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Google made my son cry (sunpig.com)
583 points by rostayob 2090 days ago | hide | past | web | 265 comments | favorite

Google needs a fucking customer support line already. Make it a 900 number if they need to and charge $20 per call, but for the love of cheese the number of times something goes horribly wrong and there is little to no recourse is silly. They refuse to let people pay for their services and thus establish a billing verification channel but they're asking users to put tons of important information into them with no recourse if something does happen.

You are not Google's customer. You are their product. Google make their money by selling your data and your attention to advertisers. Charging you money and treating you like a customer creates a conflict of interest that they really don't want to deal with. Google's strategy of "scalable customer service" is no accident.

This is a commonly heard statement, but it doesn't actually make sense. Like any company which sells advertising, there are two levels of product: the products they charge money for (e.g. ads and customer info), and the products which attract people who enable the former - gmail, search, etc.

If they do a bad job at creating and servicing products which draw people to the site, people will not go there and Google will not make money. So, is gmail 'not a product'? No, that's absurd.

Not true if you think about — look at any other traditional company that lives off of advertising like a TV network or even a newspaper: At the end of the day they don't really have the same sort of customer service that you might see at a restaurant where you can send it back. And in some of the worst cases there's even a distain for the viewers. The opposite of this might be an Apple where you pay for a product and get A+ customer service.

Lack of customer service is not related to whether something is a 'product', or 'you are the product'. It's simply a lack of customer service.

Downvotes aside, I'd just like to point out that lack of customer service is not related to whether something is a 'product', or 'you are the product'. It's simply a lack of customer service.

You can of course say the same thing about any company that sells advertising and it will have an element of truth to it.

I've worked on Google Search for several years, and I can assure you that neither I nor most colleagues I know see things this way. I can't think of a single example where our search results have changed or not changed based on how it would affect Adwords customers. I personally believe that most of our products designed for end users work this way. Even many people I've talked to working on advertising see a large part of their job as improving the advertising experience rather than just revenue.

Within search at least, the issue of customer service is scale. It's a challenging problem with millions of users. We do a good bit already, through feedback forms, staffed U2U groups, video questions and answers, and other venues. We recognize that not everyone can share information on a forum either, and so some of these feedback forms are private.

Gmail does the same, although I'm less familiar with their support offerings. A good starting point might be http://mail.google.com/support/. I'd imagine Google+ will grow in terms of it's forms of feedback and support, and the team seems to be quite responsive on a number of issues already. http://www.google.com/support/+/ might also be a good starting point there.

I'm not familiar enough to comment on the original issue, but I would guess that this has more to do with law in the US, specifically COPPA, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act. IANAL.

And THERE is your answer. They cannot sell info for a <13yo. So therefore they demand you be 13. To them its a liability. My 4.y.o. uses the web constantly and is becoming quite proficient at it. I would be pissed if they disabled her account too.

I have been Google's customer. I have managed over twenty accounts with them. The largest has spent about 4m to date (the rest amount to much less). The situation is no different there.

Customer service per dollar spent is lower than anywhere else on earth.

The idea that Google (or any major tech company!) has ever even considered selling user data is highly damaging to our industry. I don't expect that kind of baseless paranoia on Hacker News.

Google's whole business model revolves around selling user data. They don't do it directly, handing over browser histories to the marcom group at Pepsico; they do it indirectly, and in a manner that largely preserves privacy. But that doesn't impact the original commenter's point at all. He's right: at Google, you're the product, not the customer.

Agreed, but there's a world of difference between ad targeting and selling data, and public perception to the contrary hurts the web industry.

Can't tell if you are sarcastic or not? No really..

(in case you are not)

Yes Google sells user to their paying customers -- advertisers. How do you think they make all those billions of dollars / year? Why are they providing you with free Gmail, Maps, and high quality search results? The answer is that they sell you to their customers. If you are in gmail and sent your mom an email telling her what kind of printer cartridges to buy, don't be surprised if you see an ad about printer cartridges. They indirectly sold your data "interested in printer cartridges" to their "real" customer -- the company that makes printer cartridges and is looking for someone to buy them.

Are you sure ? Does the data has to be sold ? Can't just an algorithm run through your data and get the most relevant ad ?

They indirectly sold information about you. It doesn't mean that their paying customer will know your gmail address, but their are selling you as a collection of all your preferences to their customers. If their customer cannot be convinced that Google can find out users' preferences very well and target the ads properly, they might choose some other company.

Can you prove that ? I doubt that they sell data, they probably sell the keywords.

I got downvoted into oblivion for saying the same thing on this thread. HN has changed.

Maybe it's been repeated too often.

I feel that's probably the issue too. It's been said on a bunch of submissions about Google. I've seen it 4-5 times already.

It was a clever comment but it's an oversimplification.

I couldn't agree with you more. My family owned an autoparts business in the worst part of the country, where we had multiple robberies and shootings resulting in fatalities. When we were building the online business, Googles automatic listings had my mothers home address listed as the business address. This was very dangerous for my mom and not very comforting. It took them over 2 weeks to change the information (I know the process has changed for business listings). At the time though I felt thoroughly helpless. I called some sort of google help number then and they basically told me they couldn't help.

We use GAE as a paying customer. There is absolutely no solid line of communication with anybody on the team when something blows up.

"Use the forum".

Yes Google, that's a sound idea, why don't I post a bunch of a business proprietary information on your user forum...brilliant.

A little over a week ago we had a user post a Wormwall to Reddit and it had something like 130 thousand requests in a couple of hours. Because Google (unbeknownst to us) caps GAE accounts to 12 instances, we ended up scaling to precisely 12 instances, then crapping out. A full 60% of requests to our site were not even served.

I know, I'll get on the GAE site and look up some kind of professional support number, or email address or something. Nothing. A few hours of banging around (all while our site was literally catching fire) and I finally found a form where I can request an increase in instances.

9 days later? Nothing. No response. No increase in instance cap. No communications whatsoever. A complete and total black hole.

It's so absurd it's ridiculous.

So... why are you using AppEngine instead of another service?

Trust me, between the new pricing scheme and the piss poor support, we have this discussion nearly every week. I have a feeling by year's end we'll have made the transition. Right now, the ridiculously cheap hosting costs are literally the only thing keeping us there.

I think this is what they are expecting, when people outgrow them they will just move on to some other service. Sucks for the users but Google is trying to cater to the masses I feel. Most people aren't maxing out their GAE instance counts and all, they mostly just die off before that.

That basically means you guys are successful or at least more than the others. ;p

I don't know about this. Their new pricing scheme seems to imply they are after larger players -- like major brick and mortar stores who don't want to mess with keeping their own hosting infrastructure up and running. Google needs to make enough money to guarantee 5 9s uptime...something GAE is not even close to offering today.

We're definitely too small for that scheme and so are many folks. The funny thing is that our recent traffic spike would have gone over our free quota (easily), so we would have ended up paying Google some money for the scaling. But because of the ridiculous instance cap we never even hit the top of our free quota that day.

Just being pedantic here but your site was not literally catching fire.

The reason using 'literally' in this way is so annoying is that 'literally' is used to indicate 'as amazing as the following sounds it actually happened, it is not a figure of speech', so when people go ahead and try to use it as a figure of speech they are lying to the reader and showing their ignorance of the word.

No...really...there were flames...and smoke...and everything.

That's exactly why I use Fastmail.fm rather than Gmail. I pay them some small amount of money each year, and in exchange they provide actual customer support. Nothing ever has gone wrong, but they're there if I need them.

Incidentally, their TOS says:

This Service is provided to individuals who are at least 18 years old or minors who have parental permission to open and maintain an account.

Which seems much more reasonable.

This Service is provided to individuals who are at least 18 years old or minors who have parental permission to open and maintain an account.

Great clause you found. Hope they honor that one, and change/remove other contradictory clauses. (edit: fix italics)

Just to be clear, when I said "their" I meant Fastmail.fm, not Gmail.

Google actually provides a paid service, google apps. I wonder - If the father set up an account on his own domain with google apps and gave his son an account, would the TOS still apply? I'm guessing not. And in any case, there would probably be a way to retrieve the data after having the account locked.

Google Profiles (and so Google+) is not available for Google Apps accounts anyway. It's actually one of the few Google products/services still not available https://www.google.com/support/a/bin/answer.py?hl=en&ans...

True, but he still wouldn't have compromised his email account. That was the main problem here.

Any idea if and when Google Profiles will be available for Google Apps? Anyone?


Google accounts aren't just yet-another-email-address anymore. While I like to think of my gmail account as a throwaway (I still only use it for testing email delivery from my proper email accounts), my entire Android "profile" is linked through it.

If I fat-finger some signup form somewhere, or my stupid cousin decides to play a prank on me with my signed-in Google account, or something else bad happens unrelated to this "underage"/COPPA policy, I have no recourse to recover from a lockout?

That's stupid, and impacts something very important to me. While Google may or may not get any money from my use of Android, they are (by their own hand) accountable for my experience there, which includes not ever being irrevocably locked out of the "cloud" resources that the phone depends upon.

So how much are you paying for your gmail account?

Probably $0. Guess how much time should Google wants to spend providing you with tech support? Probably 0 (unless you manage to create negative PR then not supporting you might cost them some bad karma so then it is cheaper to just have someone call you and fix your issue).

Expecting to get something for nothing is unrealistic. To Google you are just one of hundreds of millions of users whose surfing habits and email account usage they indirectly sell to their real paying customers. If you wants technical service you have to pay for it.

You are paying them, indirectly. You are giving them information about yourself and your interests, which is valuable to them.

Google would provide good customer support if they cared about maintaining goodwill with the public. And, looking at some other replies here, it seems they do try (to some extent). They're not stupid.

But articles and threads like these are a PR disaster, and they will hurt their bottom line in the long run. They do not want people switching to another search engine or telling their friends to boycott Google or Google's advertisers.

Right, I pay $0 for gmail itself, but I pay a lot of money for my Android phone and the service that goes along with it. If they don't get a slice of that, that's their fault, not mine.

In any case, if that phone gets bricked, or requires being reset and associated with a "blank" google profile because of an erroneous and irreversible lockout on my current profile/account, the blame will squarely rest with Google. They're the 2nd most visible counterparty to my smartphone usage, and numero uno when it comes to data services.

Way to show a total lack of empathy and cold blooded capitalism. There are implied controls and services when offering a product, and Google's downright hostile attitude towards users when they experience problems Google create or helped to create is indefensible.

Well they could just charge for premium accounts, I for one would pay 20 bucks a month for a Google sub with support. Google Apps isn't exactly affordable to the average person and I bet the support options are pretty horrible.

