As students continue to spend more time at home amid the pandemic, Google on Monday unveiled a new hub for children’s content on tablets.
The hub, called Kids Space, will take children to curated apps, videos and books. The apps will be certified with a “teacher approved” badge, a program Google launched in April. The content is rated by teachers who work with Google to pick the apps, based on criteria including age-appropriateness, learning and positive messages. The videos will come from YouTube Kids, the child-friendly version of Google’s massive video site. The search giant said it worked with publishers to provide a library of more than 400 free books.
The hub, meant for kids under 9 years old, will only be available for tablets running Android, Google’s mobile operating system, and won’t run on Apple’s iPads. It will first come preloaded on some tablets by the Chinese company Lenovo, including a new device unveiled Monday, the Tab M10 HD Gen 2.
The content on Kids Space will be personalized for each user, but no data from the service will be used to target ads to children, Mindy Brooks, Google’s director of user experience for kids and families, said in an interview.
The launch comes as the academic year begins and, with many schools still closed to fight the spread of the coronavirus, families rely on remote learning. Google’s Kids Space feature isn’t meant for curriculums or formal learning, Brooks said, but to give children more to do during leisure time.
The announcement could worry critics of Google who are concerned the search giant already inserts itself too much into the lives of children. Google and YouTube have faced blowback for how they’ve treated kids content in the past. Last September, the US Federal Trade Commission slapped the company with a record $170 million fine, as well as new requirements, for YouTube’s violation of COPPA, a federal law to protect children’s data online. In response, the video site made major changes to how it treats kids videos, including limiting the data it collects from those views.
The search giant has also made inroads in educational tools for teachers and students. Google Classroom, which helps teachers manage their classrooms, doubled from 50 million users to 100 million users. In April, Google announced a partnership with California Gov. Gavin Newsom to donate 4,000 Chromebooks to students across the state.
But Google’s dominance in the classroom hasn’t come without criticism. Also in April, Google was hit with a lawsuit over its classroom tools. Two children from Illinois sued the search giant for allegedly violating COPPA, as well as Illinois’ biometric privacy law that regulates facial recognition and scanning.