After finding risky software on an Android (Google’s mobile operating system) device marketed for kids, we wanted to put together some tips to help better secure your kid’s Android device (and even your own). Despite the dangers that exist, there are many things that can be done to at least mitigate harm and assist parents and children. There are also safety tools that your child can use at their own discretion.
There’s a handful of different tools, settings, and apps that can help better secure your kid’s device, depending on their needs. We’ve broken them down into four categories: Parental Monitoring, Security, Safety, and Privacy.
Note: If you do not see these settings in your Android device, it may be out of date or a heavily modified Android distribution. This is based on Android 14’s features.
Google has a free app for parental controls called Family Link, which gives you tools to establish screen time limits, app installs, and more. There’s no need to install a third-party application. Family Link sometimes comes pre-installed with some devices marketed for children, but it is also available in the Google Play store for installation. This is helpful given that some third-party parental safety apps have been caught in the act of selling children’s data and involved in major data leaks. Also, having a discussion with your child about these controls can possibly provide something that technology can’t provide: trust and understanding.
There are a few basic security steps you can take on both your own Google account and your child’s device to improve their security.
- If you control your child’s Google account with your own, you should lock down your own account as best as possible. Setting up two-factor authentication is a simple thing you can do to avoid malicious access to your child’s account via yours.
- Encrypt their device with a passcode (if you have Android 6 or later).
You can also enable safety measures your child can use if they are traveling around with their device.
- Safety Check allows a device user to automatically reach out to established emergency contacts if they feel like they are in an unsafe situation. If they do not mark themselves “safe” after the safety check duration ends, emergency location sharing with emergency contacts will commence. The safety check reason and duration (up to 24 hours) is set by the device user.
- Emergency SOS assists in triggering emergency actions like calling 911, sharing your location with your emergency contacts, and recording video.
- If the “Unknown tracker alerts” setting is enabled, a notification will trigger on the user’s device if there is an unknown AirTag moving with them (this feature only works with AirTags currently, but Google says will expand to other trackers in the future). Bluetooth is required to be turned on for this feature to function properly.
There are some configurations you can also input to deter tracking of your child’s activities online by ad networks and data brokers.
- Delete the device’s AD ID.
- Install an even more overall privacy preserving browser like Firefox, DuckDuckGo, or Brave. While Chrome is the default on Android and has decent security measures, they do not allow web extensions on their mobile browser. Preventing the use of helpful extensions like Privacy Badger to help prevent ad tracking.
- Review the privacy permissions on the device to ensure no apps are accessing important features like the camera, microphone, or location without your knowledge.
For more technically savvy parents, Pi-hole (a DNS software) is very useful to automatically block ad-related network requests. It blocked most shady requests on major ad lists from the malware we saw during our investigation on a kid’s tablet. The added benefit is you can configure many devices to one Pi-hole set up.
DuckDuckGo’s App Tracking protection is an alternative to using Pi-hole that doesn’t require as much technical overhead. However, since it looks at all network traffic coming from the device, it will ask to be set up as a VPN profile upon being enabled. Android forces any app that looks at traffic in this manner to be set up like a VPN and only allows one VPN connection at a time.
It can be a source of stress to set up a new device for your child. However, taking some time to set up privacy and security settings can help you and your child discuss technology from a more informed perspective for the both of you.