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Google may offer Gmail and YouTube accounts to kids

If you have kids, you know how much they love going on the Internet, and how much they can contribute to online traffic. It never made sense to me that Gangnam Style has been viewed nearly 24 million times on YouTube until I saw my kids watch it precisely 684,000 times. Google knows this better than anyone, and the company is reportedly developing a suite of products specifically designed for kids, including versions of Gmail and YouTube.

Currently, anyone under 13 can't officially open a YouTube or Gmail account. (Though anyone can lie about their age, of course.) The age requirement exists because of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, a law that puts strict limits on how a child's data can be collected, used and stored.

But obviously there is significant growth potential for Google if it can target the pre-teen market.

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An unidentified person familiar with Google's recent efforts told the Wall Street Journal that the company is developing versions of YouTube and Gmail that would let parents set up accounts for their children.

Parents would also be able to control what information is collected about their kids and what Google services they are able to use, according the the newspaper.

At this point, although I slightly fret as a nervous parent about kids using the Internet, too little is known about what controls moms and dads will have over their kids' accounts to really know how much to worry.

That said, I'm uneasy with the notion of a 10-year-old having her own Gmail account. As far as I'm concerned, I don't think any 10-year-old needs to be writing messages he or she can't send from a parent's e-mail account.

But there are a lot of 10-year-olds out there, and Google would surely love more of their business and the ad revenue that comes with it.

As Time points out, the move could also be motivated by a desire on Google's part to reap profits from the education market, with kid-specific apps making the company's Chromebook laptop a potentially more appealing alternative to the iPad in schools.

Whatever the motivation, the news is not sitting well with privacy advocates.

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"Unless Google does this right it will threaten the privacy of millions of children and deny parents the ability to make meaningful decisions about who can collect information on their kids," Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, an online privacy group, told the newspaper.

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