Google’s vision for a kid-friendly Internet could face regulatory challenges

COPPA and other privacy laws increasingly weary of kid’s right to privacy

As the world largest cache of information, the Internet can be a decidedly adult place. And though explicit content and images lurk around most dark Internet corners, our increased reliance on the troves of information stored online mean that kids need to learn the basics of Internet exploration as soon as they can. Up until now allowing young’uns access to the Web could be a risky proposition, even with the proper parental controls in place. But to combat that disconnect, tech giant Google has revealed its intention to release kid friendly versions of some of its most popular platforms. The new offerings are designed to make exploring the Web safer while prioritizing the type of content kids want.

In an interview with USA Today, Google revealed that it plans to launch kid-friendly versions of its search engine as well as YouTube and Chrome in the near future. While an official time table has not been released, Pavni Diwanji, Googe’s vice president of engineering said that the push has come from new parent inside the company, and aims to make using the Internet safer and more fun for kids.

"We expect this to be controversial, but the simple truth is kids already have the technology in schools and at home," Diwanji said in the USA Today article. "We want kids to be safe, but ultimately it's about helping them be more than just pure consumers of tech, but creators, too."

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Further reading:

The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act grows up 

How FTC privacy enforcement has evolved with recent cases

The ‘reasonable’ guide to data privacy and cybersecurity

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While Google’s efforts make sense within the context of omnipresent Internet accessibility, there could be potential risks associated with bringing younger users to the table. Allison Fitzpatrick, partner in the Advertising, Marketing & Promotions Practice Group of law firm Davis & Gilbert, says that, “Google will face a number of challenges. The most notable challenge is compliance with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which requires that sites obtain parental consent before collecting any personal information from children under 13.”

COPPA has been enacted for over a decade and in that time, the Federal Trade Commission, which oversees its regulation, has levied fines against companies that have forgone parental consent when collecting information on kids under 13. The popular review site Yelp was recently subject to a $450,000 fine for its failure to obtain parental consent when collecting information on younger users.

“COPPA compliance is not easy. An operator must follow the specific parameters of COPPA, including the form of the parental notice, the disclosures that need to be included in the notice and the methods by which an operator can obtain parental consent. Failure to comply with any one step could result in a COPPA violation,” Fitzpatrick says.

Furthermore, amendments made to COPPA in 2013 reclassified voice recordings, photographs and videos as personal information. With a child-friendly YouTube in the works, this could pose additional challenges for Google.

But for the time being, Google’s plans to move forward with more kid-friendly browsing appear to be methodical to be considerate of these challenges. As many have learned over a year marred with a number of high-profile data breaches, personal information is a commodity in the connected age, ensuring that kids treat their personal information with respect will groom them for a future where it is no doubt likely to become an even greater issue.

"We want to lay the foundation right, and then make sure every single part of Google is great for kids. They are the future, so why not give them the tools to let them create it," Diwanji says.

Executive Editor

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Chris DiMarco

Chris DiMarco, Executive Editor of InsideCounsel magazine, has a background in multimedia production with previous involvement in projects in which he developed and created content...

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