Alex and Google, follow-up

The article I wrote on Sunday about Alex being cut off from Google generated quite a bit of attention and feedback. Most of it was positive, much of it was well-meaning, and some of it was dark and ugly. Unfortunately, those proportions were not reflected in the comments left here on this blog.

I shut down comments yesterday afternoon because they were turning toxic, and I don’t want to deal with that kind of negativity. I only deleted a few comments, because I didn’t want to distort the picture that appeared, or make it seem like everyone was on my side.

To everyone who expressed their sympathy, support, and understanding, thank you. We’ve had some wonderfully kind and generous messages over the last couple of days.

To everyone who thinks I’m a bad parent, a hypocrite, or just a whiner: whatever. You probably complain about parents bringing their kids on airplanes, too. I don’t have anything to say to you.

But the numerous responses from well-meaning people offering suggestions made me think a lot. I wrote the article just an hour or so after the incident, and I was feeling angry and upset. Why was I feeling that way?

First of all, it’s not not about data loss. That may seem the most obvious thing to be upset about, but we’ve got that covered. We have Alex’s email set up so that both Abi and I receive copies of everything sent to him. We can restore much of his correspondence from there. Additionally, as many people pointed out, we can just lie about his age and get his account unlocked within minutes.

I think this is why many of the responses were along the lines of, “What’s your problem? Just lie like everyone else, and use this as a lesson to teach him not to trust Google/corporations/the cloud/anyone.”

As a practical matter, I fully expect to do exactly that at some point in the next day or two. Alex will have his email back, and everything will go back to normal. But as a matter of principle, I get sick of lying every time I have to tick that “I have read and understood…” checkbox, when the language in most ToS documents — and the fact that they are generally hidden on a secondary page — is clearly designed to make sure that you don’t read or understand them. Given that this episode came about because of a ToS violation, I just reached a breaking point here. If Google is going to deny services to children under 13, they need to put a date of birth field on the sign-up forms for all of their services, even Gmail. Simple as that. (Update: nothing is ever “simple as that”. See comment.)

Secondly, it’s not about not about being cut off from email. There are plenty of other email providers out there who will allow us to provide parental consent for a child account. Finding a provider outside the US probably isn’t that hard, either. I know how to set up my own email server, but I prefer to let other people handle that for me.

We deliberately chose Gmail as Alex’s email client because it has a simple interface, and its spam filtering is the best in the business. I love Gmail, but it would be a matter of minutes to get him up and running with an alternative mail solution. So again, “What’s your problem? Just switch and move on.”

Here is the heart of the matter for me: it’s the moment of horror when you realize that something you love is gone. The sickening crash when your grandmother’s precious ornament slips out of your hands and hits the floor. The hollow dread in your stomach right after you accidentally delete the production database. The moment you come home after a long road trip, and discover that you left your favourite cuddly toy behind at a rest stop 400 miles away.

That’s how Alex felt when he realized he was locked out of his email.

No matter how quickly we reassured him that we’d find a way to get it back, that moment of shock and pain and despair still creased his face. No matter how much we hugged him and wiped away his tears, he still hurt, in that special way when you blame yourself for what happened. Alex followed the instructions in the invitation to sign up for Google+. He entered his real date of birth. And because of that, he wasn’t just denied access to the new service, he lost access to everything he had with them before.

Yes, I was at fault for confirming that I had read and understood the Terms of Service when I created Alex’s Gmail account on his behalf.

Yes, I was at fault for not supervising every moment of Alex’s online life. He surprised Abi and me both when he said he had added Abi to a Circle in Google+. We don’t use net nanny software; the computer he uses is in plain view in the living room. We may receive copies of his emails, but we don’t obsessively scrutinise every one. We talk with him a lot about online behaviour, and we try to steer him away from problem areas. We also feel that he has shown enough responsibility to deserve the independence we grant him. If that changes, we will re-evaluate. We like raising Free Range Kids; that’s one of the reasons we live in the Netherlands rather than Britain or the USA.

Yes, Google acted perfectly legally, and in accordance with their Terms of Service. As soon as they acquired Alex’s date of birth, and tied it to his overall Google identity, they were obliged to act on that knowledge. Not doing so would mean breaking the law; I understand that.

