Google reportedly aims to expand to kids as customers

The search giant is considering changes to its services that would legally allow children to sign up, according to a report published Monday.

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Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

As giant tech companies look to expand their businesses, they've tried to court new audiences. But one relatively untapped demographic has been children, because of several legal complexities. Google is contemplating ways to bring them onto its online services, according to a report published Monday by The Information (subscription required).

The effort would include a version of YouTube that's safe for kids, and a dashboard would allow parents to see the activities of their children -- though it's unclear when any changes might roll out.

Google declined to comment on the report.

Bringing children onto online services is rife with legal pitfalls. The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA, imposes restrictions on Web companies targeting children under 13 years old, including getting parental consent. COPPA's purpose is partly to protect children from companies that store their data, which can be used for ad targeting.

When signing up for the company's services, like Gmail, Google requires users to provide their age, though companies aren't liable for children who lie about their age.

The strategy, though unique in its particular target, essentially boils down to a common one among tech companies: find a way to expand to new users. Google has other initiatives in place aimed at attracting new markets to its business. An ambitious project called Loon focuses on bringing unconnected populations online, by beaming Wi-Fi from high-flying balloons. Facebook has similar aspirations to connect new markets with an initiative called Internet.org, spearheaded by CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Bringing new users online means potentially getting more people to use these companies' services.

But while targeting kids is a relatively uncommon approach for tech giants, other companies have tried it as well. Yahoo lets children onto its services, but only after gaining parental consent through a 50-cent credit card charge. Facebook has also reportedly looked at ways to open up to younger people. Currently, the service is restricted to users 13 and older. Spokespeople from Yahoo and Facebook did not return requests for comment.

One wrinkle in the efforts is that, while users are required to provide an age when signing up for Google services, there is no age requirement for Android, Google's mobile operating system. That was the decision of former head of Android Andy Rubin, according to the report. One of the reasons, according to the Information's sources, is possibly that Google did not want to have to block younger people from using Google's services on those devices.

Rubin told The Information that the explanations behind his decision were "incorrect."

 

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