So the other night my daughter had the audacity to attempt to create a YouTube channel.
She went to youtube.com, signed in with her Google email & password and then was prompted to enter birth date. After supplying this and clicking “next”, she received a big red message that said she was too young to have a Google+ account, and that her account was now locked, which means no access to any Google services (gmail, docs, etc.).
The message said, If she had specified her birthdate incorrectly she could use one of the three links provided which could be used to unlock the account by providing a credit card, a federal ID or something involving a fax machine.
The message went on to say that if this was not a mistake, that the account and all data associated with it would be deleted in something like 19 days.
I understand that maybe there are now laws prohibiting children under a certain age from having accounts on social networks or some such thing, however she has been using these services for years and has hundreds of documents stored in Google Docs. Perhaps her age was requested back when her original gmail account was setup, but then why was it requested again? Regardless, at this moment years worth of her work was now locked away and queued up for deletion, and the only way to unlock it is essentially to falsify identity information.
After giving this some thought, I came to the conclusion that the only thing to do was to attempt to recover the account, even if that meant lying to Google about her age. If nothing else, this appeared to be the only way to have a chance to extract her work from their systems before it was destroyed. So I went ahead and took the credit-card route, specified my birthdate and provided the credit card information (all using my name, obviously not he same name used for the Google account).
Surprisingly this just worked.
We could talk about the questionable nature of a system that would be so concerned about your age as to threaten to delete your data, but is willing to release its grip as soon as you can provide someone else’s credit card, but the more significant thing to me here has to do with Googles ability to legally destroy the documents and information you have trusted them with.
I say legally because I assume that they have arranged their terms of service in such a way that it grants them the legal right to do so, after all if not then they would be breaking the law by deleting the data in your account.
This being the case, it made me think long and hard about who actually owns the stuff you store in Googles systems. While the legal definition may vary, I would say that from a practical perspective, if someone can legally destroy something you own, then you don’t really own it, and you should put some thought into how many hours you’ve spent creating the content stored in your Google Docs, or on your Google Drive, or in your Gmail archive, or your YouTube videos, etc., etc.
This is why I can no longer in good conscious use Google systems to create, store or distribute anything of value, knowing that at any moment it could simply all go away, that my access could be revoked and that the work itself could be wiped from existence.
I know that most of you reading this will disregard it, or choose to ignore the warning (I probably would have too), but I I felt compelled to share it if only to explain why I’ll no longer be investing time in these services.