What I blame Google for, though, and what is entirely under their own control, is poor implementation and lack of empathy. Rolling out Google+ is a massive undertaking, on a scale I have never dealt with. I don’t think that “weeding out underage Gmail users” was an item on the project plan; I’m sure it’s an unintended consequence. But the failure mode is harsh, and offers no recourse for parents who would grant legal consent (within the USA-specific scope of COPPA) for their child to use the service, to actually do so. Legal and nice are perpendicular scales. You can obey the law and still be a dick. (Wil Wheaton says: Don’t be a dick.)

Alex is not going to be scarred for life, and I’m sure he’s going to learn useful lessons here. But he trusted Google, and they failed him hard. In his words, “I might even start using Yahoo for search.”

Alex is not amused.
Alex is not amused


43 Replies to “Alex and Google, follow-up”

  1. “Alex is not amused” and he is right to be not amused.

    it’s a very tough lesson to learn; that there are faceless institutional forces, created w/ good intention, that sometimes catch innocent bystanders in their wheels.

    a tough lesson for Alex, and for you, too, eh?

    as a parent of three i can recall distinctly times when i had the feeling that “i failed” as a parent to protect my child from getting hurt (emotionally, physically, etc.). luckily, we were always able to take a moment to step back, get our footing, and take a positive step forward (sometimes right back into the fray!).

    you’re a good parent. Alex is a good man. Google is loosing the confidence and support of some good people. i bet they’re bummed, too.

    but, on the other hand…

    Alex has a chance to try some new things.
    you get a chance to take some notes for the future.
    and Google gets a chance to make things better.

    some pain for sure; some gain, too? i hope so.

    “Alex is not amused. Alex can make choices; you don’t want to anger Alex.”

    hang in there kid. you’re the future; and you got ’em on the run now[grin]!


  2. I hope Google learns its lesson and fixes this bug, because there’s bound to be other kids in the same situation. It’s not right for Alex to lose his existing email because of a beta app.

    Best wishes for a speedy resolution!

  3. Condolences to Alex on collision with unintended consequences.

    I switched to duckduckgo for primary search about a year ago, mostly because I don’t trust Google’s intentions as regards my search history. It works reasonably well, most of the time, and using the Google as the failover rather than the primary limits my exposure to ad trackers.

    Especially where minor children are concerned, I’d strongly suggest you at least allow your opinions to be influenced by this:

  4. “””Yes, I was at fault for confirming that I had read and understood the Terms of Service when I created Alex’s Gmail account on his behalf.”””

    No, you were not at fault for confirming you understood the TOS. It is clearly unreasonable to expect that every person will spend an hour or two reading through a TOS every time they consider using software or buying a product at the store. You behaved like a reasonable human being. The software industry and their lawyers are being _evil_.

  5. You shouldn’t’ve had to write this post, and yet, I’m glad you did. It’s such a graceful explanation of the issues.

    And I, too, know the feeling–the exact and terrible feeling–of having left that favorite toy four hundred miles away.

  6. “If Google is going to deny services to children under 13, they need to put a date of birth field on the sign-up forms for all of their services, even Gmail. Simple as that.”

    It looks like they do now, at least for Gmail and other Google account services, when I visit their signup pages. But some of the older accounts don’t have birthdate information if they were created before this requirement was added, and the user has not signed up for new Google services. My Google Docs account (the only Google service I sign in for) was migrated from Writely after Google acquired them, and to my knowledge it never had a birthdate associated with it. (There isn’t one that shows up in my profile, in any case.) Similarly, older Gmail accounts might have been created when birth-date wasn’t asked for (or required).

  7. I just had a look at the new account signup page for Gmail (, and there is indeed a Birthday field…but only if you choose “United States” from the “Location” list.

    I regret using the phrase “Simple as that” in this post, because it never is. I should know better. Just making sure that content appears in the right language is hard enough; this I know from experience. Having to customise for the legal requirements of each different country must be a nightmare.

  8. @Martin’s “Having to customise for the legal requirements of each different country must be a nightmare.” in his comment dated Wed 06.Jul.2011 at 07:59 : actually, the Google general TOS page has a droplist of countries at the topt, but from a few attempts to check what they said for different countries, they don’t seem to change much.

