Google Play today announced a series of changes to its programs and policies regarding apps designed for children. The company describes the update as an expansion of its previously launched Teacher Approved program., which includes a review process where teachers and experts check applications not only for safety and security elements, but also for educational quality and other factors. The newly revised rules will now affect how apps qualify for this program that allows apps to access the Play Store Children section..
These changes should help streamline some of the rules around apps made for kids, which in turn will increase the number of apps that are eligible for review for the Teacher Approval Program. In addition, these policy updates and other changes will force Android app creators to comply with stricter regulations and laws regarding software directed at children.
Previously, Google Play ran two (sometimes overlapping) programs around apps aimed at children.
App developers had to participate Google’s Designed for Families program. if their app is aimed at children and may choose to participate in the program if their app is aimed at both children and older users. The Designed for Families program included a number of requirements regarding app content, functionality, use of ads, data practices, use of warning labels, feature set, underlying technology components, and more.
All applications in this program were also eligible to be rated for Teacher approved program that had stricter guidelines, but entry was not guaranteed.
Additional policy requirements for the Designed for Families program are now being rolled out to the broader Play Store listing Family policy. The latest set of guidelines requires apps to comply with applicable child-related laws and regulations, such as the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) and the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), for example. Family Policy also prohibits access to precise location data, prevents developers from transmitting device IDs from children, and includes additional privacy and content restrictions. among other things.
For developers, unifying the Designed for Families requirements into the Google Play Family Policy simplifies and strengthens developer policies around apps aimed at children. And with this change, all apps that meet the now more robust Family Policy will be eligible to apply for the Teacher Endorsement Program.
However, the requirements of the Teacher Approved program do not change, and only a subset of applications meeting the general policy for families will be eligible.
The teacher-approved program itself first arrived in April 2020 — at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns. By this time, many schools had moved to virtual learning and children were spending more time on their devices to learn and have fun. In addition to meeting safety requirements and government regulations, apps selected as “Teacher Approved” were reviewed by a panel of academic experts, including more than 200 American teachers.
The panel rated the apps on various aspects such as age appropriateness, quality of experience, enrichment and whether children enjoy using the app, among other things. This information will then be displayed in the app’s listing in the Play Store if the app is approved, so parents can determine if the app is appropriate for their child.
Users can find these teacher-approved apps at the “Kids” section of the Play Store or they can look for the “Teacher Approved” badge in the individual app listing. With the update, all Family Policy-compliant apps will also soon receive an additional badge that appears in Data Safety Section from their application list. This badge will indicate that the app has committed to the Play Store Family Policy.
In addition to merging its two family policies, Google also noted that it recently updated its Families Self-Certified Ads SDK Program. Creators of SDKs (software development kits or software used by developers to extend the functionality of their applications) must now identify which versions of their SDKs are suitable for use in family applications.
In 2023, developers of Android apps in the Families program will only need to use SDKs that have been identified as appropriate – although Google suggests that developers start switching to these safer SDKs now.
These changes aren’t just to serve developers or users – they also help Google meet tougher regulations being reviewed, drafted and implemented globally on how software can process children’s data – like the EU’s GDPR and The UK Code of Appropriate Design. Failure to comply with these requirements can result in significant penalties, as Meta recently learned when it was fined about $400 million about how it treats children’s data on Instagram.