Protecting Kids Online: Is Google Your Ally?

Protecting Kids Online: Is Google Your Ally?

Rapid technological expansion brought about the expansion of parental duties and responsibilities: nowadays it is inevitable that you have to care about what your kid does on computers, smart phones and other devices. At the same time, you have to be careful that these devices don’t become “forbidden fruits” for your little ones, meaning you need to balance between their needs and your fears. Throughout this “balancing struggle”, you always have to be on track with latest trends related to online security, to be informed about possible threats and to get familiar with who your allies are.

The curious case of YouTube Kids app.

In February this year, Google announced YouTube Kids app for Android devices. It is easy to understand the reasoning behind this: kids love to watch YouTube videos, from cartoon videos to videos of people opening Kinder Surprise eggs (weird, at least to me). On the other side, parents were worried about the inappropriate videos which kids may come across, so this app seems like a good solution. YouTube Kids app is free to use, has a pretty interface and most importantly, its content is completely appropriate for children. Channels and playlists can be browsed in four categories: Shows, Music, Learning and Explore. Also, parents can limit the time for which the app can be used, after which it turns off and requires a password.

However, soon after the app was released, several prominent advocacy groups filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) against Google, arguing that the service attempts to “take advantage of children’s developmental vulnerabilities and violate long-standing media and advertising safeguards that protect children viewing television.” Basically, they argue that the app blends “advertisements with programming in a way which is already prohibited on TV, because it is unfair and deceptive.” One of the examples they mention is the advertising and promotion of junk food throughout the app. Until this case formally resolves, you can explore the app for yourself, and take a position in the debate (you can start with deciding whether your kid should use it).

Google’s latest hit: Twinkle, twinkle little “family star”

Kid-friendly apps in Google Play store all have this family star next to them.

As I wrote before, there are more than 1 million malicious mobile apps, which might target you and/or might target your kid downloading its favorite games. Google wants parents to feel more comfortable about the apps kids can find on their Android smart phones and tablets, which is why the company announced a new concept of “family star” in Google Play store. Three weeks ago, Google said that it will help parents find kid-friendly apps by marking them with a special “family star”. This update is supposed to go global very soon.

Once parents enter Google Play store, they will see a special section with “family star” apps. This is a sign for them that those apps are safe, because Google has examined the content for quality and considers it reliable. Also, the company will let parents know which content includes advertising.

To earn “family star“, Google said app makers must go through a review process. That includes receiving a rating of “Everyone” or “Everyone 10+” from the Entertainment Software Rating Board, which evaluates computer and video games. Those apps must also comply with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which provides safeguards for children younger than 13.

They hope this change will go smoother than the YouTube Kids, and I hope that it will ease the pressure on parents about the control of apps their kids download and use on daily basis. Let’s wait and see, or even better – let’s wait and try it out!

Image Credits: Devon Christopher Adams

Author:

Ivana Drakic

Ivana is a political scientist by vocation and a dancer by heart. She loves to be around geeky people. This mixture explains her interests in technologies, data, writing, research.

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