    Which makes me wonder: if these TOS say: “…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,…” and if your son was asked to provide evidence that he is over 13 years old, wouldn’t this imply that 13+ is the legal age for forming binding contracts?
    A bit odd, isn’t it? Can someone who has turned 13 enter a binding contract for buying stuff on eBay, for instance?

  9. “But he trusted Google, and they failed him hard.”
    You told yourself in your previous post that Google has to do this by American law.
    So this is not a matter of trust in Google, because they can’t help that they have to block users when they get to know that they are under 13 years of age.
    I think Google wouldn’t like a thing more than everyone in the whole world having access to their services!

  10. Under the Jewish traditional legal system, one certainly can enter a binding contract at age 13 (for boys; 12 for girls). Not so long ago (less than a century) Jewish girls in Yemen were marrying at 12 so that they wouldn’t be kidnapped and forced to marry Muslim men. And marriage is (among other things) a binding contract, entered into with exchange of financial consideration (the ring).

    Not so long ago in the US (less than a century), most people entered the workforce at 13 – which means making a contract (work for pay). When my grandparents went to HS, around 1911 and 1914, it was far from universal for people to go to HS. The 8th-grade diploma was big and impressive for that reason.

    In New York State, for instance, people can marry at 14 with parental consent. 14. I’ve known one or two people who did marry at 15. And that’s a contract. So 13 is not a totally unreasonable cutoff.

  11. I’m sorry. Alex warned me not to email him any more; I hope this situation is righted soon.

    Google doesn’t care how old you are. They just don’t want to get sued.

  12. Here is the heart of the matter for me: it’s the moment of horror when you realize that something you love is gone. The sickening crash when your grandmother’s precious ornament slips out of your hands and hits the floor. The hollow dread in your stomach right after you accidentally delete the production database. The moment you come home after a long road trip, and discover that you left your favourite cuddly toy behind at a rest stop 400 miles away.

    And this is a case of an email service not allowing children to have personal email accounts without the supervision and control of a parent.

    I’m sure your son was upset by being locked out of his email. However the problem can be solved in several ways, all of which result in his regaining access. We all experience surprising disappointments in our lives. We all encounter contractual terms we think to be unfair. This is part of life.

    The teachable moment here is simply that disappointment is bearable, many problems are resolvable, and his email is retrievable.

    No need for the melodrama, imho.

  13. La verdad tengo tedio de escribir en ingles.

    Me párese conmovedor tus palabras. Te diré, creo que es justo y necesario que los niños tengan Email, pero que no se les dejen entrar a las redes sociales, por sus diferentes peligros. Si tomamos en cuenta que un Email es completamente personal y secreto. Por ende pudiera manejar un niño, claro con la supervisión de un adulto, tal cual como lo estas haciendo.

    Entiendo tu enojo y la desesperación de Alex, pero ahí que tener en cuenta que esa no fue la forma de eliminar la cuenta de Gmail. Solo hubiese sido necesario eliminar la cuenta de Google +.

    Ahy que cambiar las leyes y adaptarlas a una mejor convención. Ya que ahy cosas que puede hacer un niño (Como buscar en Google) y otras no las debería hacer.

    Un saludo!! desde Colombia

  14. The thing that gets me with the whole situation is that Google has a commercial where they send emails with photos and videos and the such to an account for a baby. This seems like a very similar situation, except that your son get’s to interact back. Here’s the video:

    Just MHO

  15. I still view it as a matter of data, though not of data loss, but rather of data ownership. The legalities of data ownership with SaaS offerings (deliberately avoiding the word “cloud” here) are murky at best, and implementations of individual services and ToCs don’t make the issue any better.

    Though Google+ was launched with a fair amount of fanfare over data liberation, I’m pretty sure you still can’t export “your” data once your account is locked for some reason… hollow words, therefore.

  16. One of the things I love about Google is that fact that really wild things like this tend to get noticed. Even if it can’t get fixed (because laws often suck that way), it’ll get noticed, and talked about. And if it’s possible, someone will try to make it less of an asshat move in the future.

    So maybe good will come of this, and that might be kinda cool. Here’s hoping.

