Google Family-Link

Our research into YouTube led us to the YouTube-Kids. Which in turn led us to Google Family-Link, as Family-Link is required to fully utilize and install YouTube kids. This requires a slightly different approach in terms of research then our previous Apps. Therefore, to ensure we are providing the best security recommendations from the perspective of a parent, we shall step back and approach this from in terms of a parent setting up an account from scratch on a new android device. This means it will be a lengthy process, requiring 3 steps as follows:

  1. Set Google Accounts as needed, for parent, child or parent & child.
  2. Set up Family Link account
  3. Setup YouTube-Kids Account

For the purposes of our research we elected to use one of our group members Google accounts as a parental test account. We then set up a test child account.It should be noted, that you cannot have a child account and an adult account on the same device.

Google Family-Link is a stand-alone security App which is required to use YouTube Kids if a child is under 13 years of age. It allows users to manage their child’s device and account activity. Its use extends far beyond YouTube, allowing the supervising adult to monitor device activity, location, use, grant and withdraw permissions, add and remove Apps as well as deleting a child’s account, both locally on the device in question and remotely as needed. Multiple accounts can be managed via family groups, up to 6 members may be created allowing for multiple children as well as multiple supervising adults. Perfect for a family of 2 adults and 4 children for example. However, the user is not restricted to just one account, so, should more coverage for more children, or supervising adults be needed, more accounts can be created.

Features of Google Family-link

There are a few note-worthy comments to be made about Family-Link before we investigate its features and settings. While this is a superb App, and Google deserve high praise for the security and peace of mind it affords parents, it is not fool proof. A tech savvy child may find ways around it, such as ‘rooting’ or ‘jail-breaking’ a phone.

Unlikely as it may be, it is possible. Also, while the protections afforded are great, once a child reaches the age of 13, they are entitled to manage their own account and will be presented with the option to remove the parent account from managing their account with or without the parent’s approval. This is beyond googles control and is a legal requirement. However, with the recent amendment to Ireland’s digital age of consent raising he age limit to 16, this is something Google may wish to redress at some point. Finally, the number of family members that can be added to a family group is limited, so think carefully about who you invite to help manage or supervise your children.

So, what exactly is Family-Link, and what can it do? Family link, being an App that falls under the Google Umbrella, incorporates SSL encryption, which is now standard for all Google products. Family-Link is a stand-alone security monitoring and filtering tool tool for parents, used to monitor the online and device activity of children under 13 years of age. While it can be used beyond this age limit of course, children of 13 can bypass the restrictions simply by choosing to remove it. 

Family-Link can track the child’s device, activity and lock the screen. Denying access to prohibited sites (Accessed through Google Chrome) or filtering potentially age inappropriate content is also possible. Denying the installation of inappropriate Apps is another feature offered. Almost every facet of the phones use can be remotely managed from the Parent or supervisor’s device. Account settings, passwords, user details pertaining the child location setting’s, and much more, can also be accessed and altered remotely. The child must request permission from the parent or supervisor to use any App, watch any video outside of allowed age ratings or visit any site that falls outside of the allowed parameters. But there’s one feature parents will love! Family-Link can set up time-based screen locks on the child’s device. So, even if you’re not there, and you say the child can have 1 hour of game time then homework takes precedence, you can be sure that the screen will lock after one hour without any intervention being required. The sheer scale of features and settings crammed into this App are impressive.

Google Family-Link's security options

Manage Apps (restrict based on age rating, or remove)

Manage Purchases (Prevent or allow)

Manage Third Party Apps

Manage location tracking settings

Manage allowance of screen time (also set periods of allowance day/night mode)

Manage or Filter Content (based on age rating)

Google Family-Link Setup

Upon choosing to create a new Google account, we are first presented with the option to create an account for yourself, or for a child (13 years old or under). As we have elected to use one of our group members accounts as our parent account we shall select the setup ‘For My Child’ option as seen below in figure 1, and proceeding thrugh the next screen as seen in figure 2.

