As children stay home from school amid the coronavirus pandemic, parents have been on the lookout for apps and other content that's safe for their kids. Google on Wednesday said it wants to make it easier for parents to find that content with a new section of its Play Store, where people download apps for Android phones.
The company is launching a new "Kids" tab in the digital marketplace, with apps that are certified with a "teacher approved" badge. The content is rated by teachers who work with Google to curate the apps. They are scored based on criteria including age-appropriateness, learning and positive messages.
Google says the new features were meant to launch later this year, but they were expedited because of the unprecedented lockdown much of the US is facing. Schools, libraries, restaurants and other institutions and businesses have all closed their doors in order to slow the spread of COVID-19. The Kids tab will launch in the US in the next few days, and internationally in the coming months.
The school shutdowns have caused a surge in demand for content and aimed at kids. Last month, YouTube, which is owned by Google, launched a hub called Learn@Home for parents to find education videos.
Google and YouTube have faced blowback for how they've treated children's content in the past. In September, the US Federal Trade Commission slapped the company with a record $170 million fine, as well as new requirements, for YouTube's violation of COPPA. In response, the video site made major changes to how it treats kids videos, including limiting the data it collects from those views.
The search giant's tools for teachers have seen an uptick in usage during the pandemic as well. Google Classroom, which helps teachers manage their classrooms, doubled from 50 million users to 100 million users. Earlier this month, Google announced a partnership with California Gov. Gavin Newsom to donate 4,000 Chromebooks to students across the state.
But Google's dominance in the classroom hasn't come without criticism. Earlier this month, Google was hit with a lawsuit over its classroom tools. Two children from Illinois sued the search giant for allegedly violating COPPA, a federal law to protect children's data online, as well as Illinois' biometric privacy law that regulates facial recognition and scanning.