Google made my son cry

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 m.feedback@sunpig.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.

134 thoughts on “Google made my son cry

  1. Thing is, we’d be happy to accept the terms of service on his behalf, and be accountable for his use of the internet. We’re his parents, and we expect to enter into contracts in his place for some time yet. It’s absolutely bone-brained standard for adults to do so for their minor children.

    I could go into the ways we’ve trained him to deal with the internet. I could explain how the computer is in a public space so that we can supervise him, and that we have access to all emails that he receives. I could outline the talks we’ve had with him about what information you do and do not reveal, netiquette, and the basics of virtual community manners.

    But, basically, that’s not Google’s interest. Google’s interested in whether he can form a contract with them, which in law he cannot. Fine.

    But they won’t offer us the opportunity to form a contract with them on his behalf. Which is not helpful. And they have his data, and we can’t get it back. Which is beyond unhelpful.

  2. According to one of my correspondents on G+, this is not about contract law. It’s COPPA, which is yet another manifestation of the shrieking hysteria about children’s safety in the United States.

    Reading the regulation, though, I should still be able to consent to Alex’s participation in Google. If they’ll let me.

    Otherwise, I still want his data back.

  3. I agree you shouldn’t teach children to lie. However, this is also a lesson in understanding how your influence as parents will always be greater than that of a corporation. The 13 rule is arbitrary, IMO. It sets a 2nd age for kids to circumvent much like they will when wanting to drink, smoke, attend a nightclub, etc. Foolish isolating.

    To the data point, it is pretty easy if you wish to have him continue using Gmail. Setup an IMAP connection, download the messages, copy them into the new account. Done.

    For all of its warts, Gmail is tops when it comes to protecting their users from Penis enlargement advertisements and other nefarious SPAM. Therefore, in the interest of continuing to protect him, it could be a good thing to allow a 2nd account to be created.

    However, I could not agree more with allowing the parents to enter the contract for their children and I do applaud the decision to stay true if that’s what you choose.

    I’m also a little jealous of your boy! I wasn’t writing code ’til I was about 15 and it was Turbo Pascal. Had it been Python, given the time I was attending high school, I might have ended up writing Google myself!

    I promise, though, that my TOS wouldn’t have sucked like theirs does. ;)

  4. Jon – so if your email provider just came along and cut off your access, you’d just say, “oh well” and move on? Really?

    Kenny – the account is completely locked. We can’t get at it through the Gmail web interface, IMAP, or POP.

  5. Perhaps the idea that it is *always* bad to lie is not the most useful one to teach your son. If you yourself never lied I would be surprised–not because I know anything about you specifically but rather because I know things about human behavior. So perhaps the better lesson would be to teach him when you think it is morally acceptable to lie. Clearly a more subtle lesson and perhaps not one which you son can appropriately deal with yet, but I think it’s foundational and worth attempting.

  6. Google are over a barrel on this one, sadly.

    American Law (COPPA, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act) makes it illegal for websites to collect personal information of children under 13 years of age without “verifiable parental consent”. According to the Wikipedia article, examples of such consent are:

    * obtaining a signed form from the parent via postal mail or facsimile;
    * accepting and verifying a credit card number;
    * taking calls from parents on a toll-free telephone number staffed by trained personnel;
    * email accompanied by digital signature;
    * email accompanied by a PIN or password obtained through one of the verification methods above.

    This is why every single website has, at the very least, an “Are you over 13?” button on its signup form. The regulatory burden is such that any site not specifically aimed at kids will say “sod it all” and refuse to have anything to do with pre-teens.

    The email of an under-13 is by definition “personal information”. Google is obliged to delete it as soon as they discover they have it, as holding onto the data in any form will expose them to legal liability and large, nasty fines.

  7. I’m not certain if others have suggested this, but as the parent, you should be able to verify the account for him. You may have to verify it to your name and age and remind your son, that his account is an extension of yours until he is 18. Which in the future means no profile with age or age only in the body text not the age field. But unfortunately, that’s the nature of children online these days in the United States.

  8. When my kids wanted to start using email, I set up my own email server with imap and webmail, as I knew that the ToS age was 13. Much as I am sympathetic to your argument, this is no secret and as well as teaching children not to lie, I think it is also important to teach children that there are rules, whether or not they (or you) agree with them and that breaking them has consequences.

    I think Google needs to make this more explicit (of what use is their ToS agreement if anyone can “agree” to it without reading it or even acknowledging compliance with something as important as COPPA?

  9. This won’t help with the missing files, but if you go to someone like Godaddy and register a dot com, you can buy a yearly mail plan for very little money. Then you can assign dozens of email addresses to that account.

    You don’t need to set up a web page. Just register abc123.com or dot org or dot whatever, or me.and.my.son.us. It’s cheap and it’s yours!

    With my dot com, I can tell the mail program to send me (or not) a copy of every email received for every account I create. It is also useful to have several for yourself. Email from the parents can come to address1@meandtheboy.us, and mail from the grandparents to address2 and mail from the bosses wife… well, you get the idea. :)

  10. Does COPPA only apply to the USA? If so why do I still have to go through it even though I’m living in the UK?

    My daughter loves going on YouTube and looking at videos, but she keeps wanting to upload her own. As she isn’t 13 I have to keep telling her that she is too young to do this. When is the USA going to understand that USA !== World?

