Taking a page from Facebook, Google has now lowered the minimum age required to join Google+ from 18 to 13. They claim that opening Google+ to younger kids will help educate them about social networking.
If you’re a regular reader of Yoursphere for Parents or follow any of the work I do in the Internet-safety field, then you know that I fully support any effort to educate kids about online safety practices and good digital citizenship. However, I imagine that Google opening up to teens under 18 likely wasn’t driven by the desire to educate them about online safety, but more a desire to compete with Facebook and broaden their advertising outreach.
So What Does This Mean To You and Your Teen?
Here’s The Breakdown:
Your “Google profile” will include information taken from all Google services such as Android smartphones, Gmail, Google+ and YouTube. Based on your browsing habits and even things like email conversations, Google will actively collect your information and your interests and sync it into one “profile” as a way to target you with better advertisements.
“In short, we’ll treat you as a single user across all our products, which will mean a simpler, more intuitive Google experience.” -Alma Whitten, Google’s Director of Privacy for Product and Engineering. (Full article)
This information, if it falls into the wrong hands, could be potentially dangerous, especially in regards to younger children. Consider what happened in 2010 when a Google engineer by the name of David Barksdale violated the privacy of four minors when he tapped into their Google Voice phone logs, accessed their contact lists and chat transcripts and even unblocked himself from one of the minors’ Gtalk buddy list. (Gawker).
Cases like this aside, the question that we parents all need to ask ourselves is: Do I really want Google tracking my child’s movements and whereabouts? I say no.
The Workaround Solution:
If you or your children are already on Google+, Gmail, or have a smartphone running the Android operating system, one way to keep your/their information and physical location from being assigned to one comprehensive profile is to create separate Gmail accounts for each service. More specifically, they can create three accounts as follows:
- One for Google social services, like Google+ and YouTube
- One for email
- And one to use on their smartphone (Android smartphones require a Gmail account upon activation for back-up purposes)
This will prevent Google from tying their personal information from Google+ to their location data on their smartphone, for example.
However, if your child is under 13 or is looking to join a new social network, tell them to check out Yoursphere.com. We promote a positive, fun environment where kids can hang out with their friends, and parents don’t have to worry about their child’s private information being collected, sold or used to “enhance their online experience”.