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Google will revamp products with children in mind

December 4, 2014

Google is looking to redesign some of its products with with a focus on appealing to children.

Google is looking to redesign some of its products with with a focus on appealing to children.

Children already make up a significant potion of Internet users
Google processes 40,000 search queries per second, according to USA Today. Since a significant portion of those searches are conducted by children, it is not surprising that the company is planning to create versions of its most popular products for children 12 years old and younger.

Products such as Chrome and YouTube are widely used and will probably be the first to get a makeover, according to Reuters. Pavni Diwanji, vice president of engineering, commented that the company is committed to changing products to suit children’s needs.

“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 … We expect this to be controversial, but the simple truth is kids already have the technology in schools and at home,” Diwanji told USA Today.

Google did not provide a schedule for when certain products would be rolled out but executives indicated it is a full-time effort within the company. They also mentioned that Christmas tree lights at the White house this year will be based on coding programs created by children, demonstrating that kid-centric technology products are already fully underway. Diwanji will be at the White House ceremony and believes that the event demonstrates that children are not just consumers, but creators as well.

“We want to be thoughtful about what we do, giving parents the right tools to oversee their kids’ use of our products,” Diwanji added, according to USA Today.

Privacy concerns are relevant
The announcement may be cause for concern at the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC recently levied fines against 20 companies for mining young user information without the consent of parents. Yelp was fined $450,000 for failing to include a functional age screen in its ratings app, according to USA Today. Maneesha Mithal, associate director of the FTC’s privacy and identity protection division, said the commission’s only objective is to protect children.

“We aren’t looking to play gotcha, it’s just about kids being protected and promoting business compliance,” said Mithal. “One of the great things about technology is that we should be able to create safe places for kids.”

Marc Rotenberg, president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, believes parents may not be able to keep track of everything their kids do online and with technology.

“The prospect of audio-based advertising targeting our children is very real, and that’s significant when you’re talking about an age group that is very susceptible to manipulation,” Rotenberg said. “The FTC will have to step up on this. I don’t think we want a world where our kids are sold things they don’t need.”

Diwanji commented that she understands the concerns of privacy watchdogs, but also said that as a parent she believes children should be enabled and empowered.

“This is perhaps one of my greatest challenges… We want to lay the foundation right, and then make sure every single part of Google is great for kids. They are the future, so why not give them the tools to let them create it,” Diwanji added, according to USA Today.

Implications for e-commerce
It is noteworthy to consider what the implications of child-focused technology products are for e-commerce. As the world becomes increasingly reliant on technology solutions to access information, conduct business and make purchases, children-based software makes e-commerce even more deeply entrenched in consumers’ lives. It won’t be long before children become stakeholders in digital entities in their own right. Perhaps this is a good thing, but it can also lead to worrisome situations if not managed properly. Ultimately, the Internet is becoming a part of everything, and it can’t be shielded from children even if that was the intention.

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