  11. I see a realy issue in the near future with my son. He’s 7 years old, types 100+ characters a minute, and has been playing with computers since he was 18 months old. It appears we’ll have to move away from Google, because our family domain uses Google Apps/Gmail. Bizar. I hope you guys figure out a way to get your son’s old email back.

  12. Yeah, I would move one frankly. If you have important things, move them to the cloud. So what if you lose an e-mail account? It’s not like a house burned down with all your belongings which you have been buying over the years with MONEY.

    Gmail is free, and it can do what it wants. If you don’t like the internet, don’t let your son use it.

    Or get a new e-mail.

    PROBLEM SOLVED.

  13. Jon: “If you have important things, move them to the cloud. “ You have repeatedly ignored the fact that, as Abi has said repeatedly, they’ve locked the account and provided no way for the “important things” (i.e. the past e-mails) to be moved to anywhere. And they’ve done this without warning. Barn door & horse advice isn’t helpful.

  14. There are email services available for children under 13. They are often not FREE, but they allow for a certain amount of protection for your child. Yahoo also provides a family service that IS free, but requires a credit card for the parent verification.

    If you use a service, any service, you are subject to their terms of use. The moment you click “I Agree,” you have agreed, and it really does help if you learn to read what it is you are agreeing to, and that’s a lesson many of us need to learn when we’re dealing with services over the internet – from Google to Apple.

  15. I applaud that you’re standing up for your principles of honesty and integrity. It sucks that his emails are going to get deleted, though; please consider writing your Congressman.

  16. The people who say “get another account” seem to be missing the key point. It’s the data that will be lost when Google deletes it, all the conversations with his grandparents, gone.

    I do know roughly where Abi and her family hang out, somewhere in Europe, and there are a lot of differences in the law covering this area. So I’m not going to recommend a replacement service, but were I a parent I would be looking to keep my kid’s email account well clear of US laws. The protection for personal data in the USA is pretty flimsy, compared to Europe.

  17. Speaking as someone who has been involved at the sharp end, where kids are breaking the rules and being pursued by adults similarly beaking rules, I don’t think the issue is as straightforward as open, educative parents allow for.

    My daughter, age seven, has an email address. it’s a pay-for one, with no advertising in the interface. All email is either routed through me if it comes from a new source, or I can check on them easily through my own login. In a similar way, you have a relationship with your child in which things can be checked, and you have clearly given your kid a good grounding in the nature of internet ‘stranger danger’ and so forth. Not every child is lucky enough to understand their parents desire to keep them safe by being involved in a gentle semi-hands on way, and not every parent would understand how to be involved properly, whilst alloing their child some autonomy (realistically, in poor neghbourhoods, some parents will never see their kids’ interent use anyway).

    Right. When talking about Facebook in particular recently, Mark Zuck. decried the 13+ rule, saying that kids could get a lot from joining Facebook at a younger age. completely ignoring how difficult it is to build a protected identity on there as it is, never mind with no supportive hiding measures for younger users. Given that kids of 13 are potentially in hormonal turmoil, this mythical switch that suddenly lets them use services puts them at incredible risk, even if they do come from a resposible, educative environment. Services which are known to have users under 18 should be responsible enough to have default hiding options that do not allow you to be found, followed, searched for etc by those who you don’t already know. Email providers similarly. It is extremely irresponsible for parents and software providers to ignore the sharks. The social difficulties and bullying that can occur within one’s immediate peer group online is difficult enough to deal with, without having to also look out for predators pretending to be kids.

    Although I am entirely sympathetic, and to lose two years of email is heartbreaking (I know, it’s happened to me a few times), Gmail was not designed for kids, and perhaps using a slightly uncool paid for email account with security would have been better. Having said that, I would hope that Google are supportive and help sort it out, and having done that, amend their Ts and Cs to clearly state what the rules are, running across all their services.

    …and maybe trail blaze a series of under 18 additions to Plus, etc (which, btw, could also be used by other people at risk who nevertheless would like to have SN lives eg: women at risk of violence from unhinged ex’s).

    I always sound like such a conservative when I weigh in on ths stuff but really, if you work with communities, you see the very real dangers pretty much constantly.

  18. Maybe I’m missing something incredibly obvious, but… shouldn’t all the family members Alex has been using Gmail to keep in touch with have their own copies of these conversations? Or a goodly portion of them, at least.

    Set up a new account somewhere he won’t be violating the TOS, and get them to forward everything to the new address.

    It doesn’t seem like there’s any way to get back the newsletters et al., and I don’t disagree that this is crappy policy on Google’s side, but the main aspect of this being played up is the sentimental value of all those messages. And as far as I can tell, those should be… pretty much retrievable.

  19. And shame on some one for calling him a nerd at school and hurting his feelings, and shame on a national food chain for over advertising a great toy with their meal and disappointing him – and shame and shame –

    You are allowing your son to have a lot of responsibility, and expecting him to be a ‘grown up’ when clearly he cannot handle this situation if he cried over emails.

    I have lost email accounts because I did not give enough information when creating them, and then forgot my password. I contacted the site, asking for my password to be reset and was declined, there was no way to verify who I was because when I made the account I ‘lightly’ accepted the responsibility of what it was to make an account. (ToS)

    Yes I was disappointed, but I didn’t cry. I started a new account, and guess what – all of the family information I had, scanned photos, and sweet poems were all emailed back to me, because most people don’t clear out their sent folder, and they resent the emails to me.

