On the Internet, Google+ Knows You're A TOS-Violating 10-Year-Old Dog

from the unintended-consequences dept

theodp writes

“In its tear-jerker ‘Dear Sophie’ Google Chrome ad, a father creates a Gmail account (dear.sophie.lee@gmail.com) for his just-born daughter to preserve memories of her childhood. So, how does that work out in real life? Not so good, at least in the case of 10-year-old Alex Sutherland, who the WSJ reports was reduced to tears after being notified that the Gmail account his father created on his behalf two years earlier would be deleted because the Google+ Profile Alex created triggered a Google Terms of Service age violation. ‘You made my son cry, Google,’ wrote blogger Martin Sutherland. ‘I’m not inclined to forgive that.’ Not to pile on, but Alex may also be persona non grata at Khan Academy, where learning under the age of 13 can also constitute a TOS violation.”

To be fair, the “under 13” age issue is not something that should be blamed on Google, Khan Academy or any other site (and, really, if theodp wanted to be accurate, he could list most of the top sites on the internet, who all have this same restriction). It’s (of course!) the result of poorly thought out legislation. Namely, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act — another one of these “for the children” laws that politicians love to pass without thinking about the unintended consequences. Here, as in many cases, the intentions may be good: to prevent websites from collecting too much info from children who don’t quite recognize what they’re doing, but the actual results are that most sites simply put in their terms of service that the site is not for people under 13, even if everyone assumes that those under 13 still use those sites.

Of course, even bringing up how silly this is can lead to backlash. When Mark Zuckerberg recently suggested that perhaps the law needed some rethinking to make it more reasonable for those under 13 to use useful parts of the internet, it was dubbed “controversial”, and he had to clarify his remarks to make clear that he wasn’t trying to get under 13 kids on the site any time soon.

Either way, it does seem silly for Google to put out a commercial in which a father creates an email address for someone under 13… when it’s taking away accounts from others who do the same thing…

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Companies: google, khan academy

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Comments on “On the Internet, Google+ Knows You're A TOS-Violating 10-Year-Old Dog”

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Matt (profile) says:


In fairness, while COPPA may be a crappy law, the problem really is Google’s (and many other sites’) handling of it. Rather than simply categorically excluding young children, what these sites should do is not collect sensitive information. You do not need someone’s real name to provide them with an email account, for instance.

If the information is absolutely necessary (Zuckerberg has argued that the value of Facebook is that it creates networks of real people, who can really identify each other,) then all that is necessary is a COPPA approval from the child’s parent, and Congress was forward thinking enough to permit those to be submitted by fax.

Nicedoggy says:

Re: Unfair...

Now which company will starting paying for processing those kind of requests that can easily become a major PR nightmare, because when it is about children people just forgo all rational thinking and just goes bananas.

That was not forward thinking, no one in their right minds would assume such liability when they know if they ever have to come in front of a judge the prejudice and bias will all be against them.

Rekrul says:

Re: Unfair...

If the information is absolutely necessary (Zuckerberg has argued that the value of Facebook is that it creates networks of real people, who can really identify each other,) then all that is necessary is a COPPA approval from the child’s parent, and Congress was forward thinking enough to permit those to be submitted by fax.

Just one problem; That would require Google to actually interact with their users, which is something that they no longer do.

Anonymous Coward says:


The primary job of a child is to grow up. This foolish business of passing lots of laws “for the children” means that they are kept in cotton wool for too long. It makes them become lazy with a massive sense of entitlement. They get lazy because the information they are allowed to know is so trivial. They get entitled because the harsh realities of the world are deliberately withheld from them.

Then they turn eighteen and suddenly they are expected to “just know” all sorts of stuff which they have never before been given the opportunity to find out about. This foolish technique results in a lot of failures. Then the poor old taxpayer has to pick up the pieces, with higher costs for things like law enforcement, social welfare and health.

Kids are tough. Expose them to everything, especially knowledge of all the badness in the world. The function of a parent is to prevent them from getting damaged. Anything short of damage is fair game. Protecting them too much stops them from growing up, then they are in trouble once they turn eighteen. That is no way to raise children.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Entitlement

Dude, I am your fan.

I always say that, I think politics should be discussed around children. I think ‘bad issues’ such as sex, death and other should be openly discussed when they asked.

We are creating more and more moralist and clueless adults with this “think of the children!” attitude. It’s up to the parents to educate the kids well so they can filter all the crap that’s available in this world.

I do support some legislation on the topic but today the laws are only putting the children inside a crystal wall that’s suddenly shattered when they turn 18. And then they don’t know what to do.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Entitlement

The primary job of a child is to grow up.

