If you pay for a book on Google Play Books, your significant other should be able to read it, too. The same goes for movies, music, and even apps or games—if you make a purchase, everyone in the family should be able to enjoy it. Thanks to Google Family, they can.
Google Family lets families to share content across their Google Play accounts. You can have up to six accounts in your Family, with two primary types of accounts available within the Family. There are family managers—generally the parents—and then limited “Member” accounts, which are usually the children (or anyone else you don’t want to allow full access).
With Google Family, anyone in the family can buy content—books, movies, games, apps, music, and the like—and then other people in your family have access to it. Each person, of course, has granular control over how their content gets shared: you can have your content shared automatically as soon as you buy it, or pick and choose manually.
Note: App and game developers have to allow their apps to be shared in the Family Library, so sharing isn’t available for every purchase.
If you subscribe to certain Google Services, like YouTube Red, YouTube TV, or Google Play Music’s Family Plan, you can also share those subscriptions with your family (though the latter requires a family plan). It’s pretty all-encompassing when it comes to sharing content with your loved ones—Google Calendar and Keep also both make it easy to share specific things with the people in your family. Google Family is also required to use Google’s Family Link app to make your child’s Android device just a bit safer.
The account manager chooses a shared payment method that everyone in the family has access to, but fret not—members don’t just get blanket access to use the card (unless you set it up that way). You pick and choose what each person in the Family gets access to, be that requiring approval for all paid content, only in-app purchases, or no content at all.
The one thing worth noting here, however, is that if you set Google Family to require approval for purchases, you have to physically be available to enter your password. That means if your child isn’t with you at the time, they can’t buy anything—even if you say it’s okay. I would really like to see Google implement a notification feature of some kind where you can remotely approve purchases. It’s honestly a huge oversight.
It probably goes without saying, but you’re going to want to be an Android user for this, and unsurprisingly enough the easiest way to set up your family is from your phone. There is a Google Family web front-end too, but it’s not as useful. So yeah, just use your phone.
First, open the Play Store, then slide open the menu and choose the “Account” option. From there, select the “Family” setting.
You must enroll yourself in the Family Library first, which you do by tapping the “Sign Up for Family Library” option here. It opens a brief look at what the Google Play Family Library is all about—just tap the “Sign Up” button at the bottom.
Registering for Family Library takes a few seconds, but once it’s finished tap the “Continue” button.
Next, set up your Family Payment Method. Tap through the next couple of pages to continue.
If you already have a payment method stored in your Google Wallet, it shows up here. If not, you need to add a payment method now.
Once the payment method has been established, it’s time to add content to your Family Library. You can choose to “Add All Eligible Purchases Now,” or just pick and choose the stuff you want to share one-by-one. Do your thing.
At this point, you’re ready to add your family. Tap the “Continue” button, and then send some invitations. You’ll be notified over email when the invitations are accepted.
When the invitations are accepted, it’s time to take a look at Family Management. You can open Family Management settings by opening the Play Store, sliding open the menu, choosing the “Account” option, and finally the “Family” setting.
There are two lone options in this menu: “Manage Family Members” and “Family Library Settings.” Let’s start with the first one and manage some family members.
Managing Family Members
There really isn’t a lot to know about this menu, so we’ll be brief. It shows everyone in your Family, including those to whom you’ve sent invitations but who have yet to accept.
You can further control each member’s access level by tapping their entry on this list. Tap the “Purchase Approval” setting to set the purchase level available to the selected family member. You can remove the member completely by tapping the three dots in the upper right and choosing the “Remove Member” option.
Managing purchase approvals is pretty straightforward. Any member between the age of 13 and 17 has three approval options: Only Paid Content, Only In-App Purchases, or No Approval Required. That last option is really for the brave (or trusting, I guess).
Members above 18 won’t require approval of any kind, nor are there any options to require it. That’s just how it is.
Speaking of over 18 accounts, you also have the option specify another parent by using the “Manage Parent Privileges” button at the bottom of the list of Family members. Only users above 18 show up here, and once granted parental permission, they’ll be able to manage the account and approve purchases with the shared payment method.
Managing Family Library Content and Settings
The other thing you can control from the main Family page is how family library settings work. Tap the “Family Library Settings” option, and you’ll see the three main categories of content you can manage: Apps & Games, Movies & TV, and Books.
Regardless of which category you choose, the options are the same: “Add Items Automatically when Purchased” or “Don’t Add Automatically.” Feel free to pick whichever one works best for you and your family. It’s also worth mentioning that everyone has the same options here—even the child accounts.
Finally, if you want to remove all your purchases from your Family Library, you can do that by selecting the “Remove Purchases” option.
You can find content that’s shared in your Family Library by opening the Play Store, sliding open the menu, and choosing “Family Library.” This shows everything that has been shared in your Family, including the things you’ve shared.
You can sort this view to show all items in the category, just the items family members have added, or just content you’ve added.
Content that’s in your Family Library is also marked in the Play Store—you can tell it’s already in your Library by the little house icon with a heart in it (depending on the particular interface, it may also say “Family Library”). That means either you, or someone in your family, purchased and shared the item.
Other Options and Considerations
There are a few other things worth talking about here, too. First off, any member can leave the family at any point—they have only to jump into the Family settings, hit the three dots in the upper right corner, and choose the “Leave Family” option.
Similarly, the Family Manager can follow the same steps to completely delete the Family and remove all its members. That’s pretty drastic, but hey—do what you have to do.
Otherwise, let’s talk about how services work—like YouTube Red or Google Play Music Family Plan. If you have either account (which generally go hand-in-hand) with a family plan, all members of your family automatically get access. No extra steps, so signing up, nothing. It just works, which is brilliant. My kids love the fact that they get unlimited music streaming and ad-free YouTube with our Play Music Family Plan, and I really dig how it just works.
Some other Google Services, like Calendar, also provide Family access. When you create a new event, you can have that event show up on the Family Calendar, which in turn shows up on everyone’s device. It’s a great way of keeping the family all on the same page where events are concerned.
Despite its relatively few shortcomings, Google Family is an excellent service that my entire family has been very happy with. It does a great job of staying out of the way when it needs to—the only time my kids are even aware of it is when they want to buy something. Like I said earlier, I’d love to see some sort of notification system that allows me to approve purchases remotely, but that’s really my only complaint with Google Family. Otherwise, it’s great.