    Wag your finger at Google and say shame on you, you made my child cry – and continue to wag your finger for the rest of your life.

  20. The ToS you quoted just says *someone* has to accept the ToS, and that someone has to be legally able to do so.

    So why don’t you, the parent, respond to whatever mechanism they say to respond to, with evidence of your age, your parenthood, and your consent (as his guardian) to the ToS?

  21. Your are right, Google should just break the law because your child cried. This is why I dislike having to deal with parents so much.

    I hope you all learned a valuable lesson about backing up, especially with cloud services. You can download all your google mail to a mail client, using pop3 or imap. Unfortunately, this will not help you now, but a good lesson to remember in the future.

  22. Google may not have a choice about closing his account – they do have a choice about allowing him to have access to his back email.

  23. Just a note to point out the irony of Google’s latest ads showing someone setting up an email account for their newborn child and then posting various memories to it as they grow. I’ve done this for both my young kids and I’d be majorly annoyed, possibly to the point of tears myself, if I found out they’d somehow discovered their ages and deleted the content.

    Pleases share if you discover a way to authorize on the child’s behalf that satisfies Google and/or COPPA.

  24. This will be a good learning experience for him. Why would anyone assume that they can rely on a free service for important data?

    You could register a domain name for him, get him a cheap VPS and let him learn how to run his own email system, so he doesn’t have to rely on others. If he can program Python, then he can handle this.

  25. Can’t you just tell you are supervising his account, you are after all, the parent, thus legally “responsible”. If he, for example, would steal something, you’re the person who’s responsible and will pay the fines. so Actually your son is 13, he’s your age on the internet, until he is 18? at least, that’s the case in my country.

  26. I think that the most awesome thing you can do is to find some old computer (anything produced since he was born is fine) and give him it along with a Linux install CD and some encouragement to set up his own mail server.

  27. Wow, this is serious. I can understand them shutting down the Google+ profile, but delete all the mail well? That’s simply cruel.

    Anyway, I guess Google its “service” has created a google-hater for life now…

  28. I can understand Google’s caution with regard to legal aspects, but cannot condone their heavy-handedness. As far as I’m concerned, it is inexcusable for them to schedule deletion of your son’s account without also allowing some way for you to access and download his emails.

    This is basically a massive customer support fail on Google’s part and a salutary warning to all of us about the trust we should place in organisations offering services over the internet.

  29. “Don’t be evil” doesn’t seem to apply here. Not allowing parents to accept the Terms of Service on the kids behalf, and not allowing the user to export their data if they broke the terms.

    Bad Google.

  30. You need to teach your son the invaluable skill of lying on the internet. Seriously – there is no reason to give Google your real birthdate, ever.

  31. Tough. Thats what you get for using Google. Don’t like it?

    Get your kid a real email address, which you control.

  32. Sounds like the real issue is the loss of email history. Focus on convincing a real person in Google to intervene with goal of saving the emails.

  33. As a rule, you should lie on internet forms. It maintains privacy through obfuscation. Always enter a random birthdate, never enter the correct country.

  34. Technically, if you made another email account for yourself, backed up your child’s email and imported it under a certain folder/label, then had him use that account; he would still be able to send emails but he would be using an account administered by someone of legal age.

  35. Many sides to this story, most of which I can sympathise with, except things like
    “clearly he cannot handle this situation if he cried over emails.” I lost emails and data as an adult that I’ve cried over, and I’m not ashamed.
    Hopefully he’ll get his mail back, and really Google should implement some sort of parental consent.

  36. Why are people blaming COPPA rather than Google for this? From a quick look at the description of the law, it appears that there’s nothing preventing Google from providing email services for folks under 13, *as long as* they get verified parental consent (which can be done in a variety of ways, including the credit card registration that is done routinely on many e-commerce sites), are clear about what they disclose and to whom (like noting that messages disclose email addresses to their recipients), and don’t spread personal information farther than their disclosures say.

    The sites I’ve seen that refuse to deal with people under 13 tend to have business models that depend on the exploitation of personal information, often in ways not clearly understood by their users. (Or, as has been said about many free sites, “you’re not their customer, you’re their product”.) “The paperwork is too burdensome” is a convenient excuse; it may be over-burdensome for that particular business model, but I don’t see that it is in general. I tend therefore to be wary of sites that put forward that line.

  37. It’s the law (COPPA) he should have not been there in the first place, call your congressman if you feel the law is unjust.

    Google won’t go around making little exception for every situation, that doesn’t scale.
    It’s better for you and your child to feel unjustifiably angry than breaking US law and facing the consequences.

  38. Just tell your son, you made a mistake by trusting google. That’s just the reality.
    He would be very sad, but at least he would know the truth and he would be able to move on having learned that cloud data looks secure but not always.

  39. Once more, Google is totallly evil because you can never, ever, reach a human being there to resolve any problems with the service. This is korporate cost cutting BS at its worst. Sergy and Brin decided long ago that there simply would be no customer service. Users in their book are simply screwed. Take what Google gives or leave it.

    This is yet another reason why you should never, ever, entrust any thing important to you to the cloud. If something goes wrong (and it will) you have absolutely 0 recourse.

  40. ” give him it along with a Linux install CD and some encouragement to set up his own mail server.”