And it’s the job of the parents to help them survive and do that well. It is not the place of the neighbors.

Then they turn eighteen and suddenly they are expected to “just know” all sorts of stuff which they have never before been given the opportunity to find out about.

Things like sex! That’s why child molesters are good! They’re teachers!

Kids are tough. Expose them to everything, especially knowledge of all the badness in the world.

Umm, no. Kids are different, and they are not all “tough” enough to handle anything that can get thrown at them. Kids *need* protection from some of the bad stuff in the world.

The function of a parent is to prevent them from getting damaged.

Which is exactly why many parents are concerned about what happens to their children online. They realize that simply keeping their kids offline would also be bad for them, so they seek to make online safer for them instead, much to the dismay of some who do bad things to them.

Anything short of damage is fair game.

Damage is exactly what the parents are trying to prevent. Trying to pretend that the parents are actually trying to damage their kids instead is ludicrous.

Protecting them too much stops them from growing up, then they are in trouble once they turn eighteen.

It is up to the parents to determine what is “too much”. It is much easier for a parent that feels that the internet is too “tame” for their child to supplement it with additional experiences than it is the other way around. In fact, the other way around is practically impossible.

That is no way to raise children.

Maybe you think other people’s children aren’t getting exposed to enough on the net. I say, maybe you should quit trying to raise other people’s children.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Or Google could, I dunno…
Have the parent login with their “verified” account and tick a binding box saying, Yes my child is under 13 and its perfectly ok for them to email Grandma or have a social network… because I’m a parent and I know what is best for my kid.
That should be ass-covery enough for the lawyers.

Maybe it is time to stop having stupid laws that let parents foist their responsibilities of raising their kid on society.

Its not my fault my kid plays the game and won’t goto bed, so I should call 911 to solve this. And then we end up with more people calling 911 from the drive thru because they won’t make it how I want it.

You can pass all the laws designed to wrap the world in a safe cushy nerf covering, or you can take charge and have rules with consequences for your kids and teach them how to fit into society, rather than force society to be warped for your precious snowflake.

(before the trolls hit, no we do need some laws but we do not need laws that give parents warm fuzzys that someone else is responsible for keeping their kid from exploring the web unsupervised.)

Well but kids understand tech better than parents!
Well then maybe you need to educate yourself about the magic box your kid is demanding you purchase for their “school work”, rather than act like it is impossible for you to understand the scary computer.

Manabi (profile) says:

Re: Re:

That sounds reasonable, and it would be except… how do you prove that it was really the child’s parents? If a child lies, or gets a friend to cover for them, and the parents find out later and decide to sue, what can the company do? Since there’s no good way to prove your identity online companies have to go with E-mail “plus” verification which entails getting a physical address and/or phone number and sending a physical letter and/or making a phone call to talk to the parents to verify they really gave consent and that they really, truly are the parents and everything is A-OK. Obviously this costs a fair amount of money when you’re a company the size of Google, and is something smaller companies may not be equipped to deal with at all.

Starting to see why almost no websites bother with this? It’s ridiculous, and very onerous, no one offering free services wants to spend the time and money to get the required information to cover themselves legally. It’s far, far cheaper just to go the “if you’re under 13 you can’t have an account” route. And yes, that includes deleting the account and all data associated with it the moment the company becomes aware the user is actually under 13. That’s part of the law, it’s not a punitive thing! This whole mess is Google obeying COPPA exactly as written. The problem truly is that COPPA is a really bad law.

I personally think the law is completely and utterly useless. All it’s done is teach children that they should lie about their age online. And since they’re lying about their ages, companies are still (inadvertently, because every legit company religiously complies with deleting accounts & data on discovery of a user under 13) collecting information on children online, and legally to boot. Seems to me the law’s completely failed in its purpose and should be fixed. But you can’t suggest that because the “think of the children” crowd goes ballistic and accuse you of all kinds of things.

Until we stop with knee-jerk reactions to the “think of the children” mantra we’ll never have saner laws.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

The exact same way they prove that you read the TOS.

Or maybe we could remove the stupid laws put into place for panic stricken parents who can not understand it is their job to raise a child, not the job of society.

Of course some “genius” will bring up this is why we need the “verified identities” law they tried to pass, so we could be “protected” from fraudulent charges, and make it easier for the wire taps running online to know who was talking.

Deleting the account contents with no way for someone to export it is punitive, but it is also a CYA move.
Because parents have this way of shifting the blame to everyone but themselves.

Ikarushka (profile) says:

I was about to suggest this topic to TechDirt with a headline “Google Ate My Homework” – explained below.

