictions. If you use heightened levels of Google account security, starting with two-factor authentication, you will be notified when your kids try this tactic and can at least move to stop it. You may not be able to keep them out of the restricted areas, but you will at the very least receive an email telling you they changed the password. Remember, your kids aren’t bad, they are just well motivated and when we can go online to find out HOW to secure the account, remember that they can go online and find out how to remove your security. Especially if your kids have access to your browser history or favorites. They can go back to the sites you used for your security ideas, read those, and reverse engineer a way back around them. These digital breadcrumbs you may be leaving your kids brings me to my second thought regarding your Google account.
I strongly recommend making yourself multiple separate accounts. Yes, your device will support multiple user accounts, at least if it is running version 4.2 on a tablet or version 5.0 on a smartphone. Which accounts will you want on your device? Well, the one you have had forever, thru college or high school with all you’re google lifetime datastore and all your files and apps connected to it will be required if you want to be able to use the device yourself without major inconvenience. Also, you will want one account that is empty and generic for a guest. Lastly you will want one that is just for the account you will make just to manage the family devices. I have several reasons for multiple accounts, most importantly, Google serves you programming based on your interests. Have you always been a ‘pure-as-the-driven-snow’ parent? Probably not, if you are, then please feel free to disregard this, but if you are human and honest, you have at least in some point of parenting typed something into a google search bar that you wouldn’t want your innocent, loving offspring to see. Maybe something like ‘how do you help colicky baby’ followed by several other versions of that, ending with something much less polite because after your fourth or eighth sleepless night, your decorum and good judgement can go out the window.
You get the point. Keep your personal Google account personal. Make a new one for the family. This will also help in the App Store as it gives you the chance to preview apps without giving your kids instant access to them. Next, the guest account. Have you ever been out when someone else needed to borrow your phone? If you have a guest account that is stripped of anything useful other than the camera, messaging, email, and phone you can log into that before you hand the phone away. Make this account part of the family and lock it down with the same restrictions you would use for your youngest child. Now, no matter where you are, or who you have to hand the phone to, you know that they are not getting into your personal stuff, spending your money, snooping thru your personal data or photos, in short, you have a burner account that you can afford to loan out and loose.
OK, now we have our family specific google account logged into our device, and we have unique disposable passwords and PINs. Next, we need to set up the family. There are two ways to do this, first, and most common are to set up a restricted user only on the device the family member will be using. To do this, please refer to the wonderful informative work done by Jim Martin in an article on Tech Advisor this last May entitled “How to use Android parental controls.” He does a perfect step-by-step of how to set up a child’s device, and therefore I will just point you to him here: www.techadvisor.co.uk/how-to/google-android/how-use-android-parental-controls-3461359/ , instead of trying to reinvent the wheel. This is the best article I have found on this topic complete with pictures, however, if you find a better one, please share it with us.
The second way to use parental controls on Android is thru a security or filtering app. Many good third-party apps exist, like Boomerang, which I use, but for now lets just talk about the products that Android and Google provide. We will talk about third-party security apps in the next article.
The stock manufacturer app recently released from Google in the GooglePlay store is called ‘Family Link.’ I am just now making myself familiar with this app and all its features, so this account of it will be a little light, but so far, it lets me do two things that are critical to my large, multi-device family. It provides global parental controls based on the family and child’s google account. From setting up new accounts for young children to implementing time limits, rating restrictions, and limiting access to the paid portions of the PlayStore, this app finally, in my opinion, gives Android users what they have needed for so long. Real control. Couple this with a strong security setting including two factor on the parent account, and this has the potential to be the best of both worlds, melding the restrictions to content in iOS with the limited use, cross-device restrictions, time limits and device “bedtimes” of a Microsoft family. I will add, that while this does seem to be the best blend of parental controls on the market, I will not be switching to Android because of it. The main reason for my decision, the GooglePlay store app submission process is basically a free-for-all, few or no apps are checked for content, so the likely hood of having an app made to break or subvert these controls are in my opinion only a matter of time. Also, this ‘Family Link’ app is only available on version 6.1 or 7.0 for the managed (child) device, which means cheaper devices I would be tempted to buy for a child will not yet support it, neither will any of my older discarded phones. It is, however, able to be managed from either an Android phone, or an iOS device, so while your kids would need a newer Android device, you could use whatever you wanted, including your existing iPhone.
While this app looks great at the start, it will be interesting to see how it holds up over time. One reason I am skeptical of this app and its ability to protect my family is this; Google is famous for dropping support for new projects, without any reason or any notice. (If you are one of the people who paid thousands for the Google Glass which is now out of support, you understand my apprehension). Google Family Link will be one thing that I spend more time with, I am very excited to see Google making this move, I think it is a leap in the right direction for online child safety, and I applaud them for putting forth the effort. Some great resources for getting and setting up Family Link are: families.google.com/familylink/, for the full explanation, availability, and resources. I also used an article by TechCrunch author Sarah Perez: techcrunch.com/2017/03/15/google-introduces-family-link-its-own-parental-control-software-for-android/ for a brief overview and a great tutorial..
Lastly, I would like to say thanks to all the tech journalists out there who I have referenced, linked, quoted and credited here in this series. I would have had a lot more work to do if there weren’t great sites out there doing the hard work every day for us. Thank you, your resources are priceless.
Next time we will wrap the parental controls lessons up with a look at various parental control apps, network settings, routers and network services that make it easier for us.