Spanish startup Escudo Web has taken to Mobile World Congress 2018 to show off an idea for a new device that it believes will help children as young as seven-years-old to begin learning responsible smartphone use. The concept is touted as a fully functional Android smartphone but comes with some features to assuage the fears some adults experience when introducing their kids to the technology. It would be built on a custom version of stock Android OS and allows children to access the internet, send messages, download apps, and make phone calls but at the parent's discretion. By connecting the device remotely to a standard handset, Escudo Web's phone gives parents control over a wide variety of functions on the device at any given moment.
Control starts with basic control over which apps a child can access on the device and when. For example, if it's time to study for school, parents can tap a button to only allow access to study-related apps. There are also dedicated buttons for things like brushing teeth or bedtime, which block out the use of the device's home screen or apps. It also features geolocation tracking and app use tracking. With app blocking, the censored apps completely hide themselves on the child's device while they aren't available for use, which could remove some of the temptation to circumvent controls. For emergency situations, Escudo Web's concept device features a built-in SOS function accessed via context menu and a long-press on the screen. Best of all, since in some emergencies it wouldn't be a good thing for a child to be seen using their phone to make a call, that feature doesn't actually show a phone call on their device.
While it's not unusual for those types of features to be found in parental Android applications, they often come with some trade-offs or are easily circumvented. In some apps, if an emergency occurs while apps are blocked, a child won't necessarily be able to contact parents easily. In others, bypassing control mechanisms, revoking core permissions, or turning off device-specific features can circumvent core app features. However, with Escudo Web's idea, the core features of the device exist at a system level and in a way where that prevents them from being turned off or tweaked more curious or tech-savvy children. Unfortunately, there's still no good solution for parents of older kids, most of whom are certainly not going to be happy being given a device like this. As of this writing, Escudo Web is still seeking a hardware partner to bring its concept to reality.