Google is planning versions of some of its products that will be targeted at kids that are 12 years or younger, according to a news report.
Kids are seen as the next big frontier for Internet companies, and already a number of kids are known to lie about their ages to get accounts on social networks.
But a formal move by Google to enlist kids is likely to require the company to tread carefully as the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act in the U.S. has strict rules, including on the mining of a child's personal information.
Before collecting, using or disclosing personal information from a child, Internet companies have to get the parent's verifiable consent, according to COPPA rules. "COPPA leaves it up to you, but it's important to choose a method reasonably designed in light of available technology to ensure that the person giving the consent is the child's parent," the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, which issues and enforces COPPA regulations, said on its website.
Google's push to offer products targeted at kids is hence likely to come under close scrutiny by parent groups and regulators.
"Google is playing with fire," wrote Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters and co-chair of Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, in an email Wednesday. "There are strict privacy rules requiring parental consent or opt out when kids under 13 use online programs, which Google is already violating when it comes to Google Apps for Education. To advance further into this area and exploit young children risks hefty fines from the FTC."
Google Apps for Education is a suite of free productivity tools for classroom collaboration.
"The big motivator inside the company is everyone is having kids, so there's a push to change our products to be fun and safe for children," Pavni Diwanji, vice president for engineering at Google, told USA Today. Google wants kids to be creative and happy on its products, but it also wants to provide tools so that parents can be in the loop and be able to supervise, she added.
Starting next year, the company plans to create special versions of its products designed for kids, with search, YouTube and Chrome the most likely candidates because of their popularity with a broad age group, according to the report.
Diwanji did not provide a timetable for the rollout. Google said it did not have any details to share beyond what was in the report.
Google is not the first tech company to address kids. Apple, for example, outlined in September privacy measures around allowing children under 13 to have their own Apple ID, and for Family Sharing, which allows up to six people in a family to share purchases from iTunes, iBooks and the App Store.
Microsoft also introduced in April an ad-free version of its Bing search engine in eligible kindergarten to 12th grade schools in the U.S., after running a pilot. Bing searches from within the school network will be filtered for adult content, the company said.