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Google wants Android developers to make more kid-friendly apps

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Amazon has had a hard time keeping up with the sheer breadth of Google Play's app selection, but it's done a pretty great job when it comes to putting a spotlight on kid and family content. There's FreeTime Unlimited, a (cheap) monthly subscription service that gives younger users access to a wide selection of age-appropriate ebooks, movies, TV shows, educational apps, and games. And the company puts a worry-free guarantee behind its Fire HD Kids Edition; break the thing at any point over the course of two years, and Amazon will replace it for free.

Google doesn't offer anything like that for its Nexus tablets, nor does Android come with a built-in answer for FreeTime Unlimited. But today, the company is getting more determined about nailing the software end of things so parents can quickly find apps and games that are a perfect fit for their children. That effort begins with Android developers.

This is one area where Amazon is way ahead of Google

Google has announced "Designed for Families," a new program that will permit developers to "designate their apps and games as family-friendly." Yes, Google Play already displays age ratings, which are a quick (but imperfect) way of weeding out inappropriate content. To participate in Designed for Families, developers need to do more than just stamp an accurate age rating on their app. "Apps must meet a stringent legal and policy bar and pass a specialized operations review," a Google spokesperson told The Verge.

With the FTC constantly breathing down the necks of Google, Apple, and Amazon to ensure child safety on mobile devices, it's not surprising to see Google in turn raising the bar here. But what do developers get in exchange for signing on? Right now, Google is only saying that participating apps will be prominently featured in "upcoming family-focused experiences on Google Play that will help parents discover great, age-appropriate content and make more informed choices." So if you're a developer, it'll soon be easier and quicker for families to download your app.

"Apps must meet a stringent legal and policy bar..."

Users won't see any changes today; Google says consumers will learn more about its plans over the next few weeks. "We’ll be adding new ways to promote family content to users on Google Play," a spokesperson said. So it sounds like approved apps will be easy to find in Google Play, but do plans end there? Will Android perhaps offer more granular parental controls that permit only Designed for Families apps? With the introduction of user profiles in Android 5.0 Lollipop, it's not hard to see that as one possibility. Google's very much playing catch-up with Amazon here, so it'll be interesting to see what's coming.