The service is not free, you just don't pay with money.

Even more reason to offer a support line then?

I must be a total minority here but as a parent of a 9 and 11 year old I'm shocked how many commenters recommend "just lie" or even teach their kids that lying is ok on the internet. Maybe this particular kid is a total outlier but I can say for sure that my kids and their friends are definitely not ready for any kind of sophisticated reasoning about when to apply which morals. At that age they are also fairly unable to separate fact from ficition and news from gossip.

The age limit of 13 seems pretty reasonable to me and if as a parent you think your kid is so mature (hint: he isn't) then it is definitely your responsibility to act as a guardian.

Google didn't make your son cry, you made your son cry. And that's fine, we all make our kids cry from time to time. Explain the mistake you made to your kid, figure out what to do in the future and move on.

Oh, come on. I have kids, too. When they were that old, I told them never to sign up for anything without asking me, and I told them why we were lying about their age and address, because there are people on the Internet who we can't trust.

Now that they're older (my son is 12 now) and really do have the sophistication to understand this distinction - and you're right, a 9yo or 11yo doesn't - they understand why we did that. But the key is, your 9yo and 11yo trust you, and should continue to do so. They don't care what you answer when signing them up for Google Mail - they don't even notice discrepancies of that nature. In the case they do, you tell them why you're doing it.

Google did most certainly make Alex cry - in exactly the same way that his hard drive crashing would have done so. Sure, ultimately it's the parents' fault, in a way, for letting him use fallible computer systems, and that in itself is probably a good lesson, but Google most certainly shares the blame here for boneheaded policies that don't even give parents the option of interceding. And the reason is the same as Google's reason always is: it was easier for Google.

In other words you're acting as your son's guardian, which is exactly as it should be.

The problem I have is with telling your kid: go ahead sign up and lie about your age. There's a huge difference between the parent taking the step of creating the account with a password known by the parent and telling the kid to go ahead and lie, which is what a lot of (probably childless) commenters suggest.

"You need to fill in an earlier year here, otherwise Google's computer will think you're too young to use GMail [and might throw away your email at some point]"

It's important to be clear that you're lying to a computer system, not another human being.

I would be inclined to teach my kids that if they run across something that has unreasonable barriers, they should work around them. The more creative they are in working around them, the better.

That will likely make parenting an absolute hell, but they'll be well-equipped for dealing with the adult world.

Determining which barriers are unreasonable takes a lot more maturity than I think you realize. Kids need to learn to play by the rules before they learn which ones to break.

Exactly so. Working around comes later.

I agree and I would say this barrier is more inconvenient than unreasonable. And we should not encourage rule-breaking for convenience.

The computer system didn't fail. The parent failed to understand the consequences of what they were doing.

Yes no-one reads the ToS but by the same token we all know we take a risk when doing so. Google did nothing wrong in this instance, they just held the person to an entirely reasonable and fair condition of use.

Balderdash. This is an unintended consequence of Google keeping too much information across system boundaries.

So because Google leak information the lie was discovered?

That's like a criminal blaming a witness for them getting caught.

If the lie wasn't there nothing would have happened, you have to look at the root event, not what followed.

No, this is the result of US law. Google can't legally collect information from children, they have no choice but to remove his account.

I think it's the fact that children can't legally form contracts therefore can't be bound by the ToS which is in question here.

That inability to form contracts below a certain age actually protects children and is in their benefit, no-one should want it removed. Yes there are situations where it seems overkill but on balance it's a good thing.

So given that the law is reasonable it has not, as with most things with kids, fall back on the parents.

(Note: My understanding of the law is based on English law rather the US law but I'm guessing that something similar applies)

The US actually has laws about collecting information from children.[1] Google is not set up to collect information from children so they have to ban the account and delete the information or risk criminal charges. Now they don't have to do this if they have consent from the child's parents but given their lack of customer service, they probably wouldn't bother to deal with that.

1: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Childrens_Online_Privacy_Protec...

Oh. Apparently Microsoft doesn't operate in the United States. My bad.

Lying is not just ok on the internet, it's practiced practically everywhere. People lie in business, people lie in politics, people lie in marketing, people lie in retail, people lie on internet forums, people lie on the street, people lie in their homes, places of business, and places of leisure. The fact is simple: people lie. You can and should teach your kids about when it is not appropriate to lie, but please get off your moral high horse of pretending that lying is the some sort of mortal sin.

Imagine how badly you would fuck up your kid's life if you managed to really convince him that lying is some sort of abject horror. He would be eaten alive the instant he took a step outside of your home into the real world. When in your opinion is a kid ready for sophisticated reasoning about when to lie? Do you suggest waiting until well past their core formative years before suddenly going, "Hey, remember how I said if you lie you will go to jail? Yeah, about that..." Maybe even wait for their rebellious teenage years so that they get REALLY confused about how they're supposed to behave.

Kids are not as stupid as you seem to believe they are, and that's something coming from me since I believe kids are pretty damn stupid. I am not suggesting that they are ready for a university level psychology lecture, but by that point they will have been exposed to plenty of negative things that you should probably take some effort to explain. If your kids are not ready for at least a basic introduction to social reasoning at 10 then you haven't been doing a very good job at educating them.

"He would be eaten alive the instant he took a step outside of your home into the real world."

Jesus Christ.

Over the last 5 years, I've lied 5 times. I regret all of them except for one, and out of the moment reflection and hindsight allows me to say that everything would have been okay without having told any of them.

So come off it with this where-would-we-be-without-lying spiel.

(The most difficult thing is actually others' natural skepticism. How do you deal with that? "No, you don't get it. I don't lie.")

I have to wonder what you consider lying though. Have you ever omitted all of the information necessary for an informed decision? Have you ever purposefully or accidentally misinterpreted what another person has was saying for your own benefit, or misrepresented it to someone else? Have you ever uttered an exaggeration that would be hard to distinguish from the truth? Have you ever presented your opinion as if it was fact? Each of those is a type of lie that we may make without even noticing, often times not using these techniques in certain situation would even be considered a social faux pas. So tell me again with 100% certainty that you have only lied 5 times in the past 5 years, that way at least I can be sure you can lie to yourself.

And if by some freak chance of fates you really have managed to go 5 years while for the most part only telling the truth, if you really are akin to a character out of a fairy-tale then I invite you to take a look at what Robert Greene says about lying in the "48 Laws of Power." You may not even understand how powerful a weapon you wield, and how much it may be hurting you, and those around you.

[Initially I mistook this comment to be from someone really interested in the topic, until I got to this part and noticed your username:

> So tell me again with 100% certainty that you have only lied 5 times in the past 5 years, that way at least I can be sure you can lie to yourself.

I'll go ahead and respond as if my initial impression were correct, though.]

> I have to wonder what you consider lying though.

I had a feeling the "subtleties of lying" thing was going to come up. I'll bite, but I think it's kind of a played out conversation. Maybe not the best use of the phrase. I might be clearer if I say instead that it just smells of the type of pseudo-philosophical discussions that come up within small groups, maybe after a beer or two, with the participants under the impression that it qualifies for profundity or, you know, being otherwise highly insightful in some way. You probably know the type. But I haven't taken part in any of these conversations that've come up yet, so like I said, I'll bite. :)

To give an example, the lie I mentioned that I don't regret involved an issue that came up with my friend's closed bank account after he moved to the opposite side of the world. Obviously, that kind of move can make getting to the resolution more difficult. The lie was me impersonating him to the customer service rep on the phone in order to avoid the latency of twelve-hour-turn based correspondence (at my friend's request).

That might give you some kind of idea of my threshold of "a lie". By most measures, I think, this would be seen as fairly benign one. (Having said that, it is the most benign of the bunch.)

> Have you ever purposefully […] misinterpreted what another person has was saying for your own benefit, or misrepresented it to someone else?

No. (Well, assuming that your "ever" refers to the last five years in consideration, and not actually "ever" as in... ever.)

> Have you ever […] accidentally misinterpreted what another person has was saying for your own benefit, or misrepresented it to someone else?

(emphasis mine)

Even aware of how fickle pinning down the definition of "lying" is, I cannot think it possible for anyone except for the most unpleasant hardliners to consider such an accident to qualify as a lie. And I mean really, truly, genuinely "accidental", not haha-not-really-but-I-have-plausible-deniability-and-you-can't-very-well-prove-otherwise "accidental".

In instances where I feel I have unintentionally caused someone to misunderstand (or really, been a shitty communicator), I'm obligated to correct and explain better.

> Have you ever uttered an exaggeration that would be hard to distinguish from the truth?

Absolutely I have. A good chunk of my humor involves deadpan delivery, then the ensuing "hah, jk" types of motions. (My brother is quite a bit younger than me; when visiting my family and he's the mark, I will often literally say "jk". He's started countering with "jl".)

I don't know if it's a regional difference, but since my last move, I've found that people aren't as likely to be "in on it" (or are painfully slower to recognize) when the "hah, jk" part comes. This is--of course--not as fun, so I don't do it as often anymore.

> Have you ever presented your opinion as if it was fact?

I'm inclined to just say that matters of opinion are inherently opinionated, so I'm not sure I can conceive of anyone actually being able to do this, really. I admit I haven't tried to think very hard of any scenarios. Why kinds of opinionated statements can be made that could be presented (or misinterpreted) as a factual one?

> You may not even understand […] how much it may be hurting you, and those around you.

I think that's unlikely to have happened so far, or at least to much of an effect, but I wouldn't rule it out for eternity. I can definitely imagine some scenarios here where trying to maintain my current stance would probably be against my best interest/livelihood, although I don't put a lot of stock in those particular scenarios occurring.

Obviously, I have thought lying to be the better approach at some points (otherwise my count would be 0 for the past five). Like I said, though, everything would would've worked out okay. I absolutely don't believe that a truthful response in any of my cases would've made a significant difference about where and how I'm sitting right now.

> I invite you to take a look at what Robert Greene says about lying in the "48 Laws of Power."

Not my kind of literature, but I had a look at an overview http://www2.tech.purdue.edu/cg/courses/cgt411/covey/48_laws_...

Some of those seem to be decently okay advice (law 45, the first part of 39, 26 in name), but for the most part (law 7, 12, 24, 32, last part of 39), it seems it would have been better described as "how to be a selfish dick and perpetuate misery".

