Underage Students on Google and Facebook

Google is cracking down on underage accounts. Young students who accurately reported their age when creating a GMail account are finding themselves shut out without warning. The account closure is swift and complete. With a parent’s help, a child can reactivate an account. At this point, child and parent face a choice: comply with Google’s action to shut down the account or falsify the child’s age in the account and keep it open. I suspect that many will choose the latter.

Students who have their account within a Google Apps domain are better off. The Apps domain administrator creates accounts, does not report user age, and bears responsibility to ensure the privacy of student information. Google expects schools to secure parent consent for under-13 use of Google Apps. At a minimum, Google stores each student’s name and email address, but of course the account will also include content that the student has uploaded in the course of their work.

Google Apps domains are not just limited to schools. Any domain owner can set up a free Google Apps domain, though these are limited to 10 user accounts, and advertisements are displayed. Buying a domain and setting up free Google Apps allows a family to take greater control of the services and comply with parent consent requirements. Low-cost web hosts make it easy to buy a domain name for the family and use GMail.

What about Google+? Google has just added Plus to Apps, but only for higher-education institutions.

Google provides a form to request access but state that this is not for elementary and secondary schools.

Facebook requires users to report their age when setting up a new account.

Many students falsify their age, often with the support of their parents. Both children and parents want to gain access to the social networking platform in order to keep in touch with each other, relatives, and friends. Companies routinely do not create a way for parents to provide consent for a child to create an account, and in turn for the company to collect information about the child. Facebook also does not provide the option for a school to to administer student accounts with parent consent. I also wonder what lesson students are learning from their parents’ encouragement to falsify their age.