Google+ made Alex Sutherland, a precocious 10-year old in Amsterdam, cry last week when his honesty in filling out his new profile led to his two-year old Gmail account being frozen. And Alex’s father, a web and mobile consultant, is furious. “Alex has been using the web since before he could fucking read… You made my son cry, Google. I’m not inclined to forgive that,” Martin Sutherland wrote on his blog.
Yesterday, Alex 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.
Alex technically can’t even use Google Search anymore, according to Google’s terms of service. But it’s not entirely the web giant’s fault. The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act prevents children under the age of 13 from being able to consent to a website’s terms of service. But there is an exception for parental consent–it’s just that Google has no mechanism for Alex’s parents to register their approval.
Tough to do, considering Google’s user base is massive, and it looks like Alex’s two years of emails are probably gone for good. (It’ll be O.K., kid. You have the rest of your life to build up a new archive.) It also makes you wonder how long web companies like Google can continue to go without having a real customer service department–sure, their hundreds of millions of users aren’t their real customers. But users still need to be kept happy, right?
Homepage image via Jill Greenberg Studios