Wow, you are really good at being covertly insulting. At least I had the decency to make my insults really obvious, you decide to attack me on a multitude of vectors while persisting in keeping your unsubstantiated moral high ground. Note, you set the tone for the conversation with the original reply dismissing my first (Long and detailed) post as utterly ridiculous using a rather difficult to believe, and quite unsupportable claim. Now you suddenly expect some sort of polite response to show an interest in you and your topic. I am no where near nice enough to accommodate, but I will gladly call you out on your hypocrisy if you decide to make an issue of it. That said, why would I spend time writing a post if I didn't care at all what you have to say? Sure, I may think your assertions are silly, your debating technique flawed, and your tone is more insulting by accident than mine is on purpose, but if I didn't care for the topic I would not bother replying at all.

To start of, let's not ignore how you decided to omit the lie of omission from your point by point response to my post. That is already quite telling of your tone, and could humorously enough be construed to be a lie of omission.

You are quick to dismiss my points as pseudo-philosophical without actually explaining why you may believe that, or what sort of reasoning you use to dismiss them. Regarding your example I can see that your threshold of lying lies at the definition of "direct lie," which is certainly the easiest to detect. However, there are many other types of lies, each of which serve important roles in the properly functionality of our society. You could easily discover this on your own if you didn't dismiss perfectly valid resources because at first glance they appear to describe "how to be a selfish dick and perpetuate misery."

For instance, you are quick to deem an accidental lie to be outside the scope of acceptable definitions of lying. For some reason you only consider something a lie if you are actually aware of it. However, while intention is certainly a part of lying, it is by no means the most important. A lie is simply an untruthful statement, regardless if you mean for it to deceive someone. I will agree that trying to correct yourself in these cases is certainly a remedy, but that hinges on you understanding that you have caused someone to misunderstand something, which may not always be the case.

Regarding your "hah, jk," will you honestly say that even in situations where it would be socially awkward or even unacceptable? "Thank you for the food, it was very good... hah, jk, that was one of the most bland meals I have ever eaten" or "You look good, that shirt does not make you look fat at all... hah, jk, you should go get liposuction." Going back to the point I made originally, lying is literally a core part of our culture, you may not even notice when you are doing it since telling the truth can often be amazingly insulting.

Presenting opinions as facts is probably just as common as the lie of exaggeration. It may be something as simple as presenting yourself as an expert when you are not; perhaps you have tried to explain a complex scientific theory without a full understanding of the material in question. Even if the actual content of your description is accurate, you have lied in acting as if you are a knowledgeable expert in the field. Or maybe if you are are asked to provide a design a work to replace an aging system, and you decide to do your work without actually understanding why and how the previous design functioned, and what limitations it was meant to overcome. Really, any situation where you act as an expert without actually being one qualifies for this category. Again, this is actually very common in the business world. You seldom have the time necessary to familiarize yourself with all the relevant material, yet cannot run the risk of appearing unqualified or incompetent by using looser terms like, "In my opinion X" or "I think Y" in place of "X is Y."

You are actually right when you say that you hurting someone with truth is unlikely to have happened so far, but for a wholly different reason than the one you present. Returning yet again to my original point, you are probably not even consciously aware of all the lies you say day in and day out, simply because you do not consider them lies. To you these things are part of your social strata; you say them because not doing so could be offensive. During your childhood your were exposed time and again to situations where lying was acceptable, you may in fact have been punished for not lying at times. That leads back to the point I was trying to make in my original post. You must be cautious when teaching a child about lying, since lying is simply a part of our society.

> Wow, you are really good at being covertly insulting[…]

I really don't know what all the claims in your first paragraph are all about, though something else you say gives me the idea of an explanation for some of it.

> To start of, let's not ignore how you decided to omit the lie of omission from your point by point response to my post.

Genuine oversight.

> You are quick to dismiss my points as pseudo-philosophical[…]

Ah. This, maybe. But no, I'm afraid you've misunderstood and not in a way that I feel I'm equipped to address now without sacrificing brevity or comfort.

> Regarding your "hah, jk," will you honestly say that even in situations where it would be socially awkward or even unacceptable?

Although you might take some glee in putting those words in my mouth (and with some truly terrible material, at that), no.


There's more to be said for the rest of it, but my heart's not in it to counter at this point, especially since much of it would deal with addressing so many frivolities. Unfortunately, my inclination to do so is likely to come at a time when my ability to reply here is dead and the attention has moved elsewhere.

Do note that I'm not very excited at the prospects of giving the appearance of backing down.

> "Thank you for the food, it was very good... hah, jk, that was one of the most bland meals I have ever eaten"

Just awful.

> Ah. This, maybe. But no, I'm afraid you've misunderstood and not in a way that I feel I'm equipped to address now without sacrificing brevity or comfort.

Really now?

> In instances where I feel I have unintentionally caused someone to misunderstand (or really, been a shitty communicator), I'm obligated to correct and explain better.

How's this for putting words in your mouth? I have spent well over an hour writing a in depth analysis of your posts, describing my thought process, and theorizing on what I believe to be your thought process. At this point I am confident that I may flat out call you out on a lie perpetrated during this very discussion; you stated you are obligated to clear up any misunderstandings, and are now flat out refusing to do so due to "brevity and comfort." Clearly your so called obligations don't amount to much.

Oh, and perhaps you should learn to differentiate between "Asking a question" and "Putting words in my mouth." If I ask whether you will honestly consider something to be true, I'm looking for an insightful answer (Longer than one word usually), not suggesting that you do or do not. Instead, you are presenting a series of inconsistent, unsubstantiated claims, half formed thoughts, and backing all that up with an obvious disinterest in anything resembling an attempt at allowing me to understand you. After I gave you countless examples of various magnitudes you could use for counter-examples that is really quite rude.

In hindsight it should have been obvious since your original dismissive reply, but I was still holding on to the vain hope that as a poster on HN you would have slightly more dedication to communication than an average redditor. The idea that there is something to back down from really crystallizes the difference; you appear to think this is some argument which one of us could win, while I am trying my best to understand you and point out where I feel you are contradicting yourself or reality. Sure, I may be doing it in a rude fashion, but again, I do so in response to what I perceive to be a hostile tone, for reasons I described in my previous post.

In short, I don't care in the slightest whether you think you are backing down or not; I feel that this entire exchange was a complete waste on my part since you clearly had no interest in attempting to clear up any of the misunderstandings that obviously exist between us. Thank you for allowing both of us to waste our time, and I apologize for have participated in this farce of a discussion.

Just out of curiosity, Have you raised kids into adulthood (or at least late adolescence), or is this based on your understanding of how kids "should" be raised?

I have raised one child into late adolescence and one who's twelve, and I agree with the grandparent. My wife probably wouldn't.

But then, I've never had difficulty lying when it was convenient, so I'm probably not the best to ask.

Ah, I was waiting for this question. You can never escape a champion for the wisdom of the majority after all.

While I have not raised kids, I do not see why that should factor into the discussion. Your comment suggests that you are operating under the assumption that experience is the only thing that confers ability. However, you may have noticed at some point in your life that we are quite good at obtaining knowledge via the traditional means of learning from the archived experience of others. Arguably even better than learning by first hand experience, though that is up for debate. I have studied various aspects of (adult and child) psychology and sociology to satisfy my urge to understand humanity, and my thoughts on the matter are based on that gained knowledge.

While I agree that experience can lead to new insights, and can result in a more optimal utilization of your own knowledge, it is certainly not required to actually discuss a matter. Maybe the lack of practical experience would be more notable if I were trying to suggest some sort of novel ideas, but I am just stating something which has been seen time and again throughout the ages; what skills are necessary to be successful, and how to impart them to your offspring.

As you may imagine, I have spent some time trying to understand why some people raise their kids to be successful, and why others fail horribly at the act. It does not take spending 20 years to see a pattern of success or failure emerging with the application of certain techniques. So to more directly answer your question, my opinions based neither of my own experience, nor on my understanding of how kids "should" be raised. Instead, my views are based on the mass of information I have seen and read on the topic, and the trends that clearly exhibit themselves in that data.

Going further, I actually find that relying on any long term experience can at times make the results somewhat suspect. While experiencing something several times can help you understand it all the better, once you spent a better part of two decades practicing something you will almost certainly be convinced that you are doing everything correctly. To admit otherwise would be to admit your own failings which few people are willing to do, especially in an area as sensitive as child rearing. This leads to the surprisingly common situation wherein an "authority" who is trusted to make the right decisions acts contrary to the accepted scientific norms of the time. Take for example a grandmother that raised 8 children, and will expound for hours on the necessity of beatings to raising healthy and successful kids. I am sure most of the HN readers can think of a lot of other examples of this in a myriad of fields.

Obviously though, neither you, nor anyone else should make fundamental decisions regarding how to raise your child based on something some guy on the Internet said. A responsible parent should spent at least as much time as I have reading the material relevant to the topic in order to make informed decisions. What more, if it appears to a somewhat informed person that you have not done this basic work, they should, as I have with the GGP, point out the flaws in your reasoning without having to wade through comments disqualifying their opinion simply because they have not actually put what they have read into practice. If you have issues with what I said, then by all means please present them, and the supporting arguments, for me to discuss or concede as necessary, but do not for a second think that you can discount me from the discussion simply because I do not adhere to the strict experience requirements that you feel are necessary before even think about the topic.

Lying is self defence. Lying is camouflage. I taught my kids to lie, just like parents always have.

But I agree with you that the headline is melodramatic, incorrect and irrelevant to any meaningful discussion about Google or its services. Kid should have lied.

It seems reasonable to you that you need to be 13 or older to use email? To talk to his grandparents?

Not to use email but to be allowed to sign up for a general purpose email account like GMail without any kind of parental consent.

Continuing that line of logic -

Should < 13 year olds not be allowed to use 'general purpose' means of communication such as telephones or, god forbid, snail mail?

Personally, I don't think they should be able to create an account with Vonage or Verizon or whoever and sign up for telephone service, no. I have no problem with them using their parents' account(s), though.

I think the interesting aspect isn't so much whether they should be allowed to use these services but what kind of contract they should be allowed to enter with providers independently of their parents or guardians.

Communicating with other people is a fundamental part of being human. You don't take that away from people. It doesn't matter whether they're "ready" for it, it doesn't matter whether they're doing it appropriately. You make mistakes, deal with the consequences, fix them, and you learn. Developing communication skills is essential to growing up. I would go so far as to call it a human right.

Your say your children have friends; I assume you don't gag them when they're around each other, or when they go to school? Then they're communicating. They're being exposed to complex social hierarchies, news, rumors, fact, and fiction, and being forced to make judgement calls. It's the same people and the same information you're "protecting" them from by keeping them off social networking. They're going to get their feelings hurt. They might hurt somebody's feelings. They're going to do stupid things. That's life.

