Google Assistant is getting parental controls.  Here's how they work.

Google Assistant is getting parental controls. Here’s how they work.


For the first time since its launch in 2016, Google Assistant is getting parental controls.

You can I think of a chatty virtual assistant, which the company says is used by 700 million people a month, already had some. For years Google allowed parents to grant children access to the Assistant through its Family Link app, but offered relatively few restrictions.

in in the next few weeks, when these tools appear on a smart speaker, screen or watch near you, you’ll be able to limit children from making phone calls, requesting music and videos from specific sources, and interacting with specific devices with the assistant. And for times when you need to focus their attention elsewhere, you can set a “downtime” period when the Assistant won’t respond.

These new tools started rolling out to Google Assistant devices last week, including products the company didn’t build itself. There is one notable exception: Google Assistant on smartphones won’t get these updates because the company doesn’t consider them “shared” devices.

Parental controls are just the beginning. In the coming weeks, these devices will also get features to communicate more effectively with young people, such as a new dictionary menu child-friendly definitions when responding to a child’s voice it recognizes and new voices that speak more slowly and more distinctly.

“The use of technology and especially voice devices in the home makes it possible [children] to learn new things, to indulge their curiosity, to tap into their creative and inquisitive minds without having to look at a screen,” said Payam Shodjai, Google Assistant’s senior director of product management, in an interview.

Google privacy settings need to be changed now

There are a few steps you need to take before your kids can use Google Assistant with these new features.

First you need to create a Google account for them. (Do it (using the company’s Family Link app because you’ll need it again later.) Then add your child’s voice to your smart home devices to Google The assistant can respond adequately. Finally, in Family Link, go to Controls → Content Restrictions → Google Assistant → Parental Controls and start setting limits.

Meanwhile, changing the voice of the assistant or accessing the children’s dictionary is easier – just ask the smart speaker.

Google isn’t the only company trying to make its virtual assistant more accessible to the young. Amazon, the company’s biggest rival in the smart speaker market, launched its first wave of kid-friendly Alexa skills in the summer of 2017; since then, it’s been selling versions of its budget Echo Dot speakers that resemble cute tigers, penguins and dragons. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

Although the pandemic boom in sales of smart home devices has begun to wane, data from research firm IDC suggests that smart speaker shipments will continue to grow between now and 2026 — albeit only slightly. This means more opportunities for Google and Amazon. introduce yourself to the younger generation of users and continue to ask questions about the role of voice assistants in households with children.

In a paper published online in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood, researchers wondered whether the kinds of brief, transactional conversations people typically have with services like Alexa and Google Assistant would hinder children’s ability to develop certain social graces.

“While in normal human interactions a child would typically receive constructive feedback if they misbehaved, this is beyond the scope of a smart device,” paper co-author Anmol Arora said in a press release.

Ask the Help Desk: Smart speakers can get dumber after learning your voice

From his position at Google, Shodjai said that in some of these cases, kids already understand that they shouldn’t talk to, say, their parents the same way they talk to a product. Since launch, the company has also added features to reinforce good etiquette — in late 2018, it updated Assistant with a new “pretty please” mode, where requests containing “please” or “thank you” would receive a grateful response. .

Since then, Google hasn’t disclosed plans to change the way Assistant responds to politeness — or the lack of it — but Shodjai says it’s something they’re “looking into.”

But what about the risk of a child thinking their relationship to a system like Google Assistant is more than it is? For some children — including Shodja’s own nieces — their first meaningful encounters with technology are through voice assistants around the house. Could the addition of new, more engaging voices lead to an assumption of friendship? Or even something more familiar?

Based on the studies he’s seen, Shodjai seems convinced that “kids understand the difference between talking to a digital system and a human.” Even so, he admits it’s a matter to watch carefully over time, especially given how sophisticated Google wants the Assistant to become act when it grows up.

“If we look ahead, say five, 10, 20 years from now, we envision an assistant that’s even more intelligent, even more capable, even more personalized, that helps you more proactively,” he said.

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