    At that point, you (or rather he) will discover the other set of net vigilantes, who maintain the list of “addresses blocked because they are dial-up IP addresses” (even they’re not). Fewer and fewer sites will speak to his e-mail server, even if he provides SPF, DKIM, etc etc.

    The original post is correct: for something that is now as central to net usage as Google, it’s silly not to have a way for parents to opt-in on behalf of their children. Of course, I’d be quite happy to forget about Facebook.

  41. I hate the ignorance of a lot of comments.
    This point is:
    Alex complete E-Mail History is GONE.
    How would you feel if somebody killed access to your complete E-Mail history ?
    IF Google would have asked the parents for permission, there woudn’t be any problem.
    IF Google would have checked the age, when signing up, there wouldn’t be any problem.
    IF Google would have made the account read-only for one or two weeks, there wouldn’t be any problem.

    I guess I need to think about the gmail accounts of both of my children. They are 2.5 and 0.5 years…

  42. Rather than complain about Google mistreating your son, maybe you should have been a better parent and read over the ToS before allowing your child to start an account.

    Do you buy adult films and mature video games (neither of which are intended for 10 y/o kids) and then blame the film makers or software developers for creating content that makes your son cry?

    Stop expecting Google to parent your child.

  43. We actually had this with our office account, as for the “birthdate”, we put in the date of the founding of the company. All it took was a 30ct. credit card charge (from my card, not otherwise linked to the account) and the account was unblocked. There was no further verification. You should be able to do this for your son.

  44. Have you tried using Google Takeout to get the data back; not sure if that would be affected by the lockout or not?
    https://www.google.com/takeout/?pli=1

    Also, to add my 2pence worth, I agree with most people here – having parents take on the contract on their child’s behalf seems like a fair option. Sure the kid could create a parent account and pretend to be their parent, but equally they could say they were over 13, so there’s no loss of security by going this way. It would also mean Google could put extra features into G+ to take advantage of this information – such as allowing parents to view all interactions with their children’s accounts up until age 13 (anything older than that, I’d advise parents don’t ever look at their kids’ emails/communications for fear of what you may find :S ).

  45. My sister is 11 years old. She has gmail, to communicate with her teacher and friends. After read your post, I will never let her use g+, until she reached the minimum age requirements.

  46. What is the point of having Google Takeout anyways ? The purpose is to retrieve your circle of friends, address books, pictures etc. I don’t think Google supports the feature of restoring and archiving old e-mails unlike what Facebook provides.
    Hilarious and cruel, absolutely !

  47. It’s too late to do this now, but for future reference if you’re going to rely on services like GMail, always make sure you have offline backups of your data. I have a script that runs every five minutes and accesses GMail’s POP3 servers to get the latest messages and store them. I do this PRECISELY because I don’t trust Google to keep my data where I can access it in perpetuity. Sure the 4.5GB file is a bit of a pain, but it’s better than losing every communication I’ve ever had.

  48. In the UK google have adverts on TV with a guy who creates an email account for this new born child?

  49. “Rather than complain about Google mistreating your son, maybe you should have been a better parent and read over the ToS before allowing your child to start an account.”

    Ha ha ha! Have you seen the length some of the Terms we’re supposed to read without clicking past? I remember one that was over 60 pages long. I was tempted to send them a bill for legal services! Normally, I sensibly click past them. As Dropbox, Facebook and other experience suggests, they’ll only go and change them unilaterally later.

  50. You need to teach your poor excuse for a son not to cry when something goes wrong on the computer. If this makes him cry he’s gonna have far bigger problems soon in life. An hero anyone?

  51. Gosh, there are a lot of comments here of the form “Tough, he should have read the T&Cs / used something other than Google / set up his own mailserver”. A lot of rather triumphal crowing of “this proves I was right all along”.

    Try and remember the person you’re crowing over is a 10 year old, eh?

  52. I am part of a UK taskforce trying to put systems in place that allow you as parents to consent on your son’s behalf.
    Google plus many of our leading companies are plowing in their profits as it is well understood that this needs to be fixed.
    COPPA may seem restrictive in this case however it is also responsible for protecting our children from the predators who stalk them online.
    As a parent myself I understand this is difficult but I would rather be in a post COPPA world.
    I hope you manage to solve this for him where he can continue to live his online life as you would wish.

  53. I hope this gets sorted; it would be horrible if all that data was lost forever, but Google is usually good about fixing things where it can and is aware of the problem. The difficulty can be making them aware of the problem.

    This is a really idiotic policy on their part, though. Hopefully this doesn’t just get resolved for you and your son, but also results in a change in their policy for handling such problems in the future.

  54. I don’t know if it will help, but I sent this post over to an old penpal that works at Google. I’m hoping he will pass it on to someone who can at least get the email archive, though I can’t make any promises.

    After all, that’s part of the reason to post, right? Someone from Google might see, or someone who knows someone at Google…

  55. This is horrible! We trust the internet (google , fb, etc) so much that we forget that its not under our control, all we do is login and logout. There are numerous loop holes that can shut our digital data completely and we are just left wondering what went wrong!
    Hail Google!

  56. This is very sad news. How can they bar from the children to use the Gmail or any other mail.Yeah author is right intern of mention of if the restriction is apply for the you tube or any other site which can have under age contents. It simply means children below age of 13 can’t share the information through mail etc. Google have to come up with the new idea where children can share their thought and chatting facility with their peers.

