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Child-friendly apps earn 'family star' in Google Play store

A new section in the Google Play app store is designed to help parents find appropriate apps, games, movies and books for their kids.

Google's new "family star" for the Google Play app store is meant to help parents choose the best content for their kids. Google; I/O photo by CNET's James Martin

Google wants parents to feel more comfortable about the apps and content their kids are encountering on their Android smartphones and tablets.

To that end, the company will curate smartphone and tablet applications specifically designed for children, Google said Thursday in San Francisco at its I/O conference fopr software developers. Visitors to the Google Play home page will see a "family star" button that will take them directly to the section of the store containing applications and games deemed kid-appropriate by Google.

Parents can browse the Play store for apps, movies, books, games and other digital content, based on age. The family star will signify that Google has vetted the content for quality and considers it trustworthy. The company will also let parents know which content includes advertising. Google plans to roll out the update globally to the Google Play store over the next several weeks.

The company's plans to update Google Play to attract families is part of its broader strategy to personalize the experience in its Google Play app store. The family star effort also underscores not only how influential Google has become in making software, but also the growing role the company plays in determining who's reached by software and apps. With over a million apps in the Play Store, the choices Google makes can dramatically change how people use a smartphone or tablet.

Google in April signaled plans to make the Play store a more family-friendly destination when it launched the "Designed for Families" program. In it, Google outlined requirements for developers creating apps tailored for parents and their young children. Apps that meet the requirements will be labeled family-friendly and grouped with other child-appropriate content.

App makers must undergo a review process before they can earn the family friendly designation. 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, which provides safeguards for children younger than 13, a Google spokesman said.

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Parents with children 12 years and younger make up a third of all users in the Google Play store. CNET/James Martin

Google said a third of all app users in the Google Play store are parents of children 12 years old or younger. Google already offers child-friendly apps from places like PBS Kids and Crayola, but these apps have been mixed in with others that may not offer the same level of quality or appropriateness.

Google has been under fire for its new YouTube Kids app, released in February, which nixes mature content from the video service and allows only child-friendly material. Consumer- advocacy groups argue the app goes overboard with advertising -- especially with branded video channels from companies like food giant McDonald's and toy-maker Mattel. In April, a number of consumer groups filed a formal complaint to the US Federal Trade Commission, which the FTC said it would review.

See all of today's Google I/O news on CNET.com.

CNET's Rich Nieva contributed to this report.