Monday, December 12, 2011

Google is obeying the law--and making kids cry

Federal law makes it hard for kids under 13 to have accounts on the internet except through their schools. Homeschooled kids are out of luck--we can't get Google Education products because you have to be an accredited school to get them.

I needed my kids to be online. I wanted them to write blogs. I wanted them to be able to make and post videos. I wanted them to email assignments to me, and to be tech literate. I assign them to make websites for school. They share google docs with friends and cousins in other states so they can work on collaborative projects. They turn in assignments via google docs.

But I couldn't legally get them their own accounts. So I set up accounts under my name and let them use them. At least, I was pretty sure that's how I arranged it.

Yesterday, news started leaking out that Google was cracking down on kids using the service, deleting the accounts without warning--not even enough time to back up your work, download letters from Grandma or Dad, copy your blog posts to a word document. All to follow Federal law (which once again takes control from the parents, since obviously we can't keep our own kids safe).

So today I set out to figure out if I set up the accounts right--as my own accounts, which I was letting the kids use--since I know at least two of those accounts were set up before that law went into effect.  Turns out it is nearly impossible to find out what information you gave google when you signed up. It isn't in your profile anywhere. We did find one hint--you can set your YouTube account (which is a google account) to tell your gender and age, and you can't modify those two pieces of data on your YouTube profile. So presumably that information comes from your original login information. For both Caleb and Anda, those were listed as Female, 35. That would be me--so I set them up right. I think. But I can't be sure Google will honor that, given that I allow my children to use the accounts. I don't see that as any different than if they were sending emails from the account I use most, or not. I also have a google account that is used exclusively by my phone.  Large companies can be both arbitrary and capricious, and once the info is gone, there is no guarantee I'd ever get it back.

But I couldn't be absolutely sure, so I spent a big chunk of the day backing up and downloading copies of everyone's accounts onto my computer. Every blog post, every google doc, every email. We used and some of the tools they have there to even download backup copies of the kids' google sites (and I backed up my sites at the same time). I also set up a new hotmail account and have the kid's email accounts forwarding to that (via POP mail) into their own back up folders on hotmail (since you can't just download backups of your email--you have to use a POPmail service).

So now I'm confident we won't lose everything if Google decides me letting the kids use my accounts is a TOS violation.

I'd still be pretty devastated if they did that, though. Too bad they discriminate against homeschoolers!

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