Google Play store adopts 'family-friendly' features

Google Play Image copyright Google
Image caption Google says its new Google Play features are intended to "empower parents"

Google has added new features to its online media and app store to help parents ensure the content is suitable for children.

They include a new setting that filters out age-inappropriate titles, so that youngsters do not see them in Google Play's market places.

The move was announced at the search giant's annual developers' conference.

It follows the firm's decision to hand over responsibility for age-rating its apps to a third party.

Family button

Google Play was created just over three years ago, and sells films, ebooks, music, magazines and apps for Android devices.

The store has more than one billion active users, and has recorded more than 50 billion app downloads over the last 12 months.

Last year's release of Android Lollipop added the ability to set up "restricted profiles", which can be used to prevent access to some apps, including the Play service itself.

The new update presents a version of Play that screens out potentially unsuitable content and highlights child-focused material.

Image copyright Google
Image caption Google Play users will be able to group together content linked to specific characters

Users will not, however, be locked into this version of the store, so parents may still wish to supervise their children's activity.

A new label will be used to flag titles that are ad-supported and new icons will provide information about the age range at which an app is targeted.

It coincides with a switchover to a new grading scheme run by the International Age Rating Coalition.

The body will issue age classifications based on an app's content - taking into account factors such as nudity, violence and references to gambling and drugs.

Unlike Google's earlier self-run system, the ratings will also be location-specific. So, an app might get a different grade for users in North America to those in Europe, Brazil or Australia.

Read more about how the new app rating scheme works

Google is also making other child-focused changes including:

  • The addition of a family button, that will activate the new features
  • The ability to carry out searches and see recommendations and charts for content targeted at different age groups
  • The addition of new pages that collect together apps and media about popular characters and brands

"The character pages will include, for instance, Dora the Explorer where familiar icons can be associated with a broad range of content, including ebooks, TV and video," Mark Bennett, head of Google Play's Europe team, told the BBC.

"Parents will be able to go to those pages and their children explore the franchise."

Family badge

The effort echoes the Kids Corner and My Family facilities found on Microsoft's Windows Phone platform, which already restrict which apps a child can access and download.

But one child safety charity noted that some of the innovations had not been seen elsewhere.

"One of the things I really like with the new features is the family badge which will help parents easily identify family-friendly content," said Jennifer Hanley from the Family Online Safety Institute.

"The more companies can do to notify parents about ratings for content and age-appropriate games as well as what to expect in apps, the better."

Play ads

Google also announced new developer-focused changes to Play.

They include a new tool that will allow app makers to advertise their products within the results of the store's search feature.

Image copyright Google
Image caption A new analytics tool will allow developers to see the results of A/B test experiments

It said this was a commonly requested feature by publishers, but it will also generate a new source of revenue for the search firm. Search ads will not be shown in the Google Play for Families section.

In addition, developers will be able to carry out what is known as A/B testing.

This allows them to concurrently run two different versions of the same app promotion page within Play in order to see which leads to more sales.

They will also be able to create a new home page for their brand, from which they can promote a range of apps.

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