Google’s Plan To Let Kids Have Accounts: Bad Idea Or Acknowledgement Of Reality?

A few years back, Facebook’s sweatshirt-in-chief Mark Zuckerberg caught a lot of heat when he said he’d be willing to fight for the right to peddle his social network to kids under the age of 13. He eventually backed off on this idea, but now Google appears to be taking up the cause.

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.

Until then, please take part in our completely unscientific poll:

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  1. Cara says:

    Both of my (elementary aged) children have email accounts. They don’t access them, but they do have them. In this age, it’s so hard to get an email address that doesn’t contain random numbers and letters, so I wanted to make sure they each had a usable account for when they are able to read and write. My son is at the point now that he could probably use the gtalk function to be able to send messages to his dad – or use google hangout to chat with close friends who live far away.

    I think if we ever have another kid, I’ll choose a name solely based on what domains are available!

  2. SingleMaltGeek says:

    I set up my daughter’s account shortly before her 12th birthday, and I set it up with as little information as possible, including false information in some places, and the privacy settings as secure as possible. All she uses it for is commenting on YouTube videos and emailing her friends from school. (And she knows to just ignore trolls and griefers.)

  3. mobafett says:

    It would be nice to have kid accounts that are sub-accounts of your own. I had to fudge my kid’s birthdate to get her a Google account for a Google Voice number. Same with Yahoo as I wanted to create a fantasy football team for her.

  4. furiousd says:

    If there’s actually effective content control and a lack of being tracked on the internet, I’d lie and claim I’m underage in order to get an account without the tracking and to be able to avoid a lot of the crap that comes up on Youtube suggestions. I watched “Humans Need Not Apply” at a friend’s house yesterday and one of the suggested videos that come up afterward was of a partially-dressed woman grinding against an obese man’s overhanging belly. Not what I considered to be of interest based on our viewing history.

  5. nomdeweb says:

    Ah, children! The last untapped resource for these big companies that make a crap load of money off of ads. Pretty much everyone has a Google/Facebook account nowadays, so in their nonstop quest for quarter after quarter growth, the shareholders have realized there’s an *entire world* of untapped resources (read: kids) out there. Nothing like impressionable young minds to fill with corporate doublespeak and marketing jingles!