Google has had to make major changes to — and apologize publicly about — its Buzz social-networking service after numerous concerns were raised about privacy issues. Now, the Los Angeles Times reports, Google Buzz is facing criticism that it is a major privacy risk for children.
[Technology analyst Charlene Li] says she has counseled her children on how to stay safe online, including not sharing personal information. But the other day she logged into her Google Buzz account only to discover that her 9-year-old daughter had posted a conversation with friends to Buzz without understanding the post was public.
“I saw it because Buzz conveniently made me a follower of hers. I pride myself on staying ahead of my kids, but this time, my kid got ahead of me,” Li wrote. “Fortunately, this was her only Buzz posting. But what was most disturbing was looking at her friends’ conversations and realizing that some of them were chatting with complete strangers, and in some cases, sharing personal information like e-mails. Absolutely terrifying as these are 4th graders who have no clue.” [...]
“First, I discovered that buried in Google’s terms of service somewhere is that children under the age of 13 are not allowed to have Gmail accounts. But unlike Facebook, which requires that people enter their birthdates when setting up accounts, Google makes no such attempt to educate people signing up for Gmail that such a provision is in place. As a result, while Google is absolved of responsibility because of the TOS, it could and should do a better job of complying with the Child Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA),” [Li said.]
Li said she also worries that even if parents disable Buzz, kids can easily turn it back on. And they may not understand how to manage the settings to stay safe. So she is asking for Google to add parental controls to Gmail. And she is asking parents to take action. [...]
Google spokesman Scott Rubin said: “We designed Buzz to make it easy to have conversations with your friends about the things that interest you. Keeping kids safe online is very important to us. You must have a Google account to use Buzz, and we require all new users to provide birth dates to keep children under 13 from signing up for Google accounts.”
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