“We think the best strategy is to equip teens and parents with the right information to promote safe online behavior, rather than limiting functionality completely,” a Google spokesperson told VentureBeat in an e-mail.
Bradley Horowitz, Google’s vice president of product for Google+, explained in a blog post Thursday that when we share information in real life it is special, selective, and builds relationships. Online networks, on the other hand, lead to teens “over-sharing with all of their so-called ‘friends.'” How do you protect a teen on a social network that is built to be open and non-reciprocal in sharing?
YOU ALERT THEM THAT DANGER IS COMING.
Google launched three new privacy measures Thursday touching on circles, notifications, and Hangouts. The safety measures, while not entirely passive, trend more toward “warnings” than actual actions within the product. Google did not want to inhibit teens from enjoying the social network, but rather let them make smart decisions for themselves.
First, Google identifies teens based on their birthdays, unless they gave a fake birthday when creating their profile, in which case, tough luck, tiger mom. Google+ does not allow kids under 13 to join. Unless they give a fake birthday, in which case, tough luck, helicopter mom.
Here’s privacy meausre #1: When a teen creates a post and wants to share it with people outside of their circles, Google asks them if they really want to publish publicly. That’s really it. Adults can make decisions on whether or not content is appropriate for the masses, but teens might “over-share,” as Horowitz points out. This is a nice buffer between the 13-year-old’s angst poetry and the real world, but it doesn’t do much to actually stop its distribution.
As for Hangouts, Google+’s video chat function, Google tries to protect teens from stranger danger. If an adult that is not in one of the teen’s circles enters a Hangout teens are participating in, the teen is temporarily dropped from the video chat. A message pops up on the teen’s screen and says who entered the Hangout, that the person was not someone the teen knows and then … gives them the option to re-enter the Hangout.
Google is also setting the default for notifications to only be people in that teen’s circles. That is to say, that notifications of photos, tags, and more can come from people the teen has recognized as a known person. Those outside the teen’s circles cannot comment on any of the teen’s posts either. But hey, what if they want to get the whole world’s opinion on their recent switch from blond to brunette? All you have to do, resourceful teenager, is head over to your settings and change them.
“Traditional services restrict teens from using desirable functionality, which gives them an incentive to misrepresent themselves,” said the spokesperson. “Our aim with Google+ is to create an environment that encourages teens to represent themselves on Google+ as they do in real life. For example, we set age-appropriate defaults but supply teens with educational materials and the capability to modify those settings based on their own choices.”
In essence, Google has put up a lot of speed bumps its social network, but the teen can always fly right over them. Let’s be honest, we all know your kid is going to be valedictorian of Generic Prep School, but he’s not exactly worldly yet. Also, his biggest idol is that hipster on his Google+ Hangout that listens to Bright Eyes and smokes clove cigarettes.
Besides, how many teens do you know who like to be told to wait?