Google Tells Kids that Parents Are Monitoring Them

By: Daniel Payne

Google informs children when their parents are monitoring their account activity, the tech giant confirmed this month, with the company claiming that doing so is a way of balancing the interests of both parents and children.

Google’s child-notification policies received attention when film director Robby Starbuck claimed on Twitter that his 7-year-old child had received a warning from Google that his account was being monitored. 

“Our 7-year-old son has to have google for homeschooling,” Starbuck wrote on Twitter, “so naturally we setup parental controls but look what [Google] did. They sent my son an email to tell him his privacy is important to them and telling him we’re supervising his account.”

“Your privacy is important to us,” the company wrote to the 7-year-old boy, “and we want to remind you that your parent … is supervising your Google account.” 

Reached for comment, the company confirmed it does notify young children when parents are monitoring their account activity. 

The company pointed to both the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the recently passed UK Age Appropriate Design Code as examples of child-privacy advocacy to which it adheres. 

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child—which dates to September 1990— holds, in part, that “no child shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his or her honour and reputation.”

The U.N. did not respond to an inquiry asking whether or not is 30-year-old policy could be applied to the notification of parental monitoring in present-day digital mediums. 

The United Kingdom provision cited by Google, meanwhile, states that parental controls, while allowing parents to properly supervise their children, can also have an “impact on the child’s right to privacy … and on their rights to association, play, access to information and freedom of expression.”

“Children who are subject to persistent parental monitoring may have a diminished sense of their own private space which may affect the development of their sense of their own identity,” the code says. “This is particularly the case as the child matures and their expectation of privacy increases.”

That code even directs that children as young as five should be provided “audio or video materials for the child to explain that their parent is being told what they do online to help keep them safe.”

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