  17. I though it was interesting how, in response to your original post, people were giving you crap about using your blog to complain about Google. Isn’t that what blogs are for? Look, I have friends and family with whom to share all of the wonderful things in my life, but very few people to bit-um, complain to. I’m sure the same can be said about you. Of course you’re going to use your blog to express your feelings of hurt and outrage. The fact that it might actually make a difference is just icing on the cake.

    Look, Google was wrong to deny you the right to consent to allow your child to use their services. It’s a free service, so in some ways it’s hard to complain, yet we users are the ones responsible for the billions of dollars that Google makes. IMHO, that makes them beholden to us on some level.

  18. Hi Martin,

    Just writing to say how much I sympathy with Alex and you. We share the experience – I got to your original post after searching on the subject, because my daughter had her account locked out as well…

    This shocked us both, since it came as a big surprise and with no warning! Nowhere on the registration form did it state there was a minimum age requirement. I don’t remember it being stated when signing her up to Gmail a few years ago, either. We’re not even from the States, and after reading the ToS, I can safely say it is very vague about what the actual required legal age is.

    Her mother and I did not let her open a Facebook account, even though she asked to, since Facebook clearly states you must be 13 or older in order to sign up. Needless to say, she is about the only one in her 4th grade which does not have an account there… (talking to some of her classmate on the subject made me realize most of them were actually born in the 70’s! – that is, if you believe their Facebook registration forms…).

    Anyway, Google+ with it’s whole circles philosophy seemed to be a more protective place, and that’s why we were happy to help her set up an account…

    I still don’t understand why she needs to lose all of her email and contacts information like that.

    This incident also made me realize there is no easy way to contact Google. Anywhere I looked on their site for a “Contact Us” form, only led me to unhelpful help forums.

    I hope Alex is over the whole incident already, putting his energy into setting up his new mail account, and not sobbing over spilled milk (or deleted emails…) as they say.

    You shouldn’t be to hard on yourself either. You sound as a good parent, and as much as our kids like to think (and sometimes we ourselves as well…), even parents are only humans, and sometimes make mistakes. This is definitely not the worst mistake you could make as a one.

    Good luck and All the best!

  19. Thank you, thank you, thank you so much for sharing your experience, Martin. It means a lot to me and my son Kelvin, since we just went through the exact same experience and found your blog posts through a google search in our despair and bitter disappointment. Reading your post made us feel better and while we probably won’t recover his email (he does have other google accounts, including a rarely updated blog, which we’ll try to keep), it is very comforting to know that there are other people undergoing the same disagreeable experience. I will probably link to your posts when I write in my own blog about what happened to us. Thanks again and I’ll come back to check for more updates if you have them.

  20. This story has been going on for more than a week now. Has there already been any response from Google? Surely *someone* at Google must have noticed this.

  21. I’m sorry to hear this, and I’m sorry for your kid. But still, in my opinion, Google has done nothing wrong in this matter.

  22. I can’t bring myself to be sorry for any of you, other than for the comments that were left on your blog originally – there’s no excuse for that. Some people have no home training, and feel like the rest of us have to suffer for it. Ignore them.

    As for the situation you find yourself in, this is what happens when people don’t read the rules of a website before signing up.

    The interesting thing about teaching kids right from wrong is that you also have to teach them to accept the consequences that go with doing wrong. Some say that ignorance of the law is no excuse for breaking it, and in this case the Terms of Service at Google are law, and based on the laws that govern the owners of the site. The consequences are that the account is shut down and the data lost. This is an excellent opportunity for your son to learn this, instead of learning that if he BAWs loud enough to enough people, he’ll get his way. I don’t think Google has an obligation to give him anything back, and I don’t think they should, either.

    Can Google allow you to provide consent? Probably. Legally, yes. Do they have to? No. They even put it very plainly:

    “If you misbehave, we may terminate our agreement with you. This might result in your access to some or all of our services being disabled. Don’t say you weren’t warned.”


  23. @ Miyna
    I don’t accept that anybody did any wrong.
    The 13+ service age laws don’t apply in most countries, and for the Gmail TOS mum or dad can read it, and approve it on behalf of their child.

    Google certainly doesn’t have a legal obligation to give anything back, but it’s a dick move not to. A lot of people seem to be overly critical because they don’t see this problem as ever possibly effecting them- but it’s a good idea to keep the companies you rely on for so much.. friendly. Even when it is just to ‘little kids’.
    You’re being outrageously harsh- “I don’t think they should, either”. What? To teach you a lesson you should get the maximum penalty for every time you’ve shown a DVD to a large enough audience to be classified as a gathering. That’ll teach you not to listen to the law.. right?

