Austin’s Famigo Helps Parents Police Kids’ Internet, App Browsing

Software to keep the Internet kid-friendly is a big business. One Austin startup wants to bring those guardrails to the app store as well.

Famigo has developed software that outfits mobile devices with a vetted app directory culled from among the millions available on both Apple and Android systems. “It locks down the devices and prevents children from accessing all the bad stuff,” says Q Beck, Famigo’s founder and CEO. “We also leave it open to parents to bring in whatever content they want their kids to have access to. If you’re fine with your kid playing Candy Crush Saga but don’t want them to spend $10,000 on Power Ups, you can control that.”

The software essentially creates a safe zone on smartphones and tablets. Famigo employees review all the apps and videos available through the system to make sure content is age-appropriate.

Other functions available on devices—access to e-mail or the Web—are locked out and only parents can swipe out of the protected-mode, which also keeps kids away from advertising, Beck added.

Parental restrictions already available in app stores and mobile operating systems do not offer as comprehensive protection as Famigo, says Erin Brennan, a company spokeswoman. For example, Google Play does offer parents a way to filter what can be downloaded but Famigo gives parents a nearly “one-click” solution. “Famigo provides a more comprehensive filtering system by age, so that all parents have to do is click one button to select an age-range and never have to worry that kids will see something that isn’t age appropriate,” she adds.

Brennan acknowledges that the Apple App Store does supply age-ratings and password protection against unauthorized purchases. (Tooling around the settings for my iPhone, I see that I can also “hide” apps as well. Good to know for the next time my 9-year-old nephew tries to download his favorite five versions of Minecraft onto my phone.)

Another advantage to Famigo’s system, says Beck, is that the software can also offer kid-friendly app suggestions that change as the child gets older, Beck added.

Famigo offers monthly subscriptions, from basic coverage for 99 cents to more comprehensive coverage for $4.99. The company started offering subscriptions this past October. Brennan declined to say how many customers or subscriptions the startup has.

Steve Jobs’ children may have found their screen time restricted, for many other American kids, smartphones and tablets are a regularly used tool. And the addiction starts young. More than a third of children under the age of 2 use mobile media, according to a study released last year by Common Sense Media.

That’s led to a growing niche for software companies aiming to help parents create an electronic fence around their children’s Web browsing and app downloading. San Diego-based KidZui launched a kid-friendly Internet browser in 2008 and a “Google for kids” search engine three years later. (The company was bought last month by Leap Frog, a children’s learning and entertainment company.)

Other companies in this space include Chicago-based Appolicious, which helps parents browse subject-specific app directories, say, those related to educational themes. And Kindle Fire has developed FreeTime, software that restricts content on its device.

Famigo, which launched in 2009, was part of Capital Factory’s Accelerator program and participated in a demo day at South By Southwest last year. The startup has raised $1.2 million from investors such as Silverton Partners, Zilker Ventures, and Liahona Ventures, Beck says.

In addition to vetting the app store, Beck says Famigo also “cleans up” the selection of videos available on sites like Youtube. “Sometimes it’s the comments that are the most inappropriate,” he says. “It could be about Big Bird but the comments … it’ll make you blush.”

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