Google Play store to designate family-friendly apps

The search giant will give app makers the ability to note if software was "Designed for Families" -- right on the heels of controversy over Google's YouTube Kids app.

Richard Nieva Former senior reporter
Richard Nieva was a senior reporter for CNET News, focusing on Google and Yahoo. He previously worked for PandoDaily and Fortune Magazine, and his writing has appeared in The New York Times, on CNNMoney.com and on CJR.org.
Richard Nieva
2 min read

Google will let app makers apply to give their Android apps a family-friendly designation. Sarah Tew/CNET

Google wants parents to be able to more easily figure out which apps are family friendly.

So the search giant on Tuesday announced a new program called "Designed for Families," which designates which apps in its Google Play online store are safe for children.

Google said it's chosen to do this because it wants to support app makers that are tailoring their content to "educate and entertain" kids.

The Play store lets people download programs for smartphones and tablets that run Google's Android mobile operating system.

The move underscores not only how influential Google has become in making software but the company's growing role in who it reaches as well. With over a million apps in the Play Store which can reach as many as a billion people, the choices Google makes can dramatically change how people use a smartphone or tablet.

The tech giant has appeared lately to be trying to segment its services for age-appropriateness. So far, Google has had mixed results.

The company has been under fire for its new YouTube Kids app, released in February, which nixes mature content from the video service and only allows child-friendly material. But consumer advocacy groups argue the app goes overboard with advertising -- especially with branded video channels from companies like McDonald's or Barbie. A number of consumer groups last week filed a formal complaint to the US Federal Trade Commission, and the FTC said it would review it.

The YouTube Kids spat isn't the first time the FTC has been called on to examine Google for its business practices involving children. In September, the search giant agreed to pay $19 million to settle a suit involving children making purchases from games and other apps without their parents' consent. The FTC hit Apple with a similar suit involving its App Store for iPhones and iPads. In January 2014, Apple said it would pay more than $32 million to settle the case.

Google hopes this new feature of Google Play will be less bumpy.

To earn the family friendly designation, 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, which provides safeguards for children younger than 13, a Google spokesman said.

App makers can begin applying for the family-friendly designation now, but consumers won't see the label for a few weeks. Apps with that designation will be able to promote themselves on Google Play in new ways, but Google did not give details on the new channels.