Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Now I am officially annoyed with Gmail

They just deleted my son's account without even giving us the opportunity to download his existing emails.

Here's what happened:

I set up a gmail account for my son a few years ago, which he has been using (very rarely) to keep in touch with friends and family members.  The other day, I wanted to log him into his account to get him to reply to a message from his grandparents, and gmail passed me through one of those personal info forms, as it sometimes does. (I've given them my mobile number on one such screen, for example, and tested it -- in case I lose my password or something.)

Anyway, this time, the info page was a simple name-gender-birthdate form.  For a moment I hesitated because I don't know what they might be using our personal data for, but then my "What the hell, it doesn't matter..." attitude kicked in, and I just went ahead and filled it out for my son.

Next thing I know, his account is suspended, and I'm notified that it will be deleted in a month unless I can provide an ID card showing that my son is at least 13 years old.  Well, he's not 13 years old, so I can't prove that he is!  And I now I can't even download an archive of his messages before they get deleted!

Now, some of you are probably saying that there was probably a software license that I clicked through at some point affirming that the user of the account is at least 13.  That's possible, but normally when there's this sort of age restriction, the company makes you click a box specifically affirming your age.  I'm generally very careful about this.  For example, I was setting up a YouTube account for my son (back when YouTube and Gmail accounts were separate), and when I got to the bit where it said you have to be at least 13 to have a YouTube account, I stopped and told him he could have his own YouTube account when he turns 13.

I guess the problem is that now Google has linked gmail in with all of these other services (like YouTube and Google+) that aren't open to kids.  But I can think of a few solutions that would be a lot better than surprising us by deleting his account:

  • Create a separate category of restricted accounts (for kids) that are just email,
  • Simply suspend his account until he turns 13 (he's 12 1/2 for heaven's sake!),
  • Allow parents (with demonstrated ID) to download an archive of the messages of any kids who created accounts before this restriction.
I know that ignorance of the rules is no excuse, but sincerely, it didn't occur to me that it would be a problem for my kid to have an email account.  Even his own school created an email account for him (which he hasn't been using, but I guess he will now...).

The next thing I did was, naturally, to download an archive of all of my own gmail messages.  Well, that's what I did right after kicking myself for relying on gmail so heavily for all of my personal data needs.  If, for example, they suddenly decided that they require some criterion that I don't meet -- and they spontaneously deleted my account over it (which they may well be legally allowed to do) -- I would be up shit creek, so to speak.

Then I started imagining writing a horror flick about some evil villain taking over Google and holding everyone's data hostage.  Scary!!

Anyone else out there have a similar problem, and opinions on a solution?


Christian said...

I had the same thing happen with my two kids. I changed their birthdays to mine and basically treat their two accounts as MINE that they use. Once each hits the 13th year on the planet, as required by our Google overlords, I will change the birthday.

mathmom said...

Hi Carol! I don't have any hints about google, but it does motivate me to get all of Eleanor's drive documents downloaded...

I'm writing because I saw this video and thought of you and the Penrose tiles you made in high school. The Penrose shortbread comes towards the middle of the end. If your kids haven't seen Vi Hart yet, they might enjoy her other videos, too.


Cindy said...

Just had that happen to my son. There is an option to verify by credit card. We used mine and it sends a micro payment then refunds it. Easy peasy account back to normal.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Christian!!!

That makes sense.

Hey Mathmom!!!

Wow, thanks for the link -- very cool! I am currently organizing a math club at my kids' school, and any more ideas are always welcome.

Hey Cindy!!!

I think perhaps I will do that.

I was toying with the idea of just letting the account disappear. When I first created it, I used his real name as the address because I assumed it would just be email. But when he turns 13, I'll allow him to have his own YouTube account, and I would prefer him to use an alias on the Internet until he's at least 18.

On the other hand, I think we've used this gmail account to buy him a couple of video game accounts, so if I can't get access to this email account, we may lose access to some other stuff we've bought...