Could Google for kids do the marketing industry more harm than good?

The news that Google for Kids is now in the development pipeline for the tech giant has generated quite a bit of controversy today. But Google itself was expecting this.

In effect Google for kids - its plan to develop child specific versions of tools such as search, YouTube and Chrome – will create a whole new marketing demographic and enable website owners to better track who is looking at their sites when.

The information this could, in theory, provide advertisers with is huge. Whether brands would be able to even collect or act on such information to target advertising straight to kids whilst they are browsing is debatable. In the US for example the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) puts limits on how and why data is collected from kids and has already fined 20 companies in 15 years for mining young user information without parental consent.

Parental objection

It’s also likely to be something that parents would object strongly to, even though some may argue it’s little different to showing ads during a children's television programme since parent pester power works whatever channel you use.

Pavni Diwanji, the vice president of engineering who is leading the development of the child friendly software suite, claims to have the interests of children at heart. From one mother to another I believe her.

She has two girls – aged thirteen and eight – who she argues that such children specific tools would help to protect, as well as improving their browsing experience. She has said google wants its products to be “fun and safe for children”.

A new target demographic?

The child friendly versions of Google's most popular products will be aimed at those aged 12 and under and it is believed development work will begin early next year. "We want kids to be safe, but ultimately it's about helping them be more than just pure consumers of tech, but creators, too," Diwanji has been reported as saying.

On a very simplistic level the ideal is perfect. Diwanji’s own story – where her youngest daughter suggested she tell Google about the existence of Thomas The Tank Engine because it did not come up on her search for trains is pretty cute and perfect evidence of how we can overlook the user needs of a new generation of tech consumers.

But while the ideals may be just that the danger of a marketer overstepping that line simply cannot be ignored because the potential for brand harm is huge. After all it’s the parents that ultimately control the purse strings.

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