  57. I’d say recovering his messages would be the least of your worries. If he does get a new address, he’s going to need to change all his accounts to point to it. And many of those will require email verification – a bit troublesome if you can’t access the old account anymore.

  58. YOU CAN FIX THIS.

    All you need to do is prove that you’re an adult and that you approve of your son’s usage of google. You can do this by typing in a credit card number or in one of the other ways they list.

    Do so and your son’s account will be unlocked, his data restored, and everything goes back to how it was. It’s that simple. You’ve got 4 weeks to do it so don’t wait, otherwise there genuinely will be no going back.

    But you can resolve this very easily, quickly and simply by reading the instructions on Google’s site. Just do it. It’s that simple.

  59. Ask the password to your son, contact Google and say the account is yours. Return the password to your child.

    You’re welcome.

  60. @Adam You’re idea of being evil is a US company obeying a US law?

    As unjust as it might feel to non-US citizens having to put up with silly laws, Geez. If that counts as evil, I don’t want to know what you call people who kick puppies.

    I think we can all agree it sucks for non-Americans, but lets stop calling every little thing we don’t like evil? It’s not evil when some spam made it through the filters, it’s not evil when your search result is on page two, and it’s not evil when they change the colour of the “Search” button.

    Those are just imperfections, chillax.

  61. Hey, Martin and Abi – freaky to see people I know in places I didn’t know them (YCombinator’s Hacker News).

    This really sucks, and I’m happy you’re publicizing it. Google’s failure to provide warning or a way to back existing data up truly is evil, and it’s just icing on the evil cake that they specifically do this to a child – with no recourse for the parents to stand in his legal stead. Google pulls this stuff a lot, too; ask anybody whose ads have been pulled for no discernible reason, with no human available to ask why.

    In the larger scheme of things, though, I think teaching your children never to lie is probably a bad thing. There are times when it’s necessary to stop playing by the rules in the interest of higher rules, and I believe this is one of them. So, for example, I would have no moral qualms at all in sending Google a forged birth certificate to show my son’s age as being 13, and I would certainly attempt that as my next step.

    Fortunately, my son *will* be 13 next spring – but then, I also provide him my own mail server, so perhaps it’s less pressing.

    @Zyxel, when a major multinational deletes the data from a child (or indeed, from anyone, but normally we consider this sort of thing worse when it’s intentionally done to a child) with no recourse, no warning, and no possibility of recovery, that’s evil. Your trivializing it is deeply weird.

  62. from my experience google is pretty cool when you actually get someone to talk to. just try to get someone on the phone or send them an email. I bet they would love to help you find a solution.

  63. Is it possible to get the past emails from the grandparents who received them and replied? You could simply have them fwded to your personal account and save them that way?

  64. You guys really need to teach him there are two tiers of lying. There’s lying to people, and then there’s lying to corporations. The former makes you a bad person, and the latter is nearly necessary when living in a world where laws are made not for people, but for the protection of corporate profits.

    Otherwise you’re just setting him up for failure.

  65. My son ran into this as well. The kicker? He turns 13 in September, just a month after his account will be deleted. Which is lame. And he loses everything, including all his schoolwork? No. Right or wrong, I’m paying the stupid 30 cents and changing his birthday. An age is so arbitrary and he’s less than 3 months from turning 13.

    If they weren’t going to delete it, I’d say, meh, we’d just ride it out until he could log back in this September. But uh… deleting? Lame.

    What burns me is that if a parent says it is OK, then that should be enough. Heck, I’d fax Google a letter saying, “Yes I know my son is 12, but we want him to use Gmail with our supervision because of its quality.”

    Even more infuriating is that technically being 12 my son is old enough to babysit another person’s child. We can entrust him with the life of a child but not an email account? How does that even make sense?

  66. If the verify-with-credit-card business doesn’t work (and it sounds like it should) you could get the data out by going to court! Quickly file a lawsuit for something, anything, it doesn’t matter. (Is “intentional infliction of emotional distress” possible for a civil case?) And subpoena all emails archived with the account. At this point you’ll be talking to an actual person, a lawyer working for Google, who has an interest in resolving the situation.

  67. The “you have to be over 13 to sign up for things on the internet” law was passed around when I was 10.

    I didn’t stop lying about my age until I was 18.

    My Geocities site got deleted when I was young–I don’t remember how old, exactly. It was a Command and Conquer fan page. I lost the whole thing. Apparently, I violated the TOS, but they never specified what I’d done.

    I learned about the ephemerality of data that day.

  68. If this was my kid’s happening I’d say “lesson learned”.

    Never put all your eggs in one basket. There are plenty non-google ways of doing things on the net, free too.

    Google is private company built to make profits. Yes, they might offer few services for free, but there’s a line at the annual sales report and it better be big green number below that line.

    And by using their services (free or paid), you’re giving them precious information about yourself – information they can use to make even bigger green numbers. Thought of that?

  69. You don’t want to teach your son to lie…

    [√] I have read and agree to Google’s Terms of Use. [wherein it states that users must be 13 years of age.]

    ^was this accurate?

    To everyone complaining about US law who lives in Europe: Get a Europe-based service provider, silly! You are upset that a US-based provider is following US laws? Please explain.

    Finally, let’s remember that neither you nor your son have ever paid Google a single penny for any of their services. I think it’s really messed up that they won’t let you get the past email out, but beyond that, Google owes you nothing. If you want service accountable to YOU, you pay the piper. Currently the advertisers do, so clearly you do not get to pick the tune.