Parents absolutely have a right and a responsibility to provide guidance. But how does anybody learn any skill besides doing it poorly for a while? Did your parents keep you away from a keyboard until one day you were magically old enough to know how to type?

I may be a minority, but I believe experience > age.

Because "just lie" is the correct choice. Just because you're overprotective doesn't mean everyone should be.

No, "Just Lie" is not the correct choice.

The properly examined overprotective option is to use a service that doesn't require such age restrictions.

And I fail to see any situation where teaching a 9 year old that its sometimes ok to lie won't be incredibly confusing to the child: the child cannot differentiate between lieing here, and lieing about homework, or cheating on a test. Their brains can't do that yet. To tell them to lie here, but no where else, is confusing, and in an extension, is cruel.

While I disagree with the "just lie" approach here, I think saying "I fail to see any situation where teaching a 9 year old that its sometimes ok to lie won't be incredibly confusing to the child" is pretty silly. Kids are much, much better at compartmentalizing things than most people think they are. After all, we teach them to pretend early on, but they very quickly grasp the difference between pretend and reality. Teaching them to lie in one context won't cause them to grow up to be sociopaths.

The properly examined overprotective option is to use a service that doesn't require such age restrictions.

Any recommendations?

I'm surprised at all the histrionics going on in the article and this thread.

"Google ... plans to cut him off from his family until he's 13."

First, take a deep breath. Then, get another email address that you can control, and back it up. See if the grandparents still have copies of their correspondence for the kid to read. Use this as an opportunity to teach the importance of backing up data that is important to you, and why you can't trust free online services to always look out for you.

Currently I'm in India, and today witnessed children sifting through open piles of garbage and panhandling in the middle of traffic. So it's kind of maddening to then witness the stunning lack of perspective these parents demonstrate when their child is temporarily cut off from site update emails and using chat to talk to them while sitting in the same room.

Yes, I understand the data loss making a 10 year old "enormously upset", but if these seemingly technically-savvy parents didn't yet realize the necessity of owning and managing data that is important to the family, then I'd hope that point isn't lost. In the time spent to write a hysterical blog and more responses in the comments, a simple solution to ensure this did not happen again could have been implemented.

And i don't see the point for blaming Google, at all.

Am I the only person who thinks this is a great way to teach your son about civil disobedience? It's clear this law, while well intended, isn't meant to cover this specific situation. I would argue this type of civil disobedience is the first step in getting the law changed (in this case, to something more reasonable, or requiring that parental consent be available and expedient).

It's important for children to understand that laws aren't written in stone and that if they dislike a law they can work to change it. Feeling helpless and acting helpless isn't in the best interest of anyone's child or our children's generation as a whole.

I think it's a horrible way to teach about civil disobedience.

The point of civil disobedience is to get the law changed. By quietly lying about your age, you're doing the opposite, you're making it harder to get the law changed. Civil disobedience is about adding friction to the system as an incentive to change the law. By doing something nobody can notice you're adding grease.

It's not civil disobedience if nobody notices what you're doing. It's not civil disobedience if you aren't inconveniencing people in power.

By lying about your age, you're breaking the law purely for selfish benefit, which is not the lesson a parent wants to teach a child.

Sacrificing himself by following the law, and spreading the story widely as the author and his son have done will do much more to get the law changed.

Thank you for your comment. People seem to have no idea what civil disobedience is. In addition to the good points you made, I'd also like to point out a couple things: First, this is not civil disobedience, it's corporate disobedience. And second, people seem to have forgotten that civil disobedience entails putting your ass on the line, in the form of publicly and flagrantly breaking a law.

The point of civil disobedience is to appeal to people's consciences, to call out a wrong far greater than your law-breaking, and to willingly open yourself to prosecution in order to make that point. (That's why Anonymous isn't committing civil disobedience until they turn themselves in and allow themselves to be on trial in order to call attention to the unalloyed benefit to society they seem to think they're providing.)

I don't see how Google's disallowing ten year olds to have Gmail accounts is a wrong: it seems more like a simple business decision in the face of a law that's designed to keep companies from preying on ten year olds by inundating them with marketing.

We all know the poster's child is special, but for all of the kids who aren't the offspring of übermenshen, this is a fight that maybe's not worth fighting.

My youngest brother is eight. Far from being the offspring of ubermenshen, he suffers from a slew of learning disabilities inflicted on his brain by drug use during pregnancy.

My brother doesn't type fast, he doesn't know how to code python. He does immensely enjoy minecraft, and he does use google. Honestly, for him, the ability to find something using google, going through the immensely difficult task of correctly typing a search term and then parsing the search result is a massive achievement.

All that said, to suggest that he shouldn't be allowed his gmail account, given the immense amount of effort it took for him to learn to use it, is not something I'm willing to stomach.

Its part of the internet, and he is well and truly a member of the internet generation. Its something he should have every right to grow up immersed in.

That the internet is made of advertising is no reason to deny our children access.

Yes, my daughter is too young to use Google. I will probably break the TOS and allow her to use Google when it gets older. My point is that this isn't civil disobedience or corporate disobedience, this is just me breaking the TOS. I'm cool with that, but I'm not going to pretty it up and call it civil disobedience.

First, this is not civil disobedience, it's corporate disobedience.

Not really. The reason it seems fuzzy is that the modern US government likes to offload its regulations onto corporations and other entities. In the interest of "protecting" children, they subject online service providers to penalties for allowing children access. In turn, these services must restrict access by children in order to protect themselves from the government.

Thus, although the direct object of the action is Google -- a corporation -- it really is an act against the nanny state.

COPPA protects children from advertisers. Google makes all of its money through advertisements. It appears that the law is doing exactly what it should be doing.

Ten years old is a condition of birth, just like race or gender, and is therefore an unlawful basis for discrimination. Discrimination may only be done by behavioral test, such as the tests the FAA uses to determine if 10 year-olds should be allowed to pilot an airplane (yes, really).

"... the face of a law that's designed to keep companies from preying on ten year olds by inundating them with marketing."

Then why ban 13 year-olds but allow mentally retarded 14 year-olds? Because this law, like all based on condition of birth, is about domination and control for political ends.

"People seem to have no idea what civil disobedience is."

It is breaking a law because you were born free. You don't have to have an axe to grind.

Not every law is good, and just because something is written to law doesn't mean that you should blindly obey it. I think the grandparent post is right in that this is a nice way of illustrating that point.

However, I definitely see your point that quietly lying about his age is likely not the best way to get the law changed.

I agree with you that you not only have to break the law but publicly flaunt it. I think the blog post is a good first step in an overall plan, which may include the production of letters to members of congress, or other political persons (Judges?).

My point was that if you see something that is obviously wrong and it's caused by a well intended law you have a responsibility to do something. I admit I'm something of a freedom zealot so my view on what corporations and especially the government can restrict you from doing is broad in general, but clearly this is a good learning opportunity about what to do if you're faced with a "buggy program" (aka a law).

The law is meant to cover this specific situation. The FTC, enforcing COPPA, fined the social network Xanga $1,000,000 for allowing children under 13 to sign up without parental consent.[1] The law is specifically intended to prevent advertising agencies -- like Google -- from gathering information from children.

"Research ... showed that young children cannot understand the potential effects of revealing their personal information; neither can they distinguish between substantive material on websites and the advertisements surrounding it. While some parents tried to monitor their children's use of the Internet services, many of them failed due to lack of time, computer skills, or awareness of risk. ... 'a Los Angeles television station reported that it obtained a detailed computer printout of the ages and addresses of 5,500 children living in Pasadena simply by sending $277 to a Chicago database firm.'"[2]

[1] http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/14718350 [2] http://epic.org/privacy/kids/#introduction

Yeah, but that's just BS - even many adults fail to distinguish between ads and content. So should they fall under COPPA too?

You are exactly right, which is why adults are covered by OPPA (where the C, for Children, is removed): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Online_Privacy_Protection_Act

As in contract and rape law, people below an arbitrary cutoff age are presumed to be unable to give consent (or to even understand what "consent" means). Once beyond that age, the person is considered to be able to give consent, e.g. click "Agree" on a Terms/Conditions form or use a website with a very visible Privacy Policy link.

There is definitely an overlap area between < 13 year olds that are responsible and > 13 year olds that aren't responsible, but how can you tell who is who? Maybe 13 was a line in the sand to make the law practical.

Perhaps we should follow the example set by statutory rape laws: children of age x (where x<13) can only give their personal information to sites run by children whose age is within 24 months of x.

(Yes, I am joking.)

No, no. Stupid and ignorant adults are a wildly profitable resource for corporations, advertisers, and marketers. That's not exploitation; it's capitalism. But the children, they must be protected.

I'm mostly okay with the law covering this specific situation, but the law could reasonably be amended to allow for an easy way for parents to give consent - instead of companies just denying access based on an arbitrary age.

If they can require my bank to double up on the login confirmations, they can require services to provide a reasonable way to let parents give their consent.

what sort of civil disobedience are you suggesting? he doesn't really have a lot of options here.

the only lesson is see coming out of this, if they go the route you are suggesting, is that civil disobedience is futile.

First, subvert the law. Second, make it public (blog post is a good start). Third, start contacting your congressmen. Fourth, attempt to contact Google and indicate that you're getting ready to talk to reporters. Past that, I'm unsure. Can I ensure that any of this will change the law, no. But that's always true.

I think it's unfair that under 13s aren't allowed to use Gmail. But being able to use email, code in Python and use Powerpoint, doesn't mean he has the maturity to use social networking.

The internet is a cruel place, and hysteria about online predators aside, I think that the biggest risk to kids is from their own peer group. I recently encountered a fake profile on FB that was harassing high school kids, including a cousin, by spreading rumours about them. The rumours seemed silly to an adult, but the reactions of the victims on the perpetrator's wall were telling: begging, swearing, threatening (incidentally, Facebook's abuse system was pretty useless, I got the account killed because I figured out who the bully probably was, and dropped a few not-so-subtle-hints threatening to expose her). If teenagers are so distressed by online bullying, it would be worse for pre-teens.

I have sympathy for Alex and his parents, but I don't blame the law for blocking young children from accessing these services, especially social networking sites.

I disagree with you. I do not believe government regulations in these areas work. 13 is an arbitrary age. Bully happens even after age of 13.

It should be up to the parents to monitor and regulate their kids' internet access. Parents not government has the responsibility of their children's welfare.

Some kids can be a bit more mature at a younger age, some don't.

Like many prohibition laws, this one won't work.

The issue is not with blocking access to Google+, it is with the (impending) deletion of his ~2 years worth of emails. I don't believe you need to be 13 years old to use email, I know I was using it at around Alex's age.

