Children who want to use Google services may no longer have to lie about their age, as the company reportedly plans special accounts for users under the age of 13.
Currently, Google doesn’t allow users to sign up unless they say they’re at least 13 years old. That’s because the Federal Trade Commission has strict privacy rules in place for children, requiring parents to provide “verifiable consent” in the form of a credit card transaction, a phone call to a trained specialist, a printed consent form, or a scanned image of the parent’s government ID. But it’s not exactly a secret that kids will pretend to be older in order to use online services like Google.
In addition to letting parents sign their children up, Google may provide an online dashboard so parents can keep track of their children’s activity. Google has also reportedly considered a child-friendly version of YouTube.
The news is already making privacy advocates wary. The Wall Street Journal cites Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, as saying the move will “threaten the privacy of millions of children” if Google doesn’t handle it properly.
The flip side is that proper children’s accounts are an opportunity to improve privacy, as the accounts would have to comply with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. For instance, the law states that services providers can only collect information that is “reasonably necessary to participate in that activity.” That means providers can’t lure children with a game or quiz, and require them to fork over a bunch of irrelevant data that could then be forked over to advertisers.
Advocacy groups are right to be cautious, given Google’s past privacy missteps. But if the company can provide powerful monitoring and privacy controls for parents while complying with government regulations, legitimate children’s accounts would do more good than harm.
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Jared Newman has been helping folks make sense of technology for over a decade, writing for PCWorld, TechHive, and elsewhere. He also publishes two newsletters, Advisorator for straightforward tech advice and Cord Cutter Weekly for saving money on TV service.