  70. I’m with the people that think the real blame goes to Abi. A ten year-old can’t or shouldn’t need to fully understand the implications of the various laws and TOS agreements. The parent doesn’t have that sort of defense.

    If Google made your child cry, it is because you, Abi, put your child in a position where this could happen. I, too, have a child that spends a lot of time on the ‘Net. I use some good software to carbon his actions (with his knowledge) and to regulate his usage. The ‘Net is a dangerous place.

    While COPPA isn’t the law everywhere, it is reasonable for Google, a U.S.-based firm, to use it as the basis for practice. Perhaps Google could shift into parental-control mode, but there’s little room for it in their business model, so I don’t blame them for not doing it. They are not a public service.

    Get something intrusive that can monitor and copy your son’s activity. I use SafeEyes but there are many others available.

    My two cents – you put your child in a vulnerable position. As long as you hold Google accountable, hold yourself accountable as well. You are responsible for your child’s Internet safety, and in this instance, you didn’t do all that was necessary.

    I hope that you can recover those wonderful emails, and I salute you for finding ways for your child to correspond with his family! Well done!

  71. I know how he feels, I’ve been on the internet since I was very young as well, and had to sneak over lots of such “fences”.

    I believe that lying is a very valuable skill, which everyone should master. I think it’s an important lesson for your son to understand that personal morality has little to do with what (most) other people believe to be moral, especially governments.

    Just change his age to 18+, you’ll both be happier for it.

  72. Very disappointing and I can feel how painful it would be for the kid.

    Agree that its against law. May be, Google should show the humane side of it by allowing the kid to export the data. I am not sure, if allowing to export is against the law or not.

    You might have already made a request to Google, if not you should make a plea. It may workout.

  73. So, ask your money back.

    Oh, wait. You don’t have much of a contract with them. They offered a free service, which you choose to accept. They didn’t force you to use it. Nor do they have any form of monopoly. It’s a free service, provided by a for-money organization, you gave them data you value, without backup, and now you’re upset because they cut you off for violating their terms of service?

    Sorry for not sharing your feelings. Seems that all his living on the computers, building minecraft structures, and being “better” at Powerpoint that his teachers hasn’t taught him some very basic things: data needs to be backed up, and you shouldn’t trust random strangers on the internet offering you candy/free services.

  74. I hope everyone blaming Abi and Martin for failing to follow the terms of service tells any kids they have, or meet, not to use Google search till they turn 18. Read strictly, the terms say they shouldn’t. (They’re not old enough to form a binding contract.)

    Oh, and I’d also be interested in anyone posting the exact sequence you need to follow to get from the Gmail signup screen to any statement that Gmail users must be 13 or older, that doesn’t involve actually submitting a Google Accounts application. (I don’t see any such statement obviously appearing in the terms of service, program policy, or privacy policy, unless you count the “binding contract” language that implies, but again does not directly state, a minimum age of *18* in the US.)

  75. You say: “As parents, we care about not teaching him to lie.”
    The first lie was: “I accept. Create my account.”

    Sorry for you child, but it’s your fault. Nor Google’s or CAPPA’s fault, entirely YOURS.

  76. Thirty cents on the Credit Card works.

    I retrieved an account for my daughter which had been set up when she was born with the idea being that people could send her email messages on special occasions, e.g., the day she was born. She, personally, has never logged in to the account though, and doesn’t even know it exists, as far so can tell. She’s 2 1/2 years old.

    I happened to see that she was able to create a G+ account, and foolishly entered her real birthday…bam….”locked and will be deleted in 29 days.”

    I guess in this case, the account really is mine, just with her name on it.

    Anyway, 30 cents works.

  77. While I think that it is great that you are letting your son learn the wonders of the world of computing, I have to point out that this is not something that Google can control. There are laws, one in particular, that would have Google prosecuted for allowing minors under 13 to have accounts like that. I know that you are more than likely a very responsible parent, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are bound by the law and can not change that. If there was a provision allowing parents to over see their young children’s accounts then this would be a different matter.

    In conclusion, I can’t blame Google, you or your son. I can only blame the lack of insightful legislation that has been passed in fear of an unsupervised child getting on-line.

  78. COPPA only applies to bidirectional communication. Technically, the email account should have been refused (and Google is accountable here), but a search should not. This is why most signups have a ‘I verify that I am over the age of 13′ checkbox (and if Gmail did not, I would be surprised). If Google has decided this, there probably is not a mechanism that will help you appeal it, because (1) Google is legally required to do this, and (2) Google is legally liable if they do not. So, this particular account is probably completely gone. Furthermore, backing up the information after the account has been suspended, or from another account, is probably also a no-go; even if the account claims to be from his guardians, Google has no reason to believe that it is actually from his guardians because there are no proper countermeasures to identity fraud in web signups.

    The moral of the story is, if you are under 13 you shouldn’t sign up for things that request your age. I learned this the hard way when I was ten, too, and read the legislation. However, if he is as clever as you say he is, by the time he is thirteen he will have very little use for the archives of emails he sent when he was eight.

  79. Wow ! Google is not to blame
    People should learn to read small letters from time to time and…
    my son is 26 , sorry 16 yrs old .This is a free account .Did anyone ask for ID card? Get the point?

  80. You can easily download the email messages with one of dozens of clients like Outlook, you can also open an email and then give him the password.