True, however, I think google can't do anything about it because of its TOS.

I agree completely, as a teenager myself despite wanting to stay away from such petty, defaming conversations, you eventually get hauled in, either because one of your friends starts believing them in which case you're social life is at stake, or because any new acquaintances will be sorely misled by those comments.

I think he learned a valuable lesson about how to use the Internet: lie about everything.

About law, actually. If a law is stupid and was only made to get some politicians re-elected by a histerical crowd, then... you pay the consequences.

COPPA is pretty reasonable, the idea is that the online personal data of young children should be treated with extra protections and permissions.

That may be the idea, but in practice young children are just officially banned from everything because dealing with the law is too expensive and/or risky.

It is not only a matter of law but also a matter of law enforcement.

yes, using the "intenet"

And those parents seem to be beyond repair. They should be experienced enough about life to not teach their son useless ivory-tower ethis like "dont lie". He will find out about the power of lying sooner or later himself, and every year he tries to abide by their logic, he will be hurt, lied to and deceived by others who have mastered it before him. Depending on how much damage they cause by such a nonsensical upbringing, he might end up hating them later. By telling him to be the only one not to lie, they are basically lying to him about how the "real world" works.

You don't have to lack ethics yourself to be unphased by others' lack of them. I don't know if you're just trolling or something but I think this needs to be addressed either way. Dishonesty has the distinct disadvantage of leaving you with the need to maintain a fabrication; honesty has the huge advantage of meaning you have nothing to hide. If you slip up your reputation is tarnished and even if you don't you have to actually maintain the lie. If you really believe the best way through life is to lie your way through it then I really pity you.

Sometimes lying is necessary though. In this case for instance, while the real solution would be to have Google's policy and the law changed, it's unlikely that's going to happen for a ten year-old kid. My parents have always told me to "pick your battles", and I think this is a clear example of a battle that's easier won by lying.

Morality aside: maintaining a fabrication is also not difficult for some people. You just need to make sure to think your lies through, and maintain two levels of backup explanations in case someone does poke their way through. Weaving details through primary and backup explanations can be difficult, but that's where practice comes in.

To be fair, nobody will ever raise a normal child who does not lie. It's an adaptive behavior brought about in most children by the age of three, but some studies indicate that it develops earlier in more intelligent children[1].

That's not to say that teaching kids that "lying is bad" isn't a noble goal, but you're going to have a really tough time convincing them when they can clearly see the benefits of it in their daily life (an extra cookie when Mom's out of the room, No detention because the dog ate their homework).

Perhaps a more realistic goal is to channel their learning into teaching the difference between lies.

But I think the whole argument is a bit of a "Red Herring" or is mostly irrelevant. The whole argument reeks of flame-war induced fallacies.

I figure that something happened like the following.

    - Google enforces mail policies.
    - kid cries.
    - parents broken hearted, outraged, determined to share outrage
    - article posted, misleading, overly emotional linkbait headline included
    - internet response: "who cares, just lie"
    - parent, embarrassed, defensive & still outraged, formulates weak knee-jerk rebuttal.
    - internet response: "flame on"
The parents are IMO wrong, they may or may not also think they're wrong, but are having trouble publicly backing down from the mostly-stupid position that they took, and continue to argue for the sake of arguing.

Or they actually believe it. Which is a bit stupid, but hey, stupid people exist too. I don't think they're dumb, just caught up in the emotions that stir whenever you witness your own child crying.

[1] http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2008/02/11/why-do-kids...


Agreed. There's a time and a place for everything and white lies make the world go round when used wisely.

However, I think you were voted down because it's difficult to find the line between a child making wise judgments within context and assuming they can lie in every scenario for their own benefit. That's a tricky one to walk, so it's better to play it safe until you're dead sure they can rationalize about the "real world." This is likely to be higher than age 10 for many kids.

The kid is ten...

You clearly don't have children.

That's a pretty clear example of an ad hominem argument. Whether he has kids or not has no bearing on the points of his argument.

If his argument had had points, I'd agree. It's just that it wasn't an argument - it was a screed that the parents should have known better and are entirely at fault, and I reject his standing, as he clearly has no idea what he's talking about.

Why is that parents can't give consent to their young (<13y/o) child using Google account?

Parent logs into his/her account, parent creates kid's account, parent states real age (10 years), parent expresses consent, child uses the new account. Is it that complex?

Why is that parents can't give consent to their young (<13y/o) child using Google account?

Because then when <insert bad thing> happens on the internet, the service provider gets blamed, even if the parent obviously should have been watching their child.

I created a Google Apps account for the family, and simply created sub accounts for my kids. No terms of use anywhere in sight when creating the accounts for the kids. So that basically does what you want.

(Google Apps doesn't work with Google+ yet, but that will surely be fixed)

That's not true. There is a terms of service page upon the first login to gmail for any google apps for your domain account. Each user must accept.

I can't remember seeing that but I trust you're right. I access all accounts through IMAP so I wouldn't have run into them.

> Parent logs into his/her account, parent creates kid's account, parent states real age (10 years), parent expresses consent,

How do you prove that it's the kids parent thats giving this permission and not a random adult the kid asked to pretend being his parent?

> Why is that parents can't give consent to their young (<13y/o) child using Google account?

Because the parents probably have to provide written proof and it costs Google money to process such non-automated requests. You basically have millions of children below the age of 13. If everybody wanted to sign up their kids, Google would have to hire people to do nothing else than to just process the written or faxed permissions. Its way easier and cheaper to just exclude pre-13s from the service.

> How do you prove that it's the kids parent thats giving this permission and not a random adult the kid asked to pretend being his parent?

In the same way they "know" the kid is 13 because he happened to select that from a pop-up menu somewhere.

That is to say, why should that proof require rigor that doesn't exist in the original html form that got him into this mess in the first place?

So if I fat-finger my birthday when setting up google+ I'm going to have my gmail shut down until I can somehow prove to them I just messed up?


How does every other freaking kids' site do this? You're telling me Google is incapable of figuring that out?

The only evidence they have he's less than 13 is his honest answer to their question. The only evidence the law holds them to is billing the parents a dollar, or really, just the assertion that they're an adult. Microsoft manages this for their online properties. Why can't Google? Because Google doesn't care to.

> How does every other freaking kids' site do this?

They generally get fined.

Here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Children%27s_Online_Privacy_Pro...

This is the law.

How do you prove that a user enters the real date of birth when creating an account?

You don't, but the chain of responsibility is short. You gave a fake age, that is against the rules, your account is suspended for that plus being underage in the first place.

Managing and auditing a longer chain of responsibility, and setting up the rules for what happens if something in the chain becomes known to have been false, can be a royal pain both technically and legally (particularly when you consider that different countries have widely varying laws regarding who can be responsible for what, what rights there are to start with and what you can sign away, and so forth). The complications can multiply up very quickly once are considering more than one entity (the one that sets up the account and is claiming to be doing so truthfully), and once you allow chains like that you could have a chain of many people who each vouched for each other and each could be fake in some way.

Even better: parent proves with credit/debit card that child is 18+.

COPPA gives an (easy?) way out - the parents just have to fax in their consent for their underage son to use their service. There is no law stopping the kid, Google probably just doesn't want to be inundated with such requests.

Fax? Easy? So now you need to go through some pointless, antiquated charade just to indicate that you consent to let your kids use the service? It would cost far more to have someone looking at the faxes and correlating them with the appropriate accounts than they gain by allowing minors to use their site. Google is not a charity; COPPA has made it far to expensive to bother keeping profiles for minors, so they just ban it, like just about every other significant online service.

The relevant information could easily be OCRed from the faxes (even more if they provide a standard form), only requiring a one click human validation.

It isn't that easy, and even with permission it might not be legal or appropriate for children to use some Google + services.

Yeah, Google's pretty much required to do this by US law though (the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act) - I'll leave the "think of the children" jokes to other folks.

But COPPA is a US law. There's no reason to enforce it on a kid who lives near Amsterdam.

Their servers are in the U.S. COPPA applies to the types of data Google stores, namely children's personal information.

Google's already giving you a free service. Why should Google go through all that paperwork because you didn't read or comply with their Terms of Service? These people need to suck it up and find another way for their kid to talk to his grandparents.

The main complaint of the article is that most social networks have US-centric TOS. It's not just about finding a different provider, it's that they might not be able to find a social network that doesn't enforce COPPA internationally.

Given that the data is probably stored in the US, COPPA would probably apply to any data collected outside of the US.

Actually COPPA only applies to subjects who live in the U.S., so his point is a fair one. Even so, according to Wikipedia it requires a large amount of paperwork. Although I agree developers have a responsibility to be aware of this, I think these parents have a greater responsibility not to pass this attitude on to the next generation.

The law applies to entities with any commercial presence in the US collecting any personal information from children. It makes no distinction where the children are located or where the data is stored.


COPPA is a US law that applies to US corporations. It's not enforced on the child, it's enforced on Google. The nationality and location of the child is irrelevant (legally).

I hate to be that guy that links to xkcd comics, but here it goes anyway: http://xkcd.com/743/

Google is under no obligation to allow 13-year-olds on their service anyway, and I'm sure the age limit comes from legal restrictions, not just ageism on Google's part.

Fortunately, e-mail is already an open protocol, and you can get a working e-mail address anywhere. I understand the attraction of Gmail (it's free, user-friendly and offers a lot of storage) but it comes with some conditions; that's part of the deal.

I will agree that children under 13 are perfectly capable of using email safely with adult supervision.

However, the circumstances involved show why 13 years of age may be considered a reasonable minimum age for using Google's services, because the incident which sparked the account being locked was a 10 year old signing up for a social network designed with the assumption that its users would be capable of make sophisticated decisions regarding privacy and be reasonably able to detect ill intent or predatory behavior in an online environment.

While I can understand that the motives which led to the creation of the original email account were based on sound parenting and offered clear benefits for a child, it is hard to imagine sound rationales for giving a 10 year old unfettered access to a social network.

From email to social network there is a quantum leap in the level of sophistication required to safely navigate the service and I see Google's stance as not only justified but reasonable. The argument that it is ok to lie about one's age breaks pretty quickly - very few people are comfortable with 12 year old girls telling grown men they are 18.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but the under 13 law (in US and some other places, or "policy" rather than law for Google internationally) is only without a guardian's permission, so if a letter was written on behalf of him, they would reactivate it?

Well, certainly that's the case with the law - as to Google policy, that's where you should correct me if I'm wrong.

