One very upset father has taken to Google+ to publicly shame Google for its policy of shutting down the accounts of underage users without warning. And when the post in question opens with "Hey Google, thanks for making my daughter cry," you know that it's not going to have a happy ending.
Here, I'll let the words of Rich Warren, the father in question, start the story:
Several years ago I set up a gmail account for my daughter so she could send email to her grandparents. At the beginning of this school year, she started using it much more actively to send messages to her friends and classmates. She also started a blogger blog as a class project.
Then, we woke up this morning to find that Google had disabled both her blog and her email account--apparently because she is under age.
Warren goes on to say that while he understands that Google has to comply with COPPA, the regulatory standard that limits how much information websites can collect on children, he was never advised that this could be a problem. Moreover, Warren says that with his daughter's account locked, all of her Google-stored information and data could be deleted at any time.
Here's Warren's conclusion on why, exactly, this is so upsetting:
Remember, we're talking about letters from grandparents and friends. I can't even log in and back them up. They're just gone.
Google could have made other choices--choices that are more customer friendly, more child friendly and more parent friendly. But they didn't. They've chosen to act in a dogmatic, inflexible way. They've chosen to ignore parental consent and opinion. They've chosen to act apparently without ever considering how their actions might affect the people who use and rely on their services. Damn the consequences, they did what they wanted to do and ignored everything else.
So, yes. I'm a bit pissed with Google at the moment. I think they could and should do better. This is just not acceptable behavior.
There are two interesting trends in the comments to this open letter to Google: the top comment is another father expressing similar disappointment, saying that his daughter can't even log into her own Chromebook. But several others called Warren out for not reading his terms of service (TOS) when signing her up for a Google account - the search giant warns against this exact scenario.
In a second, follow-up Google+ post, Warren disputes that criticism, saying that what Google is legally allowed to do is distinct from the honorable course of action. He spares some other invective for the concept of reading every in-depth, legalese-filled TOS out there, too.
Warren's story has made a lot of headway on the Internet's mass consciousness: at the time of writing, his original post had +2097, 491 shares, and around 1400 upvotes on Reddit. It appears that there are plenty of Google users out there who sympathize with Warren's plight.
Google has not publicly issued a response thus far, but I hope they say something soon: this is exactly the kind of validation that Google critics need. Despite Google's in-house efforts to help users export their data on demand, that's useless if you can't get into your own account, and at the end of the day, Google's the only one with the combination to that lock.