Figure 1
Figure 2

Google will now send you a verification code to confirm you are not a BOT (automated program designed to maliciously set up accounts). Simply enter your phone number and select your international dialing code from the drop-down menu on the right as indicated by the red arrow as seen in figure 3.

Figure 3

Once verified, you can begin to enter your child’s information to set up their google account, as seen below, indicated in figures 4 & 5.

Figure 4
Figure 5

Next, we will be creating a password for our child’s account. This is a delicate area. There are two concerns here. Firstly, the password must be something the child can use. Secondly, the password must be secure such that it cannot be easily brute force attacked by a malicious user.

Current recommendations to avoid easy brute forcing is the use as random a string of text as possible with a minimum length of 12 characters however, our groups recommends 13. For a child we might use for example a book with a long title. We will also add in some Leet speak, where letters are substituted for numbers. Finally, we add in some random special characters and numbers. This way the password is somewhat familiar, and the child can easily develop mental muscle memory when it comes to entering the password. However, a reasonable level of security is maintained.

For example: “Harry Potter and the goblet of fire” would become “H4rry_p0tt3r_4nd_th3_g0bl3t_0f_fir3_1”. The computational power required to brute force this password would be exceptionally high making it highly unlikely (though not impossible) to brute force attack this password.

Figure 6

Now, we must sign in as a parent on our personal Google account by entering our email address and password as shown in figures 7 & 8.

Figure 7
Figure 8

If two step verification is set up on the parents account, they will yet again be sent a verification code to confirm they are in fact the owner of the account seen below in figure 9.

Figure 9

Next, we will be presented with a brief over view of the account management options presented in Google Family-Link, once the app is installed. These include but are not limited too:

  • The ability to choose settings and passwords.
  • Select the Apps your child can use and for how long (screen management).
  • Set device daily use limits.
  • Remotely lock the device as required.
  • Track device locations.
  • Label important locations.
  • Approve Apps, and remove those deemed inappropriate remotely.
 
Figure 10

Now we must add the child’s account to our “Family” group so that we may manage their account as needed.

Figure 11

Next, we are presented with a significant amount of legal information relating to account privacy, data sharing and so on. Much of which is covered in the terms & conditions page on this website which can be found in the Apps drop-down menu in the navigation bar on this website.

Figure 12

Once you have read through all the legal information, you enter the final setup phase, and it is at this point that we can begin to establish basic rules regarding the child’s account. This begins with setting up restrictions for the use of the google stores, play, movies, music, and books, as well as Google Chrome as seen below.

Figure 13

First, we will restrict the child’s access to Google play games and Google movies content to age appropriate content. As seen below, we selected the most restrictive setting, however it is up to each parent to select what they feel is the appropriate setting for their child.

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Figure 16

Next, we check the settings of Goggle books and music, and we see that the protections are automatically applied.

Figure 17

Next, we scroll down to see protection filters are also automatically applied to Google Chrome, which will filter out inappropriate sites which may be manually entered, and search results that may inadvertently be returned from an innocent search. However, patterns should remember these types of filter use a best guess approach and are not perfect.

We can alter these filters to be even more restrictive if required. As you can see below, we alter the filter to be at its most restrictive.

Figure 18
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Finally, we are ready to install the Family-Link App, and we are presented with a convenient option to install it during the account creation and set up phase as seen below.

Figure 21
Figure 22

Having downloaded the App, once we begin installation the App will scan the pre-installed Apps to see if any might be deemed inappropriate by the parent. You can select which Apps you would like to keep, or remove. During a fresh install, it is reasonable to assume they will all be safe, however, we recommend you always examine the list, just in case there are any Apps that might somehow circumvent the protections you are setting up for your child. See Figure 23.

Figure 23

Lastly, we select our backup, GPRS location data and usage data settings. Since our aim is to provide the best security possible, we recommend that back up options be disabled, as well as location data and usage options. App updates are not configurable, and Apps will be auto updated by default. This is a good security feature, as an App is at most secure when kept up to date.