Edit, on a side note, if the author is the poster here (or reads HN either way): I really like your writing. The story itself normally wouldn't make me care a huge amount (a short version is "a ten year old can't use a 13 and over service"), but I actually found myself really empathising and feeling upset on his behalf.

> so if a letter was written on behalf of him, they would reactivate it?

Question is: written to whom? What is the channel for that?

There seems to be none. No way to explain and no recourse. And that's why we can't have nice things.

You can have free email because Google doesn't have to pay people to manually process and evaluate these kinds of requests. Ignorant, self-serving politicians and their sheepish, easily manipulated constituents are the reason we can't have nice things.

Last I remember, they required the parent's permission in the form of a fax or some other annoying format, so many sites just didn't bother accepting permission and banned under-13 users.

This was 4-5 years ago, though. I pretty much got used to lying about my age everywhere (every PHPBB forum had the same age-confirmation form before the registration process, for example), and I guess this kid probably will too. It'll be annoying for him when he actually does turn 13 and has to figure out how to change his DOB on sites (a lot of which don't let you).

Valuable lessons to teach about backups and maybe not putting data into the cloud that can be local.

My 2012 project is going to be to quit gmail somehow and get back to imap with local storage.

Why not buy the kid his own domain name and teach him how to set it up and use a local email program (Thunderbird?)

While that might be the answer for you, it's not a usable solution for me and I guess for most people. Having my mail available from everywhere is an important feature. I guess I could set up my own webmail, but I'll be hard pressed to find something that matches the quality of gmail. Oh well, it's not like RMS didn't warn us ...

You make a good point, but I wonder how quickly a suitable solution would evolve if we could kill the momentum of services like Google Mail a bit.

The tools to do local mail hosting, IMAP, webmail, etc. all exist. From personal experience, configuring them is a pain in the backside if you're not an experienced sysadmin, which of course includes almost everyone. If that could be overcome, the tech is there.

As for hosting, there are various blog platforms where you have a choice between hosting the code yourself, either on your own machine or on a system included with your personal ISP account, or using a site such as wordpress.com where they do the maintenance and in some cases charge money for extras but the software and data formats are basically the same. I see no reason a similar model couldn't work for e-mail, and if a particular e-mail platform started to take off, there is no reason for ISPs not to support it locally; most of them have always offered some sort of included e-mail mailbox and webmail facility anyway, just not of the calibre of Google Mail and not necessarily easily compatible with other systems.

Basically, I think the problems with a better solution that doesn't leave you at the mercy of a big organisation like Google are genuine but not insurmountable. It's more about usability and standardisation/interoperability than about technical issues.

Try imap for email from everywhere with http://roundcube.net/ for self-hosted webmail.

Who gives their real DOB when registering for a website? I've been using January 1st, 1975 as my birthday ever since I started using the internet.

Right. We're talking about a social network here, where other people are interacting with you based on the data you entered. Sure, you can fake your birthday (and interests, gender etc..), but if you do this you're either not grasping the idea of these social networks or you're creating one of these 'I'm just in to snoop on people I know' account.

So I certainly think it makes sense to give out real data, iff you plan to use the service as intended.

That said, the bigger problem is that Google happily accepted his date of birth in Google+, added it to the Google account and afterwards locked him out of every Google service. That's crap. And it just proves once more how Google aggregates all the data about you. If I fill in an innocent field on a 'fun' service, should it really have consequences for (or even be connected to) my main online identity?

I can't speak on how social media is supposed to be used (since I don't even have a facebook account), but wouldn't the kid mostly be in contact with people who know him or her outside of the computer (such as friends and family), making the "displayed age" (you can turn the display off, right?) useless? Faking a birthday seems pretty harmless and I don't see how it would hinder your experience on anything unless you enter the wrong age that gets you banned like this instance. When I was in my early teens I role played on a game and met a lot of people there I'm still in contact with, I interacted with 20+ year olds when I was 13 and there were a few younger people too.

Of course, I didn't fake my interests/gender/etc. but I've never been in the habit of storing age/location info with a private service; it's available publicly anyway, but you have to use inductive reasoning to link the data. If you want people to know your birthday, I don't see why you can't just tell them in person or email or whatever and leave the "official" fake birthday what it is.

I don't know about you, but the only way I know anyone's birthday outside of my immediate family and girlfriend is via Facebook.

This could be fixed by using the correct date but putting an earlier year.

My Facebook "friends" don't need to know my birthday if I haven't told them. And I don't give a rat's ass about them wishing me happy birthday on there either.

> That said, the bigger problem is that Google happily accepted his date of birth in Google+, added it to the Google account and afterwards locked him out of every Google service.

Well said, I think the most worrying part is that google didn't even warn us it was going to use this information across all its services, this is the first time I'm actually disappointed by google.

Now if you can just tell me the name of your first pet, we're good to go...

    I've been using January 1st, 1975 as my birthday ever 
    since I started using the internet
Oh, lots of times I use the current year just for fun.

Do not ever do this with outlook.com. A college I do work for setup student e-mail through outlook.com (the edu services were pretty good). One of the students put the current year her birthday. The admin account for the domain then became her "parent" and had to approve all e-mails. To fix this requires calling customer support and getting bitched out by someone from another country (I am not kidding). It was very frustrating.

Some marketing site, somewhere, is trying to sell to the wrong age group because of this :)

I press page down a few times when I tab to the year field myself!

No worries, I'm blocking all the ads too, so it makes no difference ;)

I like to use start of epoch - 1970-01-01

Great idea!

This also surely means that the Dear Sophie video shouldn't be possible, as the kid, having just been born is thus under 13.

Link for those who don't know what I'm on about: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R4vkVHijdQk

This is why I'm going to setup my own mail server. I don't want to wake up some days and find out that all my emails where deleted or locked because of any stupid or not stupid reason. Emails are quite important. They hold very important/confidential information. Your email is also the key to remember forgotten passwords, your conversations with clients, and many other things.

I have purchased the cheapest Linode VPS for this particular reason. I tried Live Mail (the Windows Application) with IMAP and it's really cool. The editor is also better than the Gmail one. I'll miss some features, but it's okay.

Seriously, if you don't want to get hurt, get a VPS or a dedicated. It's not expensive. You host your emails, websites, repositories and everything. You do scheduled backups to Amazon S3 and you are just fine.

I'm going to write about how awesome a dedicated server is, once I complete setting up my server and create my blog.

If you give a niece or nephew an account on your mailserver, you may need to get parental permission from your sibling to maintain COPPA compliance. :)

P.S. - Verbal authorization won't do! The permission has to be given in the form of a fax, credit card number, digitally signed email, or via a toll-free telephone number.

the irony in saying "man the cloud sucks, I'm going to run my own servers on the cloud and also backup data from that server onto the cloud" is delicious

That might be a little on the difficult side for a 10-year-old to set up.

Yes. Unless his father did it for him, this needs lot of technical knowledge. However, I'm targeting the HN audience with my comment.

Google recently ran the "Dear Sophie" commercial. The core theme of the commercial is against Google's ToS.

TechCrunch article on the same along with Google's BS response: http://techcrunch.com/2011/05/09/attention-dear-sophie-inspi...

Interestingly, I've just taken a look at the gmail signup process, and the birthdate field appears when I select location "US" but not when you select "UK"

I'm sure I remember seeing an google advert recently (in the UK) where a father sends emails to his child over several years for the child to receive when they're old enough to use email - and I'm sure the child's email was a gmail account (I may be mistaken, though).

Aa ha- petewailes (above) just posted a link to the advert I remember seeing: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2726225

This is most likely an automated trigger that blocked & scheduled for deletion that account. Even for a company as big as Google it's impossible to have these type of things reviewed by humans. What I do hope is that they'll create a channel for complaints if the user should want to. What I don't understand is the way the parent behaves. He knows he's in the wrong and he still feels outraged because Google blocked the e-mail. Even though nobody reads the ToS it doesn't mean that they are moot. Google didn't make his son cry, his father did.

IANAL, but the TOS is probably moot in the country where he is from (the Netherlands), so he is not in the wrong. Dutch law has several requirements for a TOS to be valid and simply clicking "I agree" is not enough.

But isn't Google subject to American laws, being an American based company? I'm just asking, I don't have experience in these type of legal matters, but it seems to me that they are supposed to do that.

The Netherlands will say it's subject to the Netherlands' laws, and the US will say it's subject to US law. What actually gets enforced is a matter of diplomacy.

I think a lot of people are missing a more important discussion. Should Google be allowed to cross-check a customer's data across all their services? Think about it. If you or your company uses Google Apps, you have Gmail, Youtube, adSense, Ad Mob, and accounts on a bunch of other services that got bought, they know what you search for, and now they even have an approximation of your social graph with Google+ (although it's not much different from your Google contacts).

Banks are regulated by laws that restrict certain arms of their businesses from collaborating too closely (particularly sharing financial information) and I don't think Google should be any different). Was it ok for Google to associate the information entered in a Google profile to shut down his child's email?

The problem with this system is that honest people are penalized and liars are not punished. Regardless of how this man handles the situation, that is not something I would like to face as a parent, to have my child punished for being honest and having to choose between social justice through lying (the child clearly has parent supervision and approval) and letting the child become embittered for losing a significant part of their digital identity (I'd recommend using offlineimap next time though).

Can he not request his mail over POP3 or IMAP and store it locally? Or is his login terminally locked?

What an appalling user experience—and on so many levels. It should have at least warned him that by setting his age he was in violation of the TOS.

This is actually my first thought too, but apparently it's completely locked out. See:


What's the big deal? Google is required by law to do that. Enter a fake birth date.

The fact is, he didn't need to enter a birth date. GMail didn't ask for one. Youtube did. So he only had a GMail account.

He joined Google+ and _could_ optionally add a day of birth, because - well. You want your friends in a social network to post 'All the best' or whatever. So he provided this option freely, to share it with his circles of friends.

Not to link it to his main online identity. I don't think that it is obvious that there's a neat 'Hah! Another one entered his DOB in Google+ and is < 13, let's shut him out' trigger.

And here we have illustration #447 of why people who aren't database administrators neither need nor want universal identity. Gmail did not have to know this kid was a kid. But it spied on his social network and now it knows.

A human exhibiting this same behavior - peeking in his or her customers' windows to see if they're technically violating terms of service in their private lives - would have been called a nosy busybody.

This is a major reason to avoid Google services. They are learning to better simulate a company that cares about privacy, but it's all still Big Brother at the back end.

That's the most cogent point I've seen in this entire debate.

Except it blames Google for being Big Brother instead of blaming Congress for forcing Google to be Big Brother on behalf of the Government.