    Just like with most MMORPG’s they require you to be 18+ so you can be controlled by the contract but leave the loop hole that you can let your child use the account. Same principle here.

  81. The victim-blaming in this thread would be fascinating if it weren’t horrifying. As a few intelligent folks have noted, COPPA does offer some methods for allowing parental consent I (like Abi and Martin) have had my daughter sign up for services that have asked for my permission. Google can do that, too. Google could also choose to make the emails available for downloading, even if they don’t cave on anything else. This is a choice that the company is making, period.

    Yes, Abi and Martin could have chosen to lie (an option I’ve done once or twice), but they have their set of values, and it’s not unreasonable that they’d want to stick to them and still have their son be able to get online. Likewise, he’s clearly capable of using the internet, and mature enough to handle using Plus.

    But at this stage, none of that matters, since Google won’t let the boy get in to download his email, which is the immediate problem. It’s not that he can’t use the service or something similar elsewhere; it’s that his existing years of content are not accessible, all because he was honest.

  82. I, frankly, am appalled at the number of people who are blaming Abi and Martin for this. I do think (along with Patrick) that Google is being evil about it, and should allow you to retrieve his data.

    I also think that Google is over a barrel on this issue, but should should have behaved better. Much better.

  83. Kids at that age should absolutely not use their real name/age/adress on the internet. When i was that young 10 years ago i just put a random name and the first best age above the limit, still do most of the time.
    This was common practice back then, everyone had a nickname. I don’t understand why everyone wants to give their real personal data to random internet companies all the time.

  84. My 10 year old son has a Fastmail.fm account (through a custom domain). I like the idea of paying a little for my email, so I have someone to get in touch with if problems arise. I just checked their TOS, and it 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.

    That seems fine. They’re an Australian company, although their servers are in the U.S. Maybe that makes them more reasonable.

  85. Unpleasant things happen in life. This is the first of many for your son. The lesson here is that if you really watch over all he does, then who read the TOS for him and explained it? Nobody?They are there for a reason.

  86. There seems to be a lot of opinions being offered, and commiseration, but not many possible solutions.

    Is there any public phone number for Google through which you could reach a customer service agent and see if there’s something they can do to resolve this?

    Good luck,
    Steve

  87. This could also be used as a good lesson for your son on a few different fronts.

    1. Never put all your eggs in one basket, i.e. – don’t put all your faith (and data) in just one company.

    2. Always have a fallback plan.

    3. Always backup your data.

  88. You should at least download all your email in case you are not able to resolve the situation. It’s pretty easy to do with any email application (Mac Mail, Thunderbird, etc). Or even to another Gmail account via POP.

  89. The fact of the matter is, your son is 10, and he’s not entitled to the same things that adults get. By making a big deal out of this, you’re sending him the message that he can have whatever he wants. That’s a really great way to raise an over-entitled asshole, and I think the world would thank you to not do that.

    If Google says the answer is no, then the answer is no. No one is “cutting him off” from his family. Tell him to pick up the phone and call his grandparents, or let him use your Skype account. In three years he’ll have all the internet he wants, and it’s not going to kill him to wait. Try enrolling him in soccer in the meantime.

  90. Anyone who wants evidence that the disintermediated communication style made possible by the Internet has degraded people humane sensibilities can find masses of said evidence right here in this comment thread.

    Sometimes people make me sick, and this is one of those times.

  91. Well, duh. You think that just because he’s YOUR son that he’s exempt from the rules?

    I don’t pity you at all, and I’m honestly confused as to why you see this as a problem? Seriously.

  92. Abi, I believe you are a better ethical theorist than I am, so I’m going to propose a tangential question:

    Lying is an artifact of communication between humans. As a corporation is not human, is it possible to lie to a corporation?

  93. I learned to lie on the internet as soon as i had access back when I was about your sons age.

    I mean the young man codes python, certainly at this point you can teach him that stretching the truth in this instance is acceptable because of reasons X, Y, Z.

    Your son sounds brilliant, and not allowing him to create a new account with a fake age is reckless, and you should be ashamed as a parent. Surely, you are doing the noble thing, but you are also limiting your sons abilities.

  94. There’s a web application called Backupify (www.backupify.com) that will allow you to link your Google services and it’ll download and backup all the data, including email, contacts, Picasa, and more. If you use this type of service, you’ll be able to maintain a backup of all that data.

    (Note: I am NOT affiliated with Backupify; I’m just a user)

  95. There may not have been a date entry to confirm age two years ago, but there is one now. I was going to sign my 5 yr old up for a Gmail account for linking things like Xbox Live. But I was denied by due to the ToS.

    While I disagree with this since the internet is a part of everyone’s life, I honor the rules and go on with life.

  96. Before I was 18, I always calculated in what month and year I would have to be born in order to be 18 at that moment. No harm done. Lying is wrong, but in situations like these, I would probably try to explain to my child that filling out some information incorrectly can be necessary sometimes.

  97. I just don’t get why Google suspends the whole account and not just Google +
    This is a real problem in general then. For example if I upload a picture on Picasa and someone has problems with that Google would lock my whole account? All my calender entries, my mail, my documents, my life..gone :O

    I hope Google will notice that case and think over the situation.