Figure 24
Figure 25

And that is it. We now have Family-Link set up on our child’s device with basic initial protections set up and we are ready to begin the set up for YouTube Kids.

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Figure 27

Google Family-Link Settings

Parental View:
Our first step in investigating Family-Links features is examine the main screen. Here we find basic account related settings on the top left and right. Also, we can view the Accounts the parent account is currently managing. As we can see below my account is currently managing two child accounts, “TEST” and “TEST2”.

At the top left denoted by the three dashes is a menu which brings us to some basic account management settings pertaining to the parent account. And on the top right, this takes us into some basic account management options for the Child account being managed.

Figure 28

Below, we can see the menu options available regarding parental account management. The first two options displayed here, “Test” and “Test2” are the accounts currently being managed and selecting either of these will take the user straight into these accounts for direct account management.

Figure 29

Next up, we have the Family group menu. This menu allows us to add family members to our group. Including new parents to control our child accounts. We can then assign privileges as required.

Figure 30
Figure 31

Next up, we have the approval requests menu. I have made a request on the “Test” child account to demonstrate this process.

We first see the list of approval request messages which we can then select individually. Each request will last 24 hours before expiring.

Figure 32
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Figure 34

For demonstration purposes, we denied this request, and below you can see how this is presented on the Child’s device.

Figure 35

Following immediately after Approval settings is the parental access code. This code is used to remotely lock or unlock the child’s device. This code is also needed should the parent wish to delete the child’s account remotely. The code regularly changes. This is a very useful security feature provided by Google.

Figure 36
Figure 37

Next up in the parental account management section is the notification management section as seen below.

Figure 38

These settings are import and will determine precisely what activity the parent will track on the child’s device/account. You can select App notifications and E-mail notifications for when you are away from your own device and wish to check up on your child.

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The final two options offer useful tips and help options for parents. While we will not display all these options here we do strongly recommend that user examine these tips and links as we feel that they do contain useful information for those are not quite as tech savvy as regular computers or device users may be.

Figure 43
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Figure 45

We will now return to the main menu to examine the main menu options previously mentioned on the top right of the screen. As we can see below, we have two available options.  If we select the “T” (This will vary from account to account as it is the first letter of the account name, but will always be displayed here) option which denotes the parent account, this brings up the family group management options previously covered above.

This is perhaps not adequately explained by the program. However, there is one function we will mention that we did not previously mention. This is the delete family group option. Use caution here as activating this option will of course delete your child’s account and remove your ability to manage it.

Figure 46
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Figure 48

Last up in the main menu settings, we have the + icon located just beside the parent account icon. This option allows you to add accounts to Family-Link to be managed. Please note, for an account to be managed, it must first be added to your family group as shown previously.

Figure 49
Figure 50

Now it’s time to move on to direct account management of our child’s account. From the main menu simply select your child’s account. In this test case, I chose ‘Test’ as the account I wish to manage.

Figure 51

The first setting of note is the ability to access the account details of the account we are managing, and alter them, denoted by the three dotes on the right of the screen. This can also be accessed via another menu yet to be covered. From here the account may also be deleted if desired.

Figure 52
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Figure 54

Returning to the main child account management screen, the first option available to us is the ability to add a profile picture for our child or remove one if it is deemed inappropriate.

Figure 55
Figure 56

Returning once again to the main child account management menu we enter the parental settings. These options were previously covered during the setup however as needs may, restrictions may need to be increased or decreased as time go by.

Figure 57

Within this menu we can alter the settings we selected during setup which govern age limits pertaining to Google play, movies, music and books. For demonstration purposes, I have altered the age restrictions from the youngster most restrictive age bracket to the 12 years of age bracket.

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Figure 62

The next setting is one that parents will have to give deep thought and consideration too. This is the third-party App setting which may restrict a child’s access to Apps outside the Google Play store approval system if turned off. We recommend that this be switched off permanently and is only turned on selectively when a parent is present to physically install a non-Google store App that they approve of and add to the allowed list.