Well. True. But as I've said elsewhere in the thread, Microsoft seems capable of handling COPPA just fine with minimal bother, and Google really doesn't give a shit if you're left without recourse.

The big deal is that the current account is locked with the data inaccessible. It requires proof of age to unlock.

Actually, Google could follow what the law allows -- which is parents giving consent for a younger child -- but they don't.

Also, they operate with this age requirement even for people who don't live in and have never been to the country where this law exists.

This got me thinking. Are there an equivalent of streetsmart on the web - "websmart"? I can't see trace of it in this kids parents or the kid himself. Isn't this sort of useless restriction the first thing you learn to circumvent when you enter the web? It's a web page/service for god sake, not a life threatening mechanical contraption that might chop your head of if used improperly.

Puzzle Pirates handles this better by freezing the game account until the user reaches the estimate legal age.

Avoids COPPA hassles and issues with deletion.

They are still violating COPPA. They can't knowingly store child's information without parental permission.

Note: I worked on this issue for a Fortune 100 company when COPPA was passed.

I hope the googlers who browse here will be able to sort out a special mail-log as a parting gift

I hope the googlers here will stop the "impending doom of deletion" or delay it, so he has enough time to sort this out.

I hope the googlers here will enable G+ for me instead of giving it to 10 year olds. I have grown up for nothing.

He forgot to teach his kid important lesson.

On the internet you can and should lie, cheat and steal, just don't harm real people.

I'm surprised at how many people in this thread are focusing on the "Google locked the account" as the bad part of this. The clear fuck-up on Google's part is rather that they didn't provide any avenue for Alex's parents to accept the contract on his behalf.

Nobody would be complaining (other than the usual light grumbling) if the lockout message had been something like this: "Parent permission required! Our records show that you are not yet 13, so we have blocked access to your account. To restore access: If you are at least 13, click here to send proof of that. If you are under 13, have a parent or guardian click here to link your account to theirs and accept the terms of service on your behalf."

What would be really awesome of Google to do then is, if they do lock an account out due to an age-based TOS violation, still provide access to Google Takeout (and add Gmail to the supported services list) so the kid could at least easily get his data back.

IANAL, so I don't know if he technically would not be allowed to access Google Takeout either via the TOS, but if Google's lawyers could incorporate an exception of some sort for age-based violations, then this would at least be a super nice thing for them to do.

Well, when you live inside of a walled garden the proprietor can kick you, or your son, off the grass for any ephemeral or arbitrary reason they happen to have just thought of.

It boggles the mind that this was actually implemented. Some poor schmuck had to sit there and write the code to delete little kid's emails.

A scary thing is, if I signed up for Google+ and accidentally chose 2000 as my birth year, my Google account would have been locked. That includes Gmail, Google Apps, Google Code and probably Android. I guess making phone calls would still work, but who knows in a future when we all use IP telephony.

On the internet, I was born in 1901.

I was expecting that the child searched some odd word combination that is some horrible (yet brilliant) internet meme like rule 34 or jailbait. This is comparatively boring, COPPA faxes?

I have been playing with computers ever since I remember. My first CPU was 8 bit. At that point I was 7. I have not stopped my obsession with it. In the meantime, before I reached 18, I had disregarded laws that will not allow me to access sites.

I have not paid much attention to these laws. Thinking back, though, I think I should not have been spending too much time playing around on computers, but enjoying playing outside.

Is it a TOS violation for someone else to use your account? Adult signs up, kid uses account. Seemingly all perfectly legal, right?

Should have gotten him his own domain name (through someone other than google) and used backupify to back up his email. Then when google decides to shut you down, you still own your identity, and your data. Actually this applies for everybody, under or over 13.

Or used any other method to back-up your personal data...

I wonder if Google was headquartered in Utah, where the number of engineers with kids would undoubtably be MUCH higher, if this would be a solved problem already. The law certainly has ways of letting under 13 onto the web, just ask Disney.

It's a sensational story about the required 13 years of age to use the services.

He could take that as a challenge and learn to buy his own domain, build his own site, install his own webmail system. That way he will never have to worry about a cloud service shutting him down.

if lulz security ever takes down another organization please let it be google. They need to learn that taking people's data is not something individuals will take lightly, nor should it be included in a bloody ToS. Nor should there be any reason why the boy's parents couldn't sign off on the contract as his legal guardians on the internet, as they are in real life. Google does not need to keep a 10 year old's email's to his grandparents because of a ToS breach. big impersonal corporations FTL.

Just a suggestion, pretty sure it won't work, but has the author tried downloading the messages using IMAP or POP?

Other than that, it really does suck but it's not a quick or easy fix.

Sheesh, teach him about appropriate times to lie, already. You shouldn't tell anyone on the internet you're under eighteen unless you're signing up for summer camp.

The author made a followup post here:


This is what it says:

"Hey ho. Commenting here because I feel chased out of my own blog. I'm trying to figure out if I want to write a follow-up blog post, and if so, what I would write in it. More importantly, who would I be writing it for? There may be some catharsis for me in writing a response, but it would also involve me stewing in asshat soup for even longer while I composed it.

The main thing I would want to clarify is that the technical problems are not actually the heart of the matter for me. Being responsible parents, we set Alex's email up in such a way that we get copies of all his incoming messages. We can probably reconstruct large chunks of his correspondence to date. I'm not even sure if Alex thinks of email as a long-term thing, though. He archives messages, but I don't know if he considers them anything other than ephemeral.

Secondly, we can set him up with a new email account somewhere else. No problem. Offline, IMAP, webmail, whatever. That's easy. (Although I would very much prefer not to have to run my own email server, in the same way that I prefer not to fix the engine of my own car.) Alternatively, we can just do what everyone else does, and simply lie. It wouldn't be the first time, and it won't be the last. (#include relevant discussions of "legal" vs. "moral".)

What really made me angry was the emotional harm. I don't like using that phrase, because for me it brings to mind stereotypical unreasonable lawsuits, but that's what it is. An authority figure in Alex's life turned round and damn near bit his hand off, when Alex thought he was following that figure's instructions. It feels like a violation of trust. No matter whether we get his old email back, the original violation remains. Hence the title of my post: Google made my son cry. When you hurt my kid, I get angry.

I completely understand that Google's hands are tied because of COPPA. As soon as they knew that Alex was younger than 13, they had to act, and they can't "un-know" that information. My instinct says that this is an unintended consequence, though. I find it hard to imagine that "weeding out underage Gmail users" was listed as a goal on the G+ rollout plan.

What would make me happy, as a parent (first of all) and as an interaction designer (because I find it hard to leave the professional side behind)? What would make this right?

* If 13 is the hard age limit for using Gmail, Google should ask for your age when you sign up for a Gmail account. That way, you know in advance you're going to have to lie, rather than having the truth come up and bite you in the ass two years later.

* Instead of the harsh, default TOS violation message, a sympathetic and apologetic error message tuned for the specific circumstance of discovering that you are too young to use the service. Think about it. In this specific case, what do you know about the user? You know that they're a child. Design for this. Error messages are bad enough for grown-ups; they're double-bad for kids.

* The option to retrieve Alex's old email, instead of just discarding it.

* The option for us to give parental consent for Alex to have a Gmail account. I love Gmail. I would much rather Alex had a Gmail account than that we have to arse about with Thunderbird and our own IMAP server.

* Even if there is nothing they can do, an apology would be nice. Just because they're legally in the right, doesn't mean that they feel good about it. Show this."

Great headline, total non-story. It'll be interesting to see how high this one goes on HN...

In Brazil every kid knows how to lie the date of birth in order to create an Orkut account.

Minors: the last minority it's still okay (and legally mandated) to discriminate against.

I was 10 when COPPA first came into effect, but even before that I never put my actual age/birthday into accounts I registered, and if it was an email service that required an "actual" name from me, I always used some silly pseudonym. All this so I could play Scrabble, chess, and Battlefield with strangers on various websites, email my fourth grade teacher, make a Homestead chatroom, and tell the internet how much I loved SpongeBob SquarePants. Until I turned 13, I never batted an eyelash about lying about my age on the internet -- it was simply something I thought I was expected to do, not because I thought the government wanted to keep me off the internet (which they did, but my parents didn't, so whatever), but because if everybody at least pretended to be over 13, then those under 13 might be safer. My offline and online identities didn't merge until I was 17 or 18...at about the time Facebook started picking up speed.

Now, I don't think that's the right mentality to have, and it's based on false logic since being a teen still makes you prey on the internet, but it's the mentality that was imbued in me as a person who started using the internet pre-COPPA restrictions and, more importantly, pre-Facebook -- in an age when people weren't EXPECTED to have their offline identities connected to their online ones. Especially children.

His parents obviously knew about COPPA restrictions due to the YouTube account business, although I'm still confused as to why he wasn't asked for his age/birthdate on the Gmail registration page. No, their son shouldn't have put his age into Google+, especially if he already know that he couldn't use it to create a YouTube account; yes, Google should at least allow data export for the account (although they are by no means obligated to) and/or provide a streamlined process for parents to authorize the accounts of any users under 13. I remember GameFAQs reacted to COPPA by locking the account of any user under 13 until their 13th birthday -- this would be more reasonable to me, but it sounds like the personal data storage issue gets in the way of that.

Anyway, to me, the more interesting thing is that this post made me realize that I came "of age" (i.e., reached a point where I would be considered something of an adult rather than a complete child) at the same time the internet identity paradigm shifted from relative anonymity and "alter egos" to something much more closely interconnected to a person's real life. And so I wonder: if Alex had been born in 1991 rather than 2001, would this have happened with the theoretical Hotmail account he might have had? No, I think, because once upon a time, it was pretty much expected that a person would not be who they said they were on the internet -- and that was absolutely fine. And even moreso, back in the days when you COULD be a child on the internet, I don't think most children wanted to be known AS CHILDREN. Because seriously, who the heck wants to play Scrabble with an 8-year-old kid?

So, I guess as a kid who grew up before social networking became big, I still think kids are better off lying about their ages anyway. Those who know them in real life will understand that they're circumventing COPPA, and those who don't will possibly be less prone to being creepy/condescending/what-have-you. While I'm sure that this can be interpreted as victim blaming and everybody should have a right to feel safe on the internet while using their true identity, COPPA serves as something as an arbitrary age of consent, since 10-year-olds could unwittingly provide information that gets them kidnapped, just as 15-year-olds can unwittingly make babies. But if you're a 10-year-old who's mature enough to be conscious about privacy, or a 15-year-old who's mature enough to know about safe sex and birth control, then have at it, I say. The system is there to protect, but if you're not in need of the system's protection, then go ahead and circumvent it.

tldr, sorry your son cried, but it would have been easy enough to prevent, and pretty much the expected thing to do during the pre-social networking era.

