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Microsoft's Family Safety app drills into kids' screen time, browsing habits to help 'facilitate a dialogue'

That discussion you were dreading has to happen sometime

As part of the rebranding exercise that saw Office 365 morph into Microsoft 365, the Windows giant has unveiled its new Family Safety app. Kind of.

The app was initially teased back in March, but has taken until this week to launch in limited preview for Android and iOS.

The app allows a family's activity to be monitored, showing individual members' screen time as well as the top websites each person visited and what they are searching for. After long weeks in lockdown, we can well imagine what those results will look like.

A weekly summary of activity will, according to Microsoft, "facilitate a dialogue". In our experience, that "dialogue" is usually loud and involves a debate on the pros and cons of Animal Crossing videos on YouTube or something animated on Netflix versus the unbounded joy of home schooling.

Limits may be slapped on certain apps and games, assuming those games are being played on a Windows PC, Xbox or Android phone. Microsoft does struggle a bit with iOS – ask those Apple fondlers looking enviously at the Android antics of Your Phone, for example.

Restrictions can also be placed on what users do with the browser (Edge, of course) with the option to block mature content. "Family Safety," said Microsoft, "provides you with the tools to begin talking about the type of content that is right for your kids."

The same age restrictions can also be placed on downloads from the moribund Microsoft Store and location sharing means the movements of family members can be monitored. What might have seemed a bit creepy back in March has taken on an entirely new meaning as societies get to grips with stay-at-home orders and restrictions on movement.

The apps are in limited preview for the time being and due for launch "in the coming months". Certainly, there is little here that cannot be accomplished by existing tools; a child's activity in Chrome can be controlled relatively easily, and those in the Apple ecosystem (with its far more popular App store) can set limits as well as manually permit of deny download requests.

Microsoft, however, has attempted to cover all bases and provide some unified reporting of everything from a single portal. The ease of use will therefore appeal, even if the requirement to wade neck-deep into the company's ecosystem may not. ®


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