I just spent two hours being upset at my daughter’s school, Google, American law, and a few more people. Let me tell the story. Two hours ago, my 12-year old daughter received an e-mail from her school inviting her to Google+. She accepted the invitation, and Google asked for her age. She told the truth, and the answer has been “You are not allowed to use Google. Your account has been deactivated, and will be deleted in 29 days”. Then, she called me.
So, there is an age limit to have a gmail account. Uh oh. The bad thing for me is that Ethel gets punished for doing what I told her to for years: don’t lie about your age. She has been waiting to get a Facebook account, and she will get it in 40 days, when she turns 13. Sadly, her gmail account will have been deleted 10 days earlier, with all her data, and without any way to get her e-mail address back.
Being bugged by these no-backup and 29-day clauses, I tried to get in contact with Google. Well, this sure isn’t simple. Basically, you have to use the forum or fill a form. In both cases, you get a robot answer reminding you the rules and ignoring your question. Just the worst service you can imagine. I am not optimistic about saving Ethel’s e-mail.
Of course, I set up her account two years ago. At the time, there was no age question, and I didn’t think for a second that there was an age issue to get e-mail. Apparently, the age thing was in the conditions, but not even explicitly; according to some internet posts, the wording was like “you must be old enough according to laws blah blah”. Once again, I didn’t think that there was a law against e-mail for children. Well, there isn’t, but your gmail account also gives you access to other Google services, including Google+. And there, there is a law (American, not French). So now, as soon as Google realizes that you are underage, they cut you off. Period.
Now, a few more questions and, in some cases, answers:
- The school invited a 12-year old to Google+? Well, yes, school fail. I will be on their case, to figure out how this could happen. Most likely, this is just one person making the mistake, and the others not realizing what all this implies.
- What do you do with your Android phone if you are under 13? Well, without an account, many apps won’t work well. So I guess that the best thing to do is to lie about your age. Thank you, Google, for this nice educational help.
- Can’t parents get a contract on behalf of their children? In many cases, it is possible, but not with Google (or Facebook). The reason is Google+ and the COPPA law, which protects children on Internet. Since Google+ doesn’t comply to COPPA, it cannot be accessed by children under 13, even with an authorization. And because Google stupidly links Google+ and gmail, youlose.
Now, what is this thing about liking to pay? A few weeks ago, I signed up to Amazon Cloud and had some issues with the music player. I sent a support request, and somebody from Amazon called me the next day on my mobile. I was baffled, since I only expected an e-mail answer. The guy couldn’t help me, because the feature wasn’t working. He noted it, and told me that he would let me know when the issue is resolved. And you now what? He did.
This is just good service. i don’t expect anything close to it from Google. I’ll let you know what I get. I didn’t pay for Amazon Cloud (or at least, not yet); however, I am a faithful Amazon customer, spending a lot of money on their site year after year. And I believe that Amazon wants to keep customers, which motivates them to have decent support. For Google, Ethel is not a customer, she is just a piece of data that can be sold to customers. And that just isn’t a good enough information to pay for.
So, in the end, I become every day more of a fan of paying for services I use, instead of relying on ulltra-complex business models. Would it be possible to have companies that don’t use random advertising but don’t make me pay for it? Once again, simple customer-vendor relationships sound good.