Alex is 10 years old. He has had a Gmail account since September 2009 — almost two years. He uses email to keep in touch with his grandparents, who live in California and Scotland. He is signed up to get newsletters and updates from his favourite online hangouts, like Roblox and Hyves. He has just started using Google Chat to chat with me over IM, even though I’m usually just sitting at my desk on the other side of the room.
Yesterday, he noticed that Google+ was enabled for his account. Yay! So he made himself a Google Profile, and added me and Abi to his family circle. Even Alex had heard about Google+, and he was excited to be using it.
Today, he tried to use Gmail, but found that his account was locked. A big scary message says that his account has been shut down because Google has discovered a Terms Of Service age violation. Not only is the account inaccessible, they also say that they will delete it in 29 days, unless he provides them with evidence that he is over 13 years old. All because he entered his date of birth when he created his Google Profile.
Alex was in tears. He is enormously upset about this. Google is basically just going to delete his last two years of email messages (they don’t offer any way to log in and export his messages), and plans to cut him off from his family until he turns 13.
This is a kid who lives on the computer. He types 50 words a minute, builds immense structures in Minecraft, programs in python, and has better Powerpoint skills than his teachers at school.
He has learned to live with the disappointment of not being able to have his own YouTube account, because YouTube asks for your date of birth on the sign-up page. But the Gmail sign-up page doesn’t ask you for your age. It does, of course, ask if you accept the Terms of Service. Oh right. The Terms of Service. Which apply to all Google services:
2.3 You may not use the Services and may not accept the Terms if (a) you are not of legal age to form a binding contract with Google, or (b) you are a person barred from receiving the Services under the laws of the United States or other countries including the country in which you are resident or from which you use the Services.
Just because no-one reads the Terms of Service, doesn’t mean that they don’t apply. Ignorance of the law is not an excuse for breaking the law. But seriously, this USA-centric age 13 bullshit is a blight on the internet. Alex has been using the web since before he could fucking read. To him, Google practically is the web. But according to these Terms of Service, he’s not even allowed to use Google Search.
You made my son cry, Google. I’m not inclined to forgive that.
Update, 4 July 2011 20:50: Comments closed because of Olympic-level asshattery. Well played, internet. Well played.
Update, 4 July 2011 23:55 I’ve posted a short update over on Making Light. Don’t even think about trolling over there.
Update, 5 July 2011 17:00
I’ve removed the link to the update mentioned above, because all the trolls decided to poison the comments over on that site, too. [Restored now that the flames have died down a bit.] If you want to express support or sympathy, thank you. Go give someone you love a nice hug. If you want to express your disapproval of me, please do so on your own blog.
Update, 5 July 2011 20:50 Or alternatively contact me at email@example.com. Don’t post responses in comment threads elsewhere on this blog; I’m just deleting them immediately.
Update, 6 July 2011 01:50 I have written a follow-up article which acts as my global response to the comments that the original article generated.