Control Access to Your Android With Guest Mode and Screen Pinning

Google adds security features for concerned parents

Boy playing with smart phone

Tanya Little / Getty

Our kids are constantly asking to use our phones, whether to play a game, watch a video on a long car ride, or simply to assuage their curiosity. Kids like to click, though, and they might wind up deleting items we'd rather keep or seeing things we'd rather they not. Thankfully, developers of the Android operating system added some parent-friendly features to version 5.0 (Lollipop) of the Android operating system — in particular, guest mode and screen pinning.

These features require that your device has Android 5.0 (or later) installed, regardless of your phone's manufacturer.

Guest Mode

Guest mode allows you to have a generic user profile that your kids (or anyone else you allow to access your phone) can use. This profile is isolated from your personal profile so the guest user can't see or mess with any of your data, pictures, videos, or apps. They can install apps from the Google Play store, and if the app is already on your phone, it will be copied to the guest profile (instead of having to download it again).

You can create more than one guest profile so each of your kids can have their own set of apps, wallpapers, and other customizations. 

Setting up guest mode is easy:

  1. From the top of the screen, swipe down to reveal the notifications bar.
  2. Double-tap your profile image from the top right corner. Three icons will appear: your Google account, Add guest, and Add user.
  3. Select the Add guest option.
  4. Once you've selected the Add guest option, your device will take a couple of minutes to complete the setup process.
  5. When you're finished with guest mode, you can switch back to your profile by repeating the first two steps above.

Screen Pinning

When you hand your phone to your child to play a game (or to someone to show them a photo, for example), you might not want them to be able to exit the app and have access to everything else. For situations such as these, screen pinning mode is an ideal solution. It allows the user to use only the app that is pinned in place; they can't exit the app without the unlock code.

To set up screen pinning:

  1. From the top of the screen, swipe down to reveal the notifications bar.
  2. Tap the date and time area of the notification bar, then tap the gear icon to open the Settings screen.
  3. Tap Security > Advanced > Screen Pinning and set the switch to On.

You can find the instructions for using screen pinning directly under the setting itself.