You may also add your child’s account to other devices, as well retraining Google assistant to better recognize your child’s voice. However, we elected to have this turned off, as we are managing the child’s device and simply feel that is another data point which generates data on your child which is not necessary.

Figure 63
Figure 64

Next up on the main child account management is Location settings. While we recommend leaving these off if your using any Apps, such as Snapchat which may monitor and reveal publicly your child’s location, or even just their device location, parents may also wish to use this feature to track their child’s location. We have elected during setup to disable this feature, so let’s enable it now. Know it may take some time to connect the child’s device location tracking services.

Figure 65

Once enabled, we are presented with a map showing the device location of our child’s device.  We can then also add labels to important locations as we will see below.

Figure 66

Keen eyed observers will note that our device is in the Netherlands. Or is it? It is not. This is because the device we are using to run our test child account is being operated on a VPN (Virtual Private Network management tool). This is an extra security precaution we recommend. More information on what a VPN is can be found here on our apps page.  Where I to deactivate this tool, my device location would change to Dublin Ireland where the device is.

Returning to the main child account management menu we will investigate the next option available which is the app management menu. This provides direct access to the Apps installed on your child’s device. So, let’s examine an App now to see what we can do.

Figure 67
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Figure 69

As we see above, we can now stop the App from being allowed. This will send a message to the child’s device stating the App has been uninstalled. However, the App is not actually uninstalled, instead, the child simply no longer has access to it until the parent once again allows access to it. Another very useful feature for parents.

Figure 70

Lastly for this section, we can manage Apps access to internal device features like the camera, microphone and storage areas of our phone. We strongly recommend that these be disabled unless necessary for an App to function.

Going back to the main child account management screen, we will investigate an option that is a parent’s dream function. This is the screen management controls. That’s right Parents! You can actual set time limits for your child’s device after which the screen will lock. The only function of the phone that will continue to work is the ability to make calls. This is to allow the child to be able to contact the supervising adult. You have both daytime and night-time screen lock options at your disposal.

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Figure 73

With just a few sections left to cover It must be noted that we are going to see some repetition now. This is a comfort feature, to allow parents to access certain features from either the parental management controls, or from within the child management controls.

So, From the main child management menu we can view the installed Apps. This is another way to access and control the Apps installed on the device. This overlaps directly with the section in the parental management control menu. This is a nice quality of life feature, so the parent doesn’t have to menu hop unnecessarily.

Figure 74

Now we can play a test sound which should play on the child’s device to test if the accounts are properly synced and we can view some useful settings relating to the child’s device, and what they can and cannot access regarding the settings on their own device.

Figure 75
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Figure 77

As we can see above, the child may not add or remove users, is prohibited from accessing Apps from unknown sources and can’t turn on developer options. The parent may also set up a screen lock on their child’s device. Lastly, in cases where the child’s device has been lost stolen or otherwise compromised, should they desire, the parent can reset and erase the device remotely from this menu. Again, another fantastic security feature provided by Google.

The very last Option two option in this menu related to Google privacy terms & conditions and troubleshooting options. We strongly recommend that parents review these, knowing full well that it a thoroughly boring experience, however, your child is worth it, and it is important to know that Google take you child security very seriously. Take the time to know how the approach it.

Figure 78

Child View:

The view perspective of Family-Link from the child’s Perspective is, as you would imagine, highly restrictive.

Figure 79

All of the settings seen here require the consent and pass-worded approval of the parent or supervisor assigned to monitor the child.

fAMILY-lINK aPP sAFETY rATING

Given the nature of the Family-Link App, being that it is a parental control App and therefore, is providing security as a service for all Apps on a given device, our App safety rating system does not apply to this App. However, as we will discussed above, Family-Link is an innately secure App. No App is 100% flawless, and there are advanced ways to bypass the restrictions of Google Family-Link, but we feel that these methods will be afar beyond the experience or expertise of most children and as such, do not present a large risk.

