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

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

You could think about the talkative virtual assistant, which according to the company is used by 700 million people a month, already had some. For years Google allowed parents to give children access to the carer via its Family Link app, but offered relatively few restrictions.

In in the coming weeks, when these tools land on a speaker, screen, or smart watch near you, you will be able to limit Children make calls, request music and videos from specific sources, and interact with specific assistant devices. And for times when their attention needs to be focused elsewhere, you can set up periods of “inactivity time” when the assistant doesn’t respond.

These new tools began rolling out on Google Assistant-based devices last week, including products the company didn’t build on its own. There is one notable exception: the Google Assistant on smartphones will not receive these updates because the company does not consider them “shared” devices.

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

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

Google privacy settings to change now

Getting your kids to use the Google Assistant with these new features takes a few steps.

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

In the meantime, changing the assistant’s voice or accessing the Children’s Dictionary is easier – just ask your smart speaker to do it.

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

Although the pandemic boom in smart home device sales has started to decline, data from research firm IDC suggests that smart speaker shipments will continue to grow, albeit only slightly, between now and 2026. That means more opportunities for Google and Amazon to introduce themselves to a younger generation of users and keep asking questions about the role that voice assistants play in homes with children.

In an article published online for the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood, researchers questioned whether the kind of concise, transactional conversations people typically have with services like Alexa and Google Assistant would prevent children from developing certain social graces. .

“While in normal human interactions, a child usually receives constructive feedback if they behave inappropriately, this is beyond the scope of a smart device,” said Anmol Arora, co-author of the article, in a press release.

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From his post on Google, Shodjai said that in some of these cases, children already understand that they shouldn’t talk to, say, their parents the same way they would a product. Since launch, the company has also added features intended to reinforce good etiquette: in late 2018, it updated the assistant with a new “please” mode, in which requests that include a “please” or a ” thank you “would have garnered a grateful response.

Since then, Google hasn’t revealed plans to change how Assistant responds to kindness – or lack thereof – but Shodjai says it’s something they’re “looking into.”

But what about the risk of a child thinking their relationship with a system like Google Assistant is more than it is? For some children, including Shodjai’s granddaughters, their first significant exposure to technology occurs through voice assistants in the home. Could the addition of more engaging new voices lead to a friendship hypothesis? Or even something more familiar?

Based on the studies he sees, Shodjai seems confident that “children understand the difference between talking to a digital system and a human being”. Even so, he admits that this is an issue that needs to be monitored closely over time, especially considering how sophisticated Google wants the Assistant to be. act when it grows.

“If we look ahead, say five, 10, 20 years down the road, we imagine an even smarter, even more capable, even more personalized assistant, helping you more proactively,” he said.