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18 Or Older To Use Google?

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Google has this bit in their terms of service:

You may not use the Services [defined as “Google’s products, software, services and web sites"] and may not accept the Terms if … you are not of legal age to form a binding contract with Google

The oddity of this has been pointed out before: many states in the US require that you be 18 year or more to form a binding contract… hence Google does not allow many kids and teens to use their services! Now, Chris Soghoian investigated a bit more and also got statements from Google, as well as comparisons with other sites’ terms. A Google spokesperson said:

We’re not in a position to verify the age or legal status of any user, given the tremendous number of users accessing Google services. That said, when we become aware of a user who is violating our Terms of Service, including not being of proper age to accept the Terms of Service, we take appropriate action, which could include the termination of the user’s Google Account.

Laws, it seems, are a language all of its own with little chance for people outside the craft to really understand it (even if it’s supposed to affect them; but do you read through every word of an agreement of a website though?). Chris points out that this discrepancy is especially interesting in the light of Google’s Doodle 4 Google contest… which is aimed at kids and teens.

However, is there any legal obligation for users to agree to a site’s terms of services in any case? Google’s terms say, “In order to use the Services, you must firstly agree to the Terms. You may not use the Services if you do not accept the Terms.” But can a site have a legally binding agreement that becomes active without any opt-in, just by visiting say Google.com… which does not even link to the terms straight from its homepage? (Imagine the terms would include a bit like “by using the site you agree to buy a dishwasher from us” etc.).

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