Reflections on fAMILY-lINK

Figure 80

Family-link is a truly remarkable App and Google deserve to be applauded for their efforts here. The level of thought and planning that went into this App is clear to be seen and they have produced a truly fantastic security App.

While the setup up does take some time, as does proper configuration, the usability is high. And the ease at which one, even if not tech savvy can understand the features is fantastic. It is important to remember however; no App is perfect where security is concerned. And any App is only as good as the level of oversight a parent puts in where monitoring their child online activity is concerned.

While Family-Link is a great App and affords a truly great level of security and peace of mind… it is only a tool to accompany great parenting practices and it should not be assumed that your child is safe simply because you set up Family-Link. You must continue to instill safe App use practices into your child and continue to teach them to try to avoid the scary dangerous parts of the internet.

We strongly recommend Family-Link to all parents, most especially those with children under 13 years of age. And while we covered it initially as it was a requirement for using YouTube kids according to Googles terms & conditions, we recommend it for all children even if they are not using YouTube Kids.

Google Family-Link Best Practice Settings Guide

Having reviewed the settings, we will now offer a best practice guide to the settings we suggest be employed to better protect the child’s use of their Apps and their device to increase their safety while accessing online content via Apps:

  • Family-Group:
    We recommend where possible having a second family member or supervisor added to your family group. This will allow for constant supervision and monitoring were needed when the primary supervisor cannot be available.
  • Notification settings:
    While it can be off putting to have constant notifications popping up, we do recommend full notifications being turned on. This will allow all types of activity available within the platform to be monitored.
  • Child Account Settings:
    We recommend that the Childs name be set to a pseudonym, that only those who must know the Childs alias, such a s friends or family, know. The child’s real name should be avoided. Similarly, we recommend that a pseudonym email address be used. This will preclude the possibility of any unwanted e-mail contact from inappropriate users. We also recommend that the child’s gender be set to ‘prefer not to say’ for maximum preclusion of identification. As discussed previously we suggest a strong password with upper- and lower-case letters, numbers and special characters of 13 digits in length.
  • Profile Photo:
    We recommend that the child’s real picture never be used as profile photo.
  • Purchase controls:
    We recommend setting purchase controls to all content. This will remove the possibility of your child accidentally charging in App content to your credit card.
  • Google play Age restrictions:
    We recommended setting an age restriction appropriate to your child’s age. Do not set it higher as this may allow for the viewing or accessing of inappropriate content.
  • Google Movies:
    We recommended setting an age restriction appropriate to your child’s age. Do not set it higher as this may allow for the viewing or accessing of inappropriate content.
  • Google Music:
    We recommended setting an age restriction appropriate to your child’s age. Do not set it higher as this may allow for the viewing or accessing of inappropriate content.
  • Google Books:
    We recommended setting an age restriction appropriate to your child’s age. Do not set it higher as this may allow for the viewing or accessing of inappropriate content.
  • Third Part Apps:
    We recommend blocking all third-party Apps and allowing allow when a specific App needs to be installed and a parent or supervisor is present to install the App locally.
  • Location services:
    We recommend turning off GPRS based location services both in the App and the Device settings. This will preclude the possibility of a child’s device being leaked out through an App inappropriately. These can be turned on under certain conditions. If for example the child is trained in the use of these settings, or if a VPN is being used, or there is concern that a parent may wish to be able to track a child’s device. Strong consideration must govern the use of this setting and for most cases the risks outweigh the benefits and we therefore recommend it be left off.
  • Access to Camera and Mic:
    We always recommend access to these be blocked. Particularly the Camera which is very vulnerable to being accessed remotely.
  • Screen Time settings:
    These are highly subjective, and we cannot give specific recommendations, except to say that we do feel that a child’s time should be effectively managed and too much fun and lack of structured learning could of course be a bad thing. We recommend that each parent use these settings widely to balance a child’s structured learning and fun times.
  • Apps from unknown sources:
    We recommend this be left off at all times and only ever used if an experienced user needs to access it for diagnostic purposes.
  • Developer options:
    We always recommend this be left off.
 
 

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