    I’m unsure of what kind of effort the author has made to contact google though, I really can’t imagine them not extracting the data and giving it back, which shouldn’t be breaking any laws. Weird.

  24. The same thing happened with one of my cousins accounts, this is very disappointing on part of google. Lost information should never be forced, that defeats the purpose of storing info on the cloud. I can only hope they will get access to their accounts like your son. I can sympathize and the feeling on losing everything is something google should work to prevent – after all it looks like “don’t be evil” is all talk.

    I can’t think of anything more evil than making a child cry and get that sinking feeling of disappointment that comes with losing all their memories.

  25. I am sorry– the same thing happened to my son’s account, and he is equally devastated. He was only using gmail to correspond with his grandparents, and he was sad to have lost the emails. He also lost his google docs. His teacher at school had promoted the idea that they should write their school papers (book reports, etc) on google docs so that they could work at home and at school. I guess she didn’t know about the age issue either. In any case, google has been ENTIRELY unhelpful, and it’s really obnoxious that they’re not even willing to engage or didn’t give him 24 hours to download anything from his account before disabling it.

  26. The same here. The only difference is that I did read the ToS when I created my son’s Google account. There is nothing about a minimum age in that document. Perhaps in the US version, but not in the version I was linked to. We live in Germany.

    I understand that this is a free service and that they have the right to deny the service for whatever reason they want. But what bothers me the most is that all the mail which is sent to this account on the next 30 days just gets lost! The sender does not get it returned. In this case I would prefer I could delete the account right away!

  27. I understand how your son feels: I’m under 13, too. (Oops.) A couple of my friends also have had their accounts removed.
    According to the COPPA (, it probably wouldn’t be very hard for Google to comply with it. Google already lets users view data it stores through Google Dashboard, and it isn’t too hard to delete that data. All that’s left is obtaining parental verification while making an account, which can be done by:
    -getting a signed form from the parent via postal mail or facsimile;
    -accepting and verifying a credit card number in connection with a transaction;
    -taking calls from parents, through a toll-free telephone number staffed by trained personnel;
    -email accompanied by digital signature;
    Wait a minute, doesn’t Google already verify credit cards to check if you’re over 13 after your account is banned? I don’t think it would very hard for a Google engineer to implement this. I think this would be beneficial to a lot of kids, and keep kids from having to play a lying game for years and years. If I’m correct, Microsoft already does this. I think that if Microsoft can implement this, Google certainly has the ability to.
    Even if Google doesn’t decide to do this, I would at least like to see banned users be able to export their account data. What happened to data transparency? It’s tough having to lose years of old emails, chats, documents, etc. As for myself, I develop JavaScript projects on Google Code for Chrome (which I’ve been using since day 2), and I use almost all of Google’s products ( except for Adsense and Adwords, many of them nearly from the first day. I even got a T-shirt for participating in Google Map Maker. I know there will be people that will disagree with me, but I hope that one day Google will allow kids 13 and under to participate in its services, while still complying with COPPA.

  28. wow what a jerk google is for doing that to the kid! I feel like if the parents give consent that should be enough! Im definitely not signing up for google plus after reading this! i probably violate all kinds of terms of service without even realizing it and i dont want to risk getting my google deleted!

    i understand you for being upset about them hurting your child! it doesnt matter if he feels better afterwards, the fact that he felt that pain even for a moment is enough to piss off a parent! if a child scrapes his knee, you can put a band aid on it..but after it heals, that scar is still gonna be there, and he still cried when it happened! I GET IT! If I had a kid and it happened to them, id be pissed too!


    This has info on how gmail and Google are quite scary. BTW, thy say deleting the ACCOUNT, not the emails, which will be stored for years to come, but still unrecoverable.

    I use because I haven’t had any problems with them, and there front page thing is cool.

  30. I feel for Alex. Really I do. But as many have mentioned, Google’s hands are tied at the moment and Yahoo and most other companies will have a similar restriction.

