The Wall Street Journal’s Digits blog reports that Google is planning to officially allow pre-teens to have their own Gmail and YouTube accounts.
Of course, the only thing stopping some 10-year-old kid from creating her own account right now is the untarnished honesty inherent in all children. If they had it in them to lie to a computer screen about their age, they would have unfettered access to most of what’s on the Internet.
And so Google’s idea appears to be of the “if you can’t beat ’em, at least give ’em an honest way to create an account” variety. These accounts would reportedly be set up by parents for their kids, and then give the parents control over those accounts. For example, an already in development YouTube for kids would let parents moderate the sorts of content seen by their spawn.
The bigger concern, at least from a legal standpoint, is what information Google and its pals could collect about kid account-holders. The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) limits the data that can be collected about pre-teen users. The law requires that parents be advised about what info is gathered and that parents give their consent for this collection.
In 2012, the Federal Trade Commission updated COPPA rules to close a loophole that had allowed web plugins to collect data about underage users.
Sources tell Digits that Google’s idea is that parents are currently helping their kids get around the company’s regulations by setting up accounts with fake ages, so why not have a way that lets them set up these accounts without having to lie?
One could argue that it’s a risky move on Google’s part, as the company is not liable for COPPA violations if a user lies about their age. By releasing a version that explicitly allows pre-teens to have accounts, the web giant may be opening itself up to a large number of COPPA-related concerns that it currently doesn’t have to worry about.
It’s difficult to divine any ulterior motive that Google might have in launching these under-13 accounts. If/when the company rolls them out, we’ll be better able to see what exactly it is asking parents to agree to when setting up accounts for their youngsters.