The Trials and Tribulations of Google Buzz - A Parent’s Worst Nightmare
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According to technology analyst Charlene Yi, Google’s new Buzz service could be a parent’s worst nightmare. As knowledgeable and tech-savvy as she is (Li regularly counsels her children on how to stay safe online), not even she could save her children from the major privacy issues surrounding Buzz.
Li recently recounted a troubling occurrence to the Los Angeles Times concerning Google Buzz and her 9-year-old daughter, who posted a private chat conversation with friends onto Buzz without understanding that it was made public.
"I saw it because Buzz conveniently made me a follower of hers,” Li said. “I pride myself on staying ahead of my kids, but this time my kid got ahead of me. Fortunately, this was her only Buzz posting, but what was most disturbing was looking at her friends’ conversations and realizing that some of them were chatting with complete strangers and in some cases sharing personal information like e-mails. It was absolutely terrifying, as these were 4th graders who had no clue.”
Li also discovered that a user called “iorgyinbathrooms” was following her daughter’s account, so Li immediately disabled Google Buzz on her daughter’s account and alerted the parents of her daughter’s friends.
“I discovered that buried in Google’s terms of service somewhere is that children under the age of 13 are not allowed to have Gmail accounts, but unlike Facebook which requires that people enter their birthdates when setting up accounts, Google makes no such attempt to educate people signing up for Gmail that such a provision is in place. As a result, while Google is absolved of responsibility because of the TOS, it could and should do a better job of complying with the Child Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA),” Li said.
Li is asking for Google to add parental controls to Gmail and requesting that parents take action. “If your child has a Gmail account, talk to them about what Google Buzz is and how they should be properly using it,” Li said. “Please take action, which may be as dramatic as completely disabling Buzz on your child’s account. Do this as soon as possible, as I’m concerned that unsavory characters are already exploiting this parental control loophole.”
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