    This is a perfect opportunity however for both you and Alex to participate in our democracy. If we are to succeed as a nation, we must learn that the cookie-cutter mentality is ineffective as a model. Write your legislator and work to get new legislation passed that enables our children to succeed. We protect our children from way too much and we do a major disservice to them and to our nation when we limit their ability to become responsible adults.

  31. The exact same thing happened to my daughter. She has had an email account for 3 years (she’s 11) and when she tried to log in to google+ her gmail account was restricted and I had to pay .30 AND lie about her age to boot, just so we wouldn’t lose years worth of emails between her and her friends and family members. It’s completely ridiculous that children under 13 are just NOT allowed to do anything online, even with the explicit permission of their parents.

  32. I think the worst thing isn’t close the account. Is deny the user to retrieve any of his old mails, and being “hey, we will do anything than close your account kick-the-door style >.< "

  33. Oh man, I feel for you.

    I have a similar, albeit less frustrating problem: we live in a fairly old neighborhood, and our infrastructure is wonky; so we switched from a landline based provider to comcast with the hopes that it would improve our internet access (it’s still frustratingly slow).

    Google promptly categorized all mail coming from my address as spam. I have been using sylvus @ rejiquar dot com for *years*. I put up with the spam, everything else, because it’s *my* address. I have a pgp key for it, and I sign my mail. I expected to keep that email till I died.

    I probably won’t be able to.

    I cannot use my main email address to email my daughter, much of my family (nor can I post to the family googlegroups nor any other googlegroups); I cannot access my youtube account because it’s verified through that address and since google bought them…poof. As more and more people switch to gmail accounts, I’m forced to use their fracking service ever more. Yes: I have a gmail account: but I loathe using it, knowing they will be able to mine every word, forever. *That’s* the price you pay for their “free” email. –No thanks.

    There is no way to call them. They ignore my emails. We cannot afford to move, and until we do, we’re stuck with comcast. There’s no guarantee, even if we did switch providers, that this would fix the problem. When I read about the smashed figurine (I have one that my great Aunt made, and can easily imagine the despair of losing it) I thought, Yes. That.

    I used to love google. I still use it, probably more than any other service on the internet. But they’ve lost my respect.

    sylvus tarn

  34. Today, my daughter joined the club…

    No more Google anymore. Now, that I am Android fan, it is so hard, but so needed.

  35. “If Google is going to deny services to children under 13, they need to put a date of birth field on the sign-up forms for all of their services, even Gmail. Simple as that.”

    “It looks like they do now, at least for Gmail and other Google account services, when I visit their signup pages. ”

    I just clicked on the Gmail “Create an Account” button and still see absolutely no birthdate/age input while creating a new account…

    They should fix this and make the age requirement CLEAR, as their Terms of Service (which I did actually SCAN through, but not read word for word, while creating a Gmail account on behalf of my 11-year-old cousin – whose parents are fully aware of this and have no objections to him having & using it – earlier this year) is displayed in a much too small box to be readable.

    When I then tried activating Google+ on that particular account a few days ago, I also received the horrifying message that the account had been de-activated because of an age/terms violation and would be deleted within the next 29 days. Since Google Chat is one of the ways that we stay in touch (living far apart) and he had only just turned 12, that would mean being able to communicate only via expensive telephone calls from now on… so I decided to use my credit card and pay Google the 30 US cents in order to prevent that (and then promptly fixed my “typo” in the birth year when signing up to Google+ again by changing the last digit from a 9 to a 0 – they’re right next to each other on the keyboard, so you know how easy it is to accidentally hit the wrong key 🙂 … but I feel that should not have been necessary! This was also unfortunately not the first time that Google has really upset me – a few years ago they just suddenly informed me that my AdSense account is suspended and I would be banned from using it for life. No explanation provided and to this day I still do not know HOW I had even violated their terms on THAT! Funny thing is that they waited until just before it was time to pay out my earnings on Adsense before doing that. Nice one Google… again!

    Well I’m sure that everyone affected by this latest Google stunt has learned a lot from it – I know I have. Especially to NOT be too honest with them (now see how they force children to also be implicated in a lie in order to keep their account?). Just glad that I was the one who logged into that account on this occasion and was confronted with the dreaded Google you-just-lost-your-account message and then had a chance to “fix” it, as I know my cousin would have been about as devastated as Alex was!

