Google, COPPA and disquieted Sophie

Google Account disabledFew months ago, Google Chrome team released a video advertisement with title as “Dear Sophie”. That ad was about a girl named Sophie and she is having Gmail account since her birth as her dad started that account in her name. Her dad, Daniel Lee, used to write email with birthday pictures, season greetings etc. to her account and was waiting for the right time to let her know the ID and the password for that account so that she can also checkout the archives posted by her dad. But, it was not as simple as Daniel was thinking because Google can change the TOS (terms of services) at any point of time and can revoke all the access and even can delete the archives without even warning Daniel Lee. This is what is happening right now with the Google accounts of under age children. Here is the complete story.

First of all, I want you to meet Sophie Lee, Daniel’s daughter.

[yframe url=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R4vkVHijdQk’]

Like Sophie, many other under age kids are having Google account. Some of the accounts were started by their parents and few kids started their own account. Some geeky kids also started blogging, participating in communities, started making YouTube videos (some of them are good at it as well) and also started developing apps for mobile platforms like iOS and Android. But, one day Google started following COPPA guidelines and started blocking the accounts of children with age under 13. According to COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act), no website is allowed to collect personal information from a child under age of 13.

I understand that COPPA is for the online safety of children’s personal information, and it is good that Google is now following COPPA guidelines. But according to some reports, Google didn’t send any warning message about this scheduled activity of blocking the account and that’s why the kids as well as their parents are disquieted. They are not even allowed to take backup or export the data from Google so that they can place the same somewhere else.

According to the COPPA guidelines, online companies or websites can have personal information of a child if they are having verifiable parental consent. Here is the excerpt from the guideline.

 

(1) IN GENERAL.—Not later than 1 year after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Commission shall promulgate under section 553 of title 5, United States Code, regulations that—

(A) require the operator of any website or online service directed to children that collects personal information from children or the operator of a website or online service that has actual knowledge that it is collecting personal information from a child—

(i) to provide notice on the website of what information is collected from children by the operator, how the operator uses such information, and the operator’s disclosure practices for such information; and

(ii) to obtain verifiable parental consent for the collection, use, or disclosure of personal information from children

I think Google was having option to still have Sophie’s account with them after having verifiable consent from Daniel. And I don’t think Daniel should have any problem with that.

Rich Warren, an iOS developer and father of a girl, states that,

 

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.

Remember, we’re talking about letters from grandparents and friends. I can’t even log in and back them up. They’re just gone.

This is not just about Daniel’s and Rich’s daughters, the same thing is happening with lot many children having Google account. Google is promoting different activities like Doodle contest for kids and at the same time they are not having a ready process to have their accounts on the system. According to Rich, Google already provides COPPA compliant email accounts for children under 13 from their Apps for Education domains and if that is the case then Google can accommodate the same process in general as well.

COPPA is applicable for each and every website online, but as Google is having so many popular services like Gmail, YouTube, Google+ and Blogger, people are used to it and they also want to have their kids online and getting benefits of these awesome services. I think its time for Google to think about Sophie and let the other kids stay online (of course with their verifiable parental consent). Post your views and experiences through comments system below and let your words spread through different channels.

Sanjeev Mishra is a professional blogger and an Internet Marketing Consultant based in India. He has built the Internet Techies to provide you updates in technology and web application area.