Google Kids: Tech giant eyes children’s market for new product

Google Kids: Tech giant eyes children’s market for new product
Google is preparing to target an untapped audience of children under 13 years old. With promised safe surfing and creativity cultivation, the kiddie technology raises concerns about manipulation of immature minds and emergence of targeted advertising.

Modern kids are precocious and sometimes more technologically advanced than their parents, so they’re familiar with web surfing and how to google things.

Still, the idea of a search engine custom-made for children is not new, with products like KidRex or GoGooligans already marketed.

Now Google is at the forefront marketing the Google Kids product.

“We expect this to be controversial, but the simple truth is kids already have the technology in schools and at home,” Pavni Diwanji, the vice-president of engineering charged with leading the new initiative, told USA Today.

Google Kids will not give links to inappropriate content, but at the same time it is going to give parents “the right tools to oversee their kids' use of our products,” said Diwanji, the mother of two daughters aged 8 and 13.

“We want kids to be safe, but ultimately it's about helping them be more than just pure consumers of tech, but creators, too,” she said.

However safe and comfortable for kids the new search engine might be, parents might have to stay alert and keep tracking their children’s online activities, so that their cashed-up kids don’t make useless purchases.

“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,” said Marc Rotenberg, president of the watchdog group, Electronic Privacy Information Center. “The Federal Trade Commission (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.”

The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) adopted by the US Federal Trade Commission 15 years ago has been updated several times to answer tech advances. It has levied fines against 20 companies for mining young user information without parental consent.

“We aren't looking to play gotcha, it's just about kids being protected and promoting business compliance,” said Maneesha Mithal, associate director of the FTC's privacy and identity protection division.

“One of the great things about technology is that we should be able to create safe places for kids,” Mithal said.

Google’s dominance in the world of search engines has been causing some worry. The lawmakers of the EU, where Sergey Brin's and Larry Page’s company enjoys an estimated 90 percent market share, have proposed to break the monopoly and split Google’s search engine from the rest of its operations in Europe.

Back in September WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange equated Google with the National Security Agency and GCHQ, saying the tech giant has become “a privatized version of the NSA,” as it collects, stores, and indexes people’s data.