  36. I created a Gmail account for my 8 year old a few months ago, and they did require a date of birth to be entered at that time (which may have changed from 2 years ago). I originally attempted to use my son’s, and got locked out of being able to create an account until I closed the browser (probably to delete any session cookies).

    I tried creating the account again, this time using my own date of birth, explained as best as I could the arbitrary 13 years of age legal crap to him (I felt like it all went over his head, but I’m sure he’s a lot more perceptive than I probably give him credit for), and then said that we can simply consider this to be my email account, and that he has permission to use it. Using that as a workaround, I felt comfortable enough that I was not teaching him to lie, while at the same time being able to get around the stinking age limit.

  37. This is one of the reasons I don’t use web-based interfaces to email. I ALWAYS set up a dedicated email client (Thunderbird) to download my messages locally. If the account stops working, I don’t lose anything, other than the address.

    However I understand that this isn’t just about losing past emails, it’s about feeling betrayed.

    Google could easily remedy this by making use of any of the parental verification methods listed above, but the simple fact is that they don’t care. They want to have as little contact with their users as possible. Why do you think that it’s impossible to find an email address on any of their sites? There’s not even a feedback form that you can use. Google used to let users contact them for help and to report problems, but they stopped that years ago. They’re now just a big, faceless corporation that doesn’t want to be bothered by the “little people”.

    The lesson in all of this is to never trust online corporations. Not only can you lose your account over technicalities like this, you can also lose your account due to errors on their part, or you might say something that ticks off some anonymous employee and find your account deleted for no good reason.

    Use their services, but don’t get too attached to them, as they could disappear at any time.

  38. I feel the real point to take away for the parents, google and alex as well is that we all make mistakes, none of us (even parents and corporations) are perfect, and we all have a lot to learn.
    Parents can learn more about how inoccently accepting terms and conditions on behalf of a child may come back and bite them in the arse. Be careful of those little things, otherwise there will be more tears on cheeks to wipe away.
    Google can learn as you have highlighted, simple is best. If they had and are planning on really enforcing the age limit, request this as input for use of any/all google products. This will bring to the front their terms and conditions that they plan on strictly enforcing and keeping incidents like this from happening in the future.
    Alex can learn that we all are able to make mistakes, even parents. That corporations are not to be blindly trusted and as he grows in this digital world, his information will be continuously sought after, used for (and potentially against) him, and to treat it like the valuable asset that it is.

  39. This, which I came across ironically in a comment on a Google+ user’s stream, makes me all the more determined to have as little to do with cloud computing as I can. I do use gmail, but only as a backup to having my own domain and mail accounts.

    As for data, I’ll stick to keeping it on a machine that I own and I control. No way am I entrusting any sensitive or important data to any organisation which can at any time they fancy deny me access to it on a technicality…

    as for email: what someone else said (in fact, probably more than one), get yourself a domain name and then it’s up to you. Registering names for example is cheap and easy and costs only a few quid a year.

  40. I came across this via a Time article (,8599,2089076-2,00.html), and I think it raises an interesting point about some magical age you need to be in order to use a service. I know some 13 year old idiots who don’t know and don’t care about internet security, who are happily using Facebook on their smart phones.

    Google is smarter than Facebook, and I appreciate they are trying to keep us safe, which is the reason I use GMail. However, if they or the law are judging maturity by age, they are making a grave mistake. Age is not a smart way to judge intelligence or responsibility. Age is an EASY way – the only easy way to do that, but it’s not the right way if it means precocious kids are locked out from the web unless they lie about their age.

    Good luck with your campaign! As a matter of fact, I’m waiting until Google+ has sorted itself out before applying to join, so I’m 100% behind you.

  41. I’m an admin at a popular wiki site, and I share the terrible job of assuring that we remain in compliance with COPPA. I sympathize with your plight and I understand the sense of betrayal. Google, being that they have so many users, has a really tough job ensuring compliance. One thing that we have set up on the site where I’m an admin is a method for parents to print and fill out a COPPA permission form allowing us to retain the data from an underaged user. We also don’t query for age and only reluctantly delete accounts if they tell us their age. Perhaps if Google could spend a tiny bit of money on a COPPA division to allow parents to give permission for their children to use certain services, the internet and Google’s properties might be better places.

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