Closing an account is a minor problem in comparison with the fact that there is no way to get your data back. Or Google operates on a premise that 12-years old’s data is not as valuable as that shit serious grow-ups produce?

My friend’s daughter (12) had Google account for years, communicating with her friends and grandmothers abroad. She also developed a habit of doing her school homework using Google Docs. Now all that wealth of information is gone forever. It is not just bad… It is evil.

cgibinladen (profile) says:

Just to cover the same ground as others, the law is fundamentally flawed. The simple fact is that your average 12 year old (and probably younger) knows a DAMN sight more about the internet, its pros and cons and how to get around any ridiculous “over 13” policies than the idiots who passed them as an attention-seeking right-wing vote-grab in the first place!

jip says:

Most parents cant be trusted to parent online.
(lack of tech skills , understanding etc..)

Kids NEED protected online.
Most of the time they need protected from themselves. They wont think twice about sending pics of themselves.Wont think twice about communicating to people who they would call STRANGER in real life.

They DONT / CANT UNDERSTAND the consequences of broadcasting personal info online. (they are too young)

@Martin Sutherland (the blogger dude)

Your kid (10)

uses email address online then gets spam for porn.

Member of facebook (Unknown stranger asking to be “friends”)

Wow , just send your kid out to the local Dive-Bar and let him “”learn”” the realities of life.


Protect the child until it’s developed enough to make clear judgement calls.

Nicedoggy says:

Re: Re:

Yes they need, but not from the government, kids need to be protected by their parents, not by a government or parents that want to offload their obligations to the government.

Children are little people and they understand a lot of things if those things are explained in a calm manner and they will develop the skills needed to deal with things like porn along the way.

Forcing the little people to do something will compel them to find ways around it and if you can’t trust them to do something and if you are not the person they come for advise then you have a bigger problem than they giving away private information or putting themselves at risk for crooks and predators which could happen and they could get kidnapped or end up being tortured raped and killed as it happens today even with all the “protections”.
Can you show any study demonstrating the “significant decrease” in those incidents since those protections were put in place?
Can you show how effective those “protections” are?

Because if you can’t you are advocating for something useless for the desired effect just because you want something not because you know it is needed.

Anonymous Coward says:

Sure…or those websites could just stop collecting users’ personal information in the first place. You can hardly visit any major site anymore without coming up to some kind of user accounts and 99% of the time registration requires more information than is necessary to provide the service in question. Information that is very rarely deletable even when the user wants to leave the service.

thedigitari says:

"for the children" is like "but. but.... Piracy"

it’s and easy target a “push button” Topic, so “easy” to make one look good, but like the TSA and Banning cigarettes, it does nothing in reality.

which is truly worse, second hand smoke from a cigarette, or second hand car exhaust?

this is only “feel” good legislation. it makes for a great clip on the MSM news.

this is what politics IS, not much to do with reality but sure helps pick the prom king/Queen.

My niece was programming DOS at 5 years old, she would write her one programs, at 10 she was into C++.

children develop at different ages, it “should” be a parents choice, but too many parents have no Idea what little John/Jane are doing. because of being too busy or they just don’t care.

the real world has “darwin” awards, the internet should also, if you cannot survive a virtual world the real would will surely kill you, as it should be.

Anonymous Coward says:

In that these companies collect private information about anyone old or young is a violation of human principles in life. That is exactly what is wrong with this world of information “technology”. If people were willing to volunteer more private information, you would not see these companies trying to spy on everyone. That is exactly what brings their motivations to light.

iBelieve says:

Re: Re:

To reiterate one point from the remark above, ‘If they can’t sell you something by knowing the tiniest detail of you bra size or choice of argyle sock, they will, without the slightest hesitation or conscience, sell that information without your knowledge to a company more sleazy than themselves. And lets not forget that these companies are run by people.. although they would have you believe they are untouchable and unreproachable, hiding behind a barricade of lawyers and a mountain of red tape.’

xiaoeee says:

That parent is a very bad one. Kids should be not just offline, but also indoors. They are better off locked up until they grow up, and not exposed to any media, including books and TV. That way they would be better protected. And a parent has every right to spank and whoop them up until they bleed and get in pain as punishment. And it is not child abuse. Even death should also be justified as a consequence, and parents should be allowed to use lethal force to punish their own kids.

xiaoeee says:


Yes kids need to be protected. But the best protection for them would be if they would be locked up and that nobody except their parents would ever see them. They should never be let out, online and offline. If also you let them outside, they would get hit by the car. Their toys would be stolen. And they would also be molested by a strange pedophile. So therefore, they should be locked up until they grow up. And spanked ruthlessly and painfully as punishment.

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