Google Has a Plan for the Under-13 Market

By Steve Anderson August 19, 2014

When signing up for a new account, most online services immediately display see some kind of specific clause related to age, generally, for those under 13, a parent or guardian's permission. Even though most of the under-13 market likely takes such clauses as seriously as the tide took King Canute in his well-referenced demonstration of the limits of earthly power, such clauses are still in place. However, Google is now planning to open up its doors to the under-13 set, and offer a set of new services geared toward this untapped yet somewhat difficult market.

Technically, services like Gmail and YouTube aren't offered to those under 13, but operationally, there's little stopping the young folks from establishing service anyway. So perhaps in a bid to stem that particular tide, Google is reportedly preparing a service that allows parents to sign up the kids on the kids' behalf, giving the parents a measure of control over what the kids are doing online and, in turn, over what information can and cannot be collected. This actually dovetails with earlier-revealed plans to allow a child-specific YouTube service that allowed parents control over what the kids could see on YouTube.

But the law is making things a little difficult for such ventures, particularly in the form of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which in turn establishes substantial limits on what can and cannot be gathered in terms of information about the young folks, and requires parental permission at many steps. However, under COPPA, there's no liability if the young folks do what has been done anyway since there was an Internet and lie about age. But by Google making young person-specific services, that removes the fig leaf of “they lied” and instead puts quite a bit of onus on Google in terms of information gathering, use and the like. This in turn, at last report, is also why Google is currently working extensively with its legal team in a bid to set up plans to be fully COPPA-compliant.

It's not exactly clear what's driving Google to go this route; even with such a system set up, it's not likely to stem the tide of under-13s who've decided to get access to the full service via the simple expedient of typing in the numbers that a piece of software wants to hear, whether or not those numbers actually reflect reality. A system like this would seem to be a lot more risk than reward, unless for some reason, Google wants access to under-13 numbers. Not necessarily identifiable information, of course, but most any large demographic number has a certain value to it. To be able to definitively say “We have three million children under 13 using this service” can be a big value to, say, toy advertisers or sugary cereal vendors.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

Contributing TechZone360 Writer

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