  98. I just don’t get why Google suspends the whole account and not just Google +
    This is a real problem in general then. For example if I upload a picture on Picasa and someone has problems with that Google would lock my whole account? All my calender entries, my mail, my documents, my life..gone :O

  99. I think the problem lies more in your kid crying over a gmail account than google closing down accounts. Just a thought. Look into it as much as you want to. Not my kid.

  100. I really hope you manage to figure this out. I have hopes of having a child as awesome as your son when I’m older :)

    I think it’s good that you’re teaching him not to lie. The rules are definitely there for a reason. To the average child, the Internet is a very dangerous place full of misleading messages and shady people. Your son doesn’t sound average, though, it sounds like the message you’re trying to send to him has got through.

    As one of the first comments stated, the problem here is the false assumption that age is indicative of maturity :(

  101. And ABC Liquor made my son cry when he was denied the sale of alcohol at the age of 8. Seriously, your son agreed that he must be 13 years of age or older to sign up. He lied about his age and proceeded, knowing the risks involved. Don’t blame Google because you didn’t teach your son the importance of READING things you agree to on the internet.

  102. With the parents on this one.

    Laws need to change to adapt to societal progress. They are holding things back.

    Reminds of the story in Canada where election results from the East Coast spread to the West Coast through Twitter; violating some old law that makes this illegal (so as to not bias voters going to the polls in the West, which is 4-5 hours behind the East).

    Laws are for people, not people for laws

  103. “As parents, we care about not teaching him to lie.”

    If your son isn’t mature enough to understand moral dilemmas surrounding when lying is OK and when it is not OK, he isn’t mature enough to use the internet. Concealing your identity is a part of being safe online, where companies gather data about you left and right. You can’t have only the good (Gmail) and ignore the bad (DoubleClick).

    Part of being mature is realizing that the real world (and the internet) isn’t a fairy tale filled with cats, unicorns and butterscotch waterfalls. There are rules, and you don’t always get what you want. It sucks that Google made your son cry, but Google isn’t obligated to cushion your kid from reality. If you want your kid to have it easy, that’s YOUR job.

    All I hear in this blog post is whining that Google took its toys away from you because you as parents didn’t think about the big picture. You didn’t think that decision to let your kid play in the big scary sandbox of the internet might have consequences that make him cry? Did you also write a blog post lambasting gravity when your son fell and scraped his knees?

    Hopefully your son will learn from this situation what it seems that you as parents haven’t.

  104. I am so happy this has happened to your son. He sounds like a sharp kid and let us hope he remembers this lesson when he grows up and unlike the geeks working at Google starts thinking about what is Good for humans instead of a corporation.

  105. Great time for a lesson on how authority figures aren’t always right. Jury nullification, 18th Amendment, the current ban on gay marriage, etc.

  106. “Google isn’t obligated to cushion your kid from reality.”

    Yes, that’s why they let through all the spam. I mean, spam is REAL. You gotta learn to deal with it. That’s LIFE, man. Quit trying to cushion your kid from reality!

    If Google’s not better than a kick in the teeth, I don’t see why we ought to use it.

  107. This is ridiculous. Isn’t anyone paying attention?

    Google is a US company bound by US laws. Those laws state that they can’t offer services to people under the age of 13 without parental consent. If Google becomes aware that someone under 13 is using their service they have to lock the account until parental permission is received. (If Google were in the UK this age limit would be even higher – 16 or 18.)

    So the parent comes along, does what it says on the screen, and everything is good. This is exactly how it’s supposed to work. Only it seems rather odd that instead of following the instructions to prove that they are a responsible adult and approve their son’s usage, that they instead rushed online to write a blog post about Google making their son cry.

    Why not just give your permission, so that your son’s account can continue as normal, as if nothing had happened? Simple, quick, easy. That’s how it’s supposed to work. Why not do that?

  108. Tell him to get his personal data from Google Takeout. It does suck, but it is an option. Or appeal to Google through twitter, they may be able to export his emails.

  109. This was a great read and I can see both sides of the argument. In truth I lay the blame on bad parents everywhere. I mean the parents that don’t educate, and supervise their children on the web.. and then when something happens instead of owning and taking their share of the responsibly, and realizing thet they at least partially dropped the ball, they want to hire lawyers, and sue someone… I don’t work for google, but use them and I’m sorry this happened to you.

  110. Ugh, I’m so sorry for your son, I absolutely HATE COPPA.
    It was a mistake. I remember being 12 years old and locked out of anything of value on the Internet. COPPA is ridiculously restrictive.
    And I got invited to G+, then kicked out when Google noticed I was under 18. HOW MUCH DOES THAT SUCK?!
    Again, so sorry about this, but I don’t think Google can do much about this. What’ll they do, change the law?

  111. It’s probably clear to any reasonably perceptive or experienced reader that we have not detailed the full range of ways that we have educated Alex on the ways of the internet, any more than we have given a complete picture of any of our lessons in social relations. I’m sure that it’s fairly obvious why we would not be going into this in public, even in less inflammatory circumstances.

    Given that we haven’t provided enough information to evaluate our parenting skills, I can only only assure our visitors here that I will take their conclusions on that quantity of evidence with all of the seriousness that they deserve.

    Likewise, the parenting advice from people with whom we do not have the honor of an acquaintance, but who still feel free to offer criticisms, will be given all of the consideration that it is due.

    I am more appreciative of the technical suggestions. I am grateful for people whose first impulse on seeing a problem is to suggest a solution, though not all of them are quite suitable for the specific nature of the matter at hand.

Comments are closed.