I can haz gmail?
August 19, 2013 7:36 AM   Subscribe

Please explain Google accounts to me like I'm a child.

I don't know too much about google and the huge monster it seems to have become. I use google for searching and that's about it (my own email is with another provider).

A couple years ago I opened up gmail accounts for both my daughters (aged 7 and 9 at the time). They used those accounts for occasional emails and to sign in to Khan Academy. Over the last few months they've really started using gmail a lot more as many of their friends now have email accounts.

Recently my younger daughter's account was disabled with the message that she does not meet the age requirements for a Google account. The exact message is this:

You will not be able to sign in to this account or use it to access any Google products or services.

You do not meet the age requirements for a Google Account. This account will be deleted in 24 days unless the birthday you entered was incorrect and you submit proof that you are 13 years old or older. Learn more.

If you are 13 years old or older, click here to start the account unlock process.

My question: does gmail = google account? Is google really not allowed to grant email accounts to users under the age of 13? Or did she only get this message because she tried to use another google service?

I want my kid to be able to use her email again; I don't care (and neither does she) if she's not allowed to use any of the other google services. Is this possible? I don't want to lie and say I entered the incorrect birthdate; I don't want to try to circumvent the rules and provide my ID as if I'm her. I want her to legitimately have her own legal email account. Please tell me this is possible and if so, how to go about doing it. I've searched Google's help pages and can't find any option to unlink the gmail account from all other services.
posted by yawper to Technology (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Yes, one single Google Account works for all of their services: mail, Docs, G+, and so on. The age requirement is part of their Terms of Service, so you will probably have to explore other e-mail providers. Many of them, though, have similar age restrictions.
posted by jquinby at 7:44 AM on August 19, 2013

Ah, an addendum - the Yahoo link above mentions family accounts, which may suit your needs.
posted by jquinby at 7:46 AM on August 19, 2013

All Google services are consolidated under one Google Account (the username for which is your gmail address). Someone who understands it all better can explain why the cut-off is 13, but it boils down to Google not wanting the liability for the safety of children under 13 and, probably more importantly, the responsibility for modifying their data-collection on and advertising to children under 13.

You cannot unlink.

If you want them to have their own legal email account, you'll probably need to get your own domain and give them email accounts there (though you'll have to comb through your host's terms of service to make sure you won't be violating them by providing email accounts to users under 13). It's pretty cheap to register and host a domain with someone like Dreamhost, and they do offer their own webmail interface (they also offer Google Accounts integration; don't use it).

Facebook, Hotmail, etc all have the 13-year restriction. You'll probably have to find a service whose revenue is not ad-based (so you'll have to pay) if you don't want to roll your own. On preview, it's interesting that Yahoo charges a token fee for those family accounts, and I wonder if that's as much to create a loophole as it is to verify you're an adult (which, obviously, lots of people under 18 have debit cards so that's hardly a decent validation).
posted by Lyn Never at 7:49 AM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's not that Google is not allowed to grant email accounts to users under 13, it's that they don't want to be bound by the restrictions in the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which applies to sites that are used by children 12 and under. Hence Google has specified in its Terms of Service that accounts are only available for those who are at least 13.
posted by brianogilvie at 7:52 AM on August 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

We had a Yahoo family account for a while that came with our ISP account. It seemed to work well enough. I had a dashboard where I could control where I could manage who could email the kids, and who they could email. If they tried to email somebody off-list, it was held in a queue and I got a notification to approve it before it was sent.

Although if you really want the kids to keep using Gmail go ahead and do the age verification as yourself. They will be your email accounts legally. I don't imagine that there is anything in the Google TOS that says you can't allow a family member access to your email account.
posted by COD at 8:29 AM on August 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

yawper: I don't want to try to circumvent the rules and provide my ID as if I'm her.

If you want to re-open the account, I would try and do this. Tell them that it is your account, and that, as a minor, she occasionally assists you in using the account. That doesn't seem like circumventing the rules to me.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:38 AM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

I am not a lawyer. My limited understanding of COPPA is that it governs specific types of services and that it has specific restrictions about allowing strangers to contact the child.

Gmail by itself is OK - my kids had gmail account when they were under 13 and it was fine. Google+ is different however because of things like "what's hot" posts where the child may see content from someone they don't know. Thus G+ requires users to be over 13.

Probably your daughter activated G+, either accidentally or on purpose, and she got locked out. The same thing happened to my daughter - gmail was fine for ages then she got locked out when she activated G+.

I just said I owned the account and sent in a copy of my driver's license or some nonsense.

But it's all driven by COPPA.
posted by GuyZero at 8:58 AM on August 19, 2013

You should check out danah boyd's work regarding COPPA-induced age-gating and discussion about the reasons why parents frequently help their children jump these restrictions. I don't think it will change your mind about anything.

A relevant quote:
COPPA is a well-intentioned piece of legislation with unintended consequences for parents, educators, and the public writ large. It has stifled innovation for sites focused on children and its implementations have made parenting more challenging. Our data clearly show that parents are concerned about privacy and online safety. Many want the government to help, but they don’t want solutions that unintentionally restrict their children’s access. Instead, they want guidance and recommendations to help them make informed decisions. Parents often want their children to learn how to be responsible digital citizens. Allowing them access is often the first step.
posted by heresiarch at 9:45 AM on August 19, 2013

I've heard that this came about historically as follows:

1) Google, prior to its Youtube acquisition, didn't ask for or know the ages of its users
2) Youtube, prior to being acquired by Google, had to ask for age to keep kids from being exposed to porn
3) Google acquired Youtube, but didn't link the Google and Youtube user accounts, so still didn't know how hold a given Google user was
4) Google then linked the Google and Youtube user accounts, and suddenly *did* know how old their users were, and now had to abide by the under-13-years-old requirements on a bunch of accounts
5) Google then sent out "you're too young to use our service" emails to a bunch of accounts.
posted by zippy at 10:25 AM on August 19, 2013

Google has been trying really hard to push their Google Accounts stuff lately - particularly their G+. They've started asking for real names where they never did before, phone numbers when signing up, etc. They are monetizing their advertising, so they want to make sure they're advertising more accurately.

It is no longer the most friendly email service out there. However, there are services on the web that can download all your gmail emails for you so you can have her escape to a new email service.
posted by corb at 4:37 AM on August 20, 2013

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