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Can I use Chrome extensions when using Google’s Family Link?

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Photo by Thomas Park on Unsplash

Family Link is Google’s parental control solution. Install this on any device and you can control what they can see and do on Google services and, on Android and ChromeOS, what they do across the entire device. Everything from restricting YouTube videos to putting limits on time spent on individual apps can be controlled.

And, over the last year, with many people turning to ChromeBooks for their children for home-schooling, this was an ideal way to ensure they’re doing their school works and not watching… well, whatever it is the kids are into nowadays.

But, there’s a problem. And the title of this article is the giveaway.

For reasons Google has never explained, if you supervise someone with Family Link, they can’t use Chrome extensions. Any existing ones deactivate and the link to the extension store is missing. All other apps can be managed but, in the case of extensions, they simply cannot be used.

Why is this a problem?

Kids don’t need extensions, right?

A lot of extensions are cruft, yes. But there’s an awful lot that are pretty useful, including many written by Google themselves. What we also have to remember is that Chrome may not just be used for schoolwork but may be used on a child’s main computer too. And if that computer is a Chromebook they don’t have alternative browsers to use either.

For example, password managers. This is the primary thing that my daughter immediately missed. And yes, lot of password managers, like 1Password, are available as independent applications outside of Chrome, but that gets rid of the useful integration with the browser. In the case of Chromebooks, if you have an older model that doesn’t run Android apps then you’re stuck using their web interface, which is even more of a bind. Other password managers may be even more problematic.

You’ll also be missing security add-ons from well-known names, as well as content blockers.

As a result of Family Link blocking Chrome extensions, everything from quickly clipping to Pinterest to adding something to an Amazon Wish List is going to be unavailable to them.

Why are Chrome extensions blocked in Family Link?

It’s a good question and not one I even have an answer to. There’s no documentation from Google on this and, even when I reached out and asked this question, they didn’t respond. All we can do is surmise.

My best bet is that this is because the Chrome Web Store lacks age ratings for extensions, which makes it hard to have anything other than “all on” or “all off” settings. Persona lly, I’d prefer that over how it is right now.

Is there a way around this?

Not that I’m aware of. I’ve had to turn off Family Link for my daughter’s Chromebook, which is not the position I wanted to be in but one that I found I had to do to allow her to be able to use it fully (and securely).

I’ve made changes to her Google account to lock out appropriate content (e.g. in YouTube) but I can’t control the times she’s using it or for how long, leaving me to attempt to do this manually (which is a lot more difficult than it seems).

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About the author

David Artiss

Works for Automattic Inc., the company behind and Tumblr. Tech geek, international speaker and occasional PC Pro podcaster. Lover of Lego and video games.

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