Jan. 29, 2010

Are Kids Under 13 Being Left Out? Maybe Not.

Those of you working with students under the age of 13 have probably found that the terms of service of many sites you would like to use with students specifically state that anyone under the age of 13 are strictly prohibited from using their sites. For example, if you look at the terms of service for Ning (http://www.ning.com), you will find the following:

The Ning Platform is not directed to children younger than 13 and is offered only to users 13 years of age or older. If you are under 13 years old, please do not use the Ning Platform. Any person who provides their personal information through the Ning Platform represents to us that they are 13 years of age or older.

This can be a huge downer. Thankfully, many sites are starting to come around in an effort to bring their services equally to all no matter what the age, while at the same time meeting safety regulations.

Some sites like Voicethread (http://ed.voicethread.com), Animoto (http://animoto.com/education) and Weebly (http://education.weebly.com/) have opened specific portals on their sites targeted toward students, giving them access in a more controlled environment.

However, if you read the terms of service on some of these sites, there appears to be a contradiction. For example, on Weebly, the terms state:

Users under 13 years of age are prohibited from using the Service.

When faced with these contradictory statements, don’t take them at face value. Email the company and ASK QUESTIONS! Quite often, these terms of service statements were written prior to the launch of a site’s education portal and have not been edited to reflect new thinking.

I’ve had two recent experiences where this was the case. The first example is Aviary (http://www.aviary.com). Like Ning, their terms stated that students under 13 were strictly prohibited. But after I sent them an email expressing that they could still protect students while keeping up with all safety/privacy regulations by requiring parental permission, they changed their terms to state:

In any case the Site is not intended for children under 13 without the constant supervision of a parent or legal guardian. If you are under 13 years of age and not under the constant supervision of a parent or legal guardian, then please do not use the Site. You certify that you are legally permitted to use the Services and access the Site, and you or your legal guardian take full responsibility for the selection and use of the Services and access of the Site.

This happened again with Weebly. While Weebly offers an education portal, their terms of service state that students under 13 are prohibited. After emailing, and again questioning the terms of service, I received the following reply.

You can disregard our terms of service age restriction in this case. It needs to be updated. We have a note when creating student accounts that if students are under 13 years old, parental consent must be obtained.

The moral of this story…Ask Questions and Initiate Change.

Have any of you had a similar experience?

9 Responses to "Are Kids Under 13 Being Left Out? Maybe Not."

  • Dave Sherman says:

    Facebook has a 13 and older policy. I have a 12 year old daughter who is dying to have a FB page, and I have said no, not until she is 13. Not because I am worried that a 12 year old will get into trouble that she will not get into in a few months when she turns 13, but because a rule is a rule, and I need to teach her to follow the rules regardless if you agree or disagree. Many of her 12 year old friends’ parents have let them get FB pages by lying about their ages. I think that is a bad lesson to teach children.

    Interesting, I wrote about this on my blog and included a survey asking readier to vote whether she should be allowed an early FB page or wait until she’s 13. The majority agreed with me – wait a few months and teach the right lessons. http://theprincipalandinterest.wordpress.com/2009/11/29/facebook-one-dads-dilemma/

  • This is really helpful information. I was recently in a conversation about this and took a look at the CIPA regulations which is where I think that this came from. It puts the burden of proof that the users of the site are over 13 on the Web site owner. I think that is why there are such strong requirements on some sites.

  • Brian Mull says:

    Dave. I couldn’t agree with you more. I think that it’s important for both teachers and parents to teach kids that rules are rules. That’s why checking with individual companies are so important rather than just ignoring the rules and signing kids up. If we feel strongly enough that a particular tool has educational value, I believe it’s important to educate these companies that might not possibly understand the safety/privacy guidelines as they currently stand.

    Yes Janice, the burden is on the company. But all a company has to do is state that those under 13 can use with parental permission. Then, they are covered. I think as educators we need to keep our parents in the loop. We should explain to parents the tools we want to use, why we want to use them and what safety features are within. Then we should ask them for written permission.

  • Kathy Westerlund says:

    I had an interesting situation arise related to this post as I teach students under 13. I am an Ignite teacher (21st Century learning initiative) in Birmingham (MI) Public Schools We were introduced to Animoto and Glogster at a workshop. Glogster, fortunately, has an .edu “division” that can be used by my students. However, Animoto.com (a video creation site) doesn’t have an edu site.

    When I contacted Animoto to ask about the creation of an edu site, they gave me “permission” to use the site with children under 13 by responding with the following information: “To ensure that your younger students are protected, we suggest that you come up with dummy e-mails for them that are under your control. This way you can monitor the activities that go on under their Animoto accounts.”

    So, as Brian commented earlier, it is worth contacting the company and, of course, keeping parents in the loop. Many of my students’ parents have, in fact, opened Animoto accounts at home, so their children have direct access to this tool.

  • Megan says:

    Kathy – Did you apply for an educator’s account with Animoto? http://animoto.com/education

  • Mr Norris says:

    Animoto still asks that children be 13, even with an education account which is a real shame. So does Gmail/Google Docs/Google believe it or not. Kids aren’t legally allowed to use Google if they aren’t old enough to sign a legally binding contract in the country they use it. Others also include Glogger.

  • Mike Dishman says:

    Brian – Perhaps the best advice that you gave is (1) work with the vendor; and (2) work with the parents. As we’ve discussed previously, there are CIPA and FERPA challenges inherent in educators requiring students to use external websites – seemingly even with parental permission. For example, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 requires schools to have a contract with entities maintaining educational records “on behalf” of schools or individuals acting on the school’s behalf. This can include information transmitted to a third-party provider. In such instances, schools should both ensure that the information placed on the website is sufficiently de-identified as to minimize a FERPA problem. Additionally, a carefully crafted – and verified (no “Brian can go on the Internet. Signed my Mom” situations) – parental authorization acknowledging and authorizing disclosure is a sound practice.

  • Brian Mull says:

    Just so everyone knows, Mike is in educational law, and I asked him to jump in here. If you have something particular about this topic you wish to know, feel free to drop it in here. I think this is an important topic about which we all need to be informed.

  • Scott Monroe says:

    It strikes me that a lot of people commenting on how good an idea it is to get specific, verified parental consent for every online service being used must never have worked in a system of tens or even hundreds of thousands of students. Given the stretched thin staffing models large, public K-12 organizations are running under, do you have any idea how completely unmanageable this would be? Broad, “sweeping” AUPs may not be as sound legally, but are the only thing feasible.

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