Age restrictions in relation to the Internet is an interesting beast in relation to enforcement. There is, of course, a great deal of adult-related content children need to be protected from, but is email one of them? How about blogging, especially if parental consent is involved?
Should children, just because of their ages, be denied the ability to email and blog? What about if the parents are responsible and have given consent? In regards to Google's platforms related to these actions, no. Children under a certain age should not be allowed access to these capabilities, even though they have an ad campaign promoting their services in exactly the same manner being discussed here.
Just ask Rich Warren, who posted his tale of Google inconsistency over at his Google+ account. Leading off with an ominous "Hey Google, thanks for making my daughter cry" greeting, Warren's story is one that's incredibly similar to the "Dear Sophie" commercial Google promoted on as many television stations as they could, except for a huge difference: Warren's daughter was actually kicked off, denying her access to Google's services.
The following snippet from Warren's post should clarify:
Several years ago I set up a gmail account for my daughter so she could send email to her grandparents. At the beginning of this school year, she started using it much more actively to send messages to her friends and classmates. She also started a blogger blog as a class project.
Then, we woke up this morning to find that Google had disabled both her blog and her email account--apparently because she is under age.
Now, I don't remember seeing anything about the age restriction when I originally set up her account. And I understand that Google needs to comply with COPPA (Children's Online Privacy Protection Act), but all of that is really beside the point.
My complaint is about the way Google has chosen to act in this matter--both the fact that they didn't notify us at all--they simply turned off the account without any warning, locking up all her data, preventing us from accessing it... [Emphasis added]
So, a father starts a Google account for his daughter and as her exposure to the Internet increases, she began using it to correspond with her grandparents, and once she got into school, her friends. Apparently, however, her underage status was enough reason for Google to lock her account, as well as the content that was stored within.
Even though Google is essentially asking their followers to do the exact same thing in "Dear Sophie." Observe:
Now, someone in Warren's comment stream said this was a different scenario, but really, is it? In "Dear Sophie," the parent creates the account for his daughter, and populates it with content of her childhood. In Warren's scenario, he, too, said he started her account "years ago" so she should could keep in touch with her extended family. The difference being, at least the comment, was the father wrote messages to Sophie, while Warren allowed his daughter to use the account he made for her.
My observation is, at least regarding "Dear Sophie," comes from the idea that the father in the commercial would, at some point, give Sophie access to all the content he's been sending her, in essence, turning the account over to the person he made if for. Otherwise, what's the point of making the account in the first place? Why would you send all of this content about Sophie's young years if you aren't going to turn the account over to her at some point?
In Warren's real life scenario, he did turn over access of the account he created to his daughter, and because of her young age, Google decided to block access to her account without any warning, or, well, provocation. Or, as Warren puts it:
Google could have made other choices--choices that are more customer friendly, more child friendly and more parent friendly. But they didn't. They've chosen to act in a dogmatic, inflexible way. They've chosen to ignore parental consent and opinion. They've chosen to act apparently without ever considering how their actions might affect the people who use and rely on their services. Damn the consequences, they did what they wanted to do and ignored everything else.
The next question is, did Google overstep their boundaries with these actions? Furthermore, did Google show off a hypocritical side, one that flies in the face of the company being promoted in the "Dear Sophie" commercial? Thoughts? Reactions? Let us know in the comments.