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Android 4.3's restricted profiles: Easy to use, but here's the catch

Parental controls for Android are finally here. The new feature is easy to set up, but don't expect to make use of it often (at least not yet).

Sharon Profis Vice President of Content
Sharon Profis is a vice president of content.
Sharon Profis
2 min read


It's about time. When stories get out about how obsessed kids are with their parents' tech toys, and that one time a kid spent $1,500 on level-ups in 10 minutes, it hard to believe it took this long for Google to give tablet owners restricted user profiles.

In Android 4.2, Google gave us multiple user profiles, granting each user a personalized interface, settings, and apps independent of anyone else using that tablet.

Now, in Android 4.3, the tablet owner (read: parent) earns greater reign over those profiles. Moms and dads, rejoice: you can now shut out access to apps, app-specific features (like mature content), and even disable in app purchases.

Using the feature is simple enough. Head to Settings > Users > Add user or profile. Then, choose restricted profile. If you haven't already, you'll be asked to secure the lock screen. At the top, tap "New profile" to add a user photo and rename the account. Finally, it's time to lay down the law.

Using the sliders on the right, enable or disable access to apps. You'll notice that in some cases, there's a settings icon off to the right of an app; tap it to get dive deeper into app-specific settings.

But wait, there's a catch.
Restricted user profiles could potentially put parents at ease, but it's up to the developers to integrate the API that gives users access to granular controls. That's right: developers have complete control over whether or not their app features can be restricted from users. For example, one game might allow the tablet owner to disable mature content, while another does not, simply because they didn't integrate the feature.

Such poor implementation could mean very few apps accommodating the new feature, as it demands extra work on the developer's end for little to no return. Right now, Google hasn't articulated any advantage for devs who get on board with restricted profiles, leaving them with little motivation to opt in.

In this case, Google probably should have followed Apple's lead. With iOS, device owners have complete control over app-related permissions, whether or not the developer opts in. Restrictions are built into the platform, not the apps.

While it's very possible that Google will work closely with partners and popular developers to implement this new standard, don't expect these granular, app-specific restrictions to be ubiquitous among consumer-grade apps any time soon.

Editors' note: Updated at 5:05 p.m. PT to clarify that only the tablet owner can make purchases (in app or in the Play store), and the API opt-in applies to granular controls.