A more kid-friendly Google may be coming in 2015

Google is changing for an audience it hasn't actively sought out yet: children.

Google
Doodle 4 Google: If he could travel back in time, Dylan told Google that he’d “sail a pirate ship looking for treasure, have a colorful pet parrot, and enjoy beautiful sunsets from deserted islands.” (We'll forgive him for drawing the sword handle backwards.)

Google is tailoring its products for the 12-and-under market in 2015, according to a story from USA TODAY. Pavni Diwanji, Google’s vice president of engineering, said that YouTube and Chrome would be the likeliest candidates for a revamp starting next year. The company did not specify exactly how or what the changes would entail, but we can be sure of a few things: the search results and the interface will be tuned for Googlers 12 and under.

These plans would change search engine results to give precedence to children-oriented sites. The idea popped up when Ms. Diwanji’s daughter searched for "trains" to find Thomas the Tank Engine, only to find Amtrak schedules. Not the most useful thing for a child.

Google will also give parents the power to monitor their kids’ usage.

“We want to be thoughtful about what we do, giving parents the right tools to oversee their kids’ use of our products,” Diwanji told USA TODAY. “We want kids to be safe, but ultimately it’s about helping them be more than just pure consumers of tech, but creators, too.”

This could be a slippery slope for the advertising-heavy search giant. It’ll have to conform to current federal laws that limit the scope in which companies are able to collect data from their users, documented in the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

The government updated the law last year to broaden the scope of what the Federal Trade Commission considers personal information: app-reported geolocation data (as opposed to addresses); photos; videos; audio recordings; and, most important, cookies, bits of code that track online activity. Thus, if Google wants to keep a running record of search history, it’ll have to ask for mom and dad’s permission before it does so. And if they fail to comply, it would lead to fines of up to $16,000 per violation.

Not only that, but the company faces some significant hurdles in filtering the myriad content that flows through its many services. YouTube would be a trial in itself for user content, but Google search results would have to be very cleverly filtered if they want to present only kid-friendly material.

Google’s best bet might not even be to filter incoming material, but rather to cherry-pick from its current sea of information for kid-friendly results. It might not be the optimal solution, but it may be an easier one to implement.

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