First World Problems

backups, backups,backups...

he could start writing the book:

learn backups the hard way

this is one of the reasons you never enter real data into online services

Am I an asshole if my first thought was "that's what you get by putting your data in the cloud" ?

Your son joined a service he wasn't supposed to, then joined an adjacent service that still requires an invite and that triggered a mechanism that kicked him out and he gets upset, you evidently don't think it's your fault for not reading the TOS and not being familiar with the american COPPA law and you think it's Google's fault.

Congratulations on proving that link-baiting works very well even on HN.

Why would anyone living in the Netherlands know or care about COPPA? And why would Google enforce COPPA compliance internationally? That seems like a waste of resources, not to mention limiting their audience.

why would Google enforce COPPA compliance internationally?

Because it's Google (an American company) who have to comply with COPPA and not some children (of any nationality).

It seems like it would use more resources to tailor their service to every country's laws and keep it up to date.

The most efficient (least resources) route of compliance is to add a 13 or older checkbox, and disable anyone who doesn't check it.

Yes, COPPA law is very clear and strong, and it would be a criminal act for Google to knowingly host a child's content.

The parental permissions required to host children's information are way too costly for mainstream internet services, and even with permission it might not be legal for Google to do some types of marketing towards children.

Fighting for the right of Chinese - good.

Fighting for the rights of minors - evil.

Well, this isn't exactly the same thing. Moving out of China was simply a case of turning off the servers there. Should Google try and set itself up in the Cayman Islands?

Considering the very large stick Google got beat with in regards to Buzz, I do not think that they are particularly interested in lobbying Capitol Hill for a change. In fact, both they and Apple sat out a congressional hearing on COPPA [1], although I couldn't find the cause. I would expect apathy to the process, as I would think Google would love to be able to sign up more users.

[1] http://thehill.com/blogs/hillicon-valley/technology/95067-la...

Google and Apple, frankly seemed indifferent. MS and Facebook both came and basically said that COPPA goes too far, and self-regulation would largely handle the issue (with some exceptions).

With that said, I wonder if one could make the case that COPPA is unconstitutional. Hear me out:

In the recent video game ruling SCOTUS has said that computer programs (video games) are a form of free speech. And they further said that conveying that free speech to minors w/o parental consent is protected.

So web services too are computer programs, and therefore free speech. And like violently deviant video games the ability to convey this speech to minors w/o parental consent is also protected.

COPPA overturned! :-)

IANAL, but there may be a case there. Unfortunately, nobody with deep enough pockets really loses by not allowing 12 and under in. If nobody is really losing money, nobody is going to spend the money to get to the SCOTUS.

Alternatively, Disney has managed to allow my under 13 kids in without any problems. All it took was my email address. Google could, too, if they cared.

Are you saying you read every TOS you agree to?

I tend to when my children are involved.

So you'd forbid your 12 year old from using Google to do searches?

The law isn't about using the internet, it's about creating accounts and profiles. The Khan Academy has had some trouble with this. Kids can watch the videos and do the exercises, but if they want to record their progress, they start walking a very fine line.

You don't have to be 13 to search Google as an anonymous visitor.. you'll notice that their TOS is at http://www.google.com/accounts/TOS under "accounts", if you don't make an account it's irrelevant - hence anyone can visit the Google homepage and search for something without being told that, by doing that, they are agreeing to anything.

At the very least its not clear. Let me give my evidence as to why the TOS applies to search:

1) While, as you note, the TOS URL contains "accounts", it is accessible in two clicks from Google.com. Simply click the "About" link and the TOS is on the About Google page. It's on a page that has nothing to do with accounts per se, but is the high-level page about the Google company and services.

2) Here's is the first paragraph in the TOS: Your use of Google’s products, software, services and web sites (referred to collectively as the “Services” in this document and excluding any services provided to you by Google under a separate written agreement) is subject to the terms of a legal agreement between you and Google. “Google” means Google Inc., whose principal place of business is at 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway, Mountain View, CA 94043, United States. This document explains how the agreement is made up, and sets out some of the terms of that agreement.

They don't call out anything about accounts at all here. They seem to be referring to all services.

3) They actually have a section which is about accounts. If the whole document was about accounts they wouldn't have a specific section about it. Here is the opening paragraph of that section:

In order to access certain Services, you may be required to provide information about yourself (such as identification or contact details) as part of the registration process for the Service, or as part of your continued use of the Services. You agree that any registration information you give to Google will always be accurate, correct and up to date.

Notice the use of the term "certain Services". That is, certain services require an account, but not all. This document as a whole is referring to all services.

If you think this TOS only applies to accounts, I think you'll need stronger information than simply the URL where the document is located. I certainly don't think the URL is part of the legal agreement. And if you read the TOS by itself, it seems pretty clear that it includes Google search.

Yes or no, at least this person wouldn't be surprised when the account was shut down.

This, so much this.

Read your TOS. Read the TOS your children agree to.

Don't whine when it gets enforced, you agreed to it.


call your congressman if you feel the law is unjust

He probably doesn't want to make the long-distance call to his congressman, given that he's in the Netherlands.

His mother's American. She'll be talking to her congresscritter; I know her.

You are exposing the kid to adult problems, and expecting an infant to behave in in a legal and socially acceptable manner. I'm not saying not to let the kid on the internet, I'm saying that this needs to be an educational experience for a kid, not a situation where we all complain about regrettable situations.

Why don't we let kids drive cars? All the kid has to do is lie on the form when taking the drivers test.

Why don't we let kids drive cars?

Because they could kill other people with them? I don't know, what do you think? I guess that's just like email, right?

We don't let kids drive cars because they will hurt themselves and hurt others. The fact that not being able to drive a car makes a child cry is not an argument that the child should have lied on the drivers test so he could.

Children need to be trained in the way they should interact with the world, not let loosed to figure out how to do whatever they want to do however they want. The parents need a way to train the kid in the proper use of this tool. The internet is not for young children. It is an extremely powerful tool that you can hurt yourself and others with.

We also don't let children travel the world alone to unknown places, visiting and interacting with unknown people. Why not? Because the kids will get into trouble and harm themselves and the parents will be oblivious.

Al giorno d'oggi i servizi di hosting costano veramente poco, così se qualcuno mi chiede di consigliargli un buon servizio di posta elettronica (gmail, hotmail, ...) io consiglio di registrarsi un dominio e di attivarsi le proprie caselle di posta, gestendole in quasi completa libertà, invece di sottostare ai capricci delle aziende 'che non vogliono essere il male'. Mi ricordo ancora oggi del mio account @mac.com che doveva restare gratuito per sempre... e poi per potere accedere mi chiesero di pagare (e ancora peggio di possedere una carta di credito... ai tempi le prepagate non esistevano ancora). Scusate se scrivo in italiano... se in qualche modo questo commento può essere utile (e cioè se vedrò un paio di punti assegnati) cercherò di tradurlo al meglio :)

edit: thanks to Vivtek for translation :)

Hosting services today really don't cost much, so if anybody asks me to recommend a good email service (gmail, hotmail) I recommend registering a domain and setting up their own mailbox, providing complete freedom, instead of subjecting themselves to the caprices of the company "that doesn't want to do evil". I still remember my @mac.com account that was supposed to stay free forever - and then I had to pay to access it (and also had to have a credit card - at the time, prepaid cards didn't exist). Sorry for writing in Italian, if this comment could be useful in any way (and if I see some points) I'll try to translate it better :)

There. Fixed that for you. Thanks for making the day a little more interesting.

ABC Liquor made my son cry when they denied him the sale of alcohol at the age of 8.

No, seriously, there's an age limit that he agreed to when he signed up.

The limit is still unreasonable and the support procedure for solving the problem is terrible.

Yay, let's link every service ever together, what could possibly go wrong!

[ goopl.us ] millions people will cry due to Google -- --

Orwell would have called this situation getting "ungoogled".

I think -and with all due respect to you, and your son-... this is extremely exaggerated.

A minor is not likely to have immediate spending power, only influence. Google is in the business of making sellers meet buyers. No matter how hard we look at this, that's the fundamental nature of "the Google." It is probable that Google's segmentation of the market shows most minors as being engaged best via TV.

Most of us tend to forget that we are the product that Google is marketing.

What's with the downvotes? This is the truth, your data is the only thing important to Google.


REGARDLESS of what you think you need to do to comply with COPPA or any other law in the United States or any other jurisdiction;

IF you have automated processes that cancel accounts and freeze data and do not offer at a minimum, an opportunity for the person affected to retrieve his/her data entrusted with you;

THEN, this will keep happening (Google-made-me-cry stories).

THEREFORE, in order to reduce the number of Google-made-me-cry stories, you should:

IMPLEMENT a system to allowed users adversely affected by your automated processes a way to RETRIEVE their data, all the time, no matter what, come hell or high water.

IN FACT the account_delete() function shouldn't even take an ARGUMENT about whether to allow data retrieval; account_delete() should have a non-overridable call to allow_account_export_for_thirty_days(), if you KNOW WHAT I MEAN, which I nearly think that you DO.

BECAUSE this isn't rocket surgery.

AND BECAUSE we get upset if we lose our data. We become WROTH. You wouldn't like us when we are WROTH.

IT is the LEAST you could do. Seriously, it's the minimum. The absolute least. You could do more, if you wanted to. But this is the least.

SINCERELY, The Internet.

I'm at -4 points for suggesting that Google should allow you to export your data when they close your account? Really? I'm embarrassed for you, Hacker News.

Under COPPA, once Google realizes the data is a child's personal information, they have to immediately delete the account.

Your statement is not true. In fact Google's only obligation under the law is not to make PUBLICLY available children's personal information without parental consent, and not to continue to collect personal information from a verified child without parental consent.

There's even a specific safe harbor for Google to disclose a child's personal information to the child's parent.

No, you don't know what you are talking about. I ran the COPPA compliance for a Fortune 100 company when the law was passed. There is no public/private distinction in the law.

"The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act and Rule apply to individually identifiable information about a child that is collected online, such as full name, home address, email address, telephone number or any other information that would allow someone to identify or contact the child."


Or someone NOT GOOGLE could decide to do things the right way, and GOOGLE could run just a subset of the internet instead of the whole damn thing and every single service every internet-user used.

I'm not sure why you guys are always asking Google to do things. It's like you want a single, big entity to have all dominating powers over your online-life.

Maybe it's just me, but I think that's just plain weird.

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