Review of Google Family Link parental control software
Google Family Link is a free Android and iOS parental controls app that covers the basics of parental controls, but not much else.
For example, it provides easy access to content filtering settings in Google apps like Search, Chrome, and YouTube (via restricted mode), but Family Link does not otherwise attempt to block inappropriate web content.
App management is a bit more powerful, with options to manually disable unapproved apps, block new installs until you’ve approved them, and (probably the highlight) manage in-app purchases. However, there is no customizable app blocking based on rating or category, and you cannot time limit specific apps like you would elsewhere.
Screen scheduling is also fundamental and mostly about setting daily time limits and a bedtime. A remote lock option allows you to disable your child’s device of your own, which can be useful, but there is no built-in way to ask your child for extra time.
There is also a device locator, but it is also limited. You can see the last logged location on a map, but there is no geofencing support, no way to define zones, and no notifications when your child arrives or leaves.
However, it seems unfair to complain when Family Link is completely free and Google is at least refreshingly honest with what to expect. There are none of the usual exaggerated and exaggerated claims, and even Family Link’s Google Play page warns, “It doesn’t make the internet safe. Rather, it should give parents choices about how their children use the Internet and stimulate discussions about Internet use. “
Setting up parental controls can be a nightmare with some apps, but Google Family Link does a good job of making the process easier.
You don’t have to worry about installing the parent or child app first, then going through a lengthy configuration process on one before moving on to the other. When you first set up Family Link, you install the parent’s app on your device, the child’s app on their device, and a wizard will guide you through the configuration process.
We were immediately impressed by this by discovering two accounts on our Android device and asking us to remove one. Most parental control apps don’t and will give your child the option to sign into the other account and bypass your restrictions entirely.
We removed the previous accounts and added our test profile. The app then automatically installed the Family Link child app and a few taps later we were ready.
The Family Link Parent app offers a variety of ways to monitor and manage your child’s activities.
The Screen Time options allow you to set a fixed limit for each day of the week, and you can set a bedtime (9:00 a.m. to 7:00 a.m. for our nine-year trial) when internet access and app use are blocked. This is nowhere near as flexible as ESET Parental Control, where you can allow or block access to individual 30-minute time blocks, for example to prevent the use of the app at lunchtime. But it covers the basics and is easy to use.
The app management tools include the ability to restrict certain apps for a certain period of time (“You can only use Facebook for 30 minutes a day”) or to block them completely. Set apps as “Always Allowed” and they won’t count towards your child’s usage time. This comes in handy for educational apps or anything else you want your child to use more often.
Google Play rules limit the content your kids can browse, and you can set up the system to require your consent before your kid installs new apps or makes in-app purchases (a big plus alone).
Filtering web content is, well, fundamental. The good news is that you can enforce Google Safe Search by filtering the most inappropriate results on Google Search. The bad news is that Family Link only allows you to block “mature websites” (Google defines them as “sexually explicit” and “violent”) or restrict web access to the websites you define so you have much less control than You. I come with the competition.
There’s also a handy bonus feature in an option to ask for permission if your child uses their Google Account to log into iPhones, browsers, or other apps or platforms where they can potentially bypass Family Link’s protection.
What are you not getting
Usually in the parental controls reviews we talk about the various features you get, but since Family Link has so few, it’s worth taking some time to point out what you’re missing.
For example, Family Link can show the current location of a device, but it stops there. Competitors like Kidslox can show you a location history, and almost everyone else supports geofencing, the ability to define key areas (home, school, more), and get notifications when your child arrives and leaves.
Family Link does not allow you to block websites by category like the best of the competition does. For example, Bark allows you to block all streaming sites with the tap of a finger and then you can refine that and possibly only allow Disney + access.
Aside from app usage and browsing history, there is very little activity monitoring here. Qustodio can also record text messages, give you access to call history, and allow you to view and block specific contacts.
Family Link only works with Android and iOS, a problem if you want to protect a laptop or two. Kaspersky Safe Kids, Net Nanny, and a few others protect both cell phones and desktop devices.
Family Link is simple, but Google doesn’t dictate otherwise. It’s an effective way to enforce Google’s restrictions on your own products (Search, Play Store, Chrome, YouTube), and that might be enough for some users, but if performance is a priority you should look elsewhere.