Google has just made its Google+ social networking service teen-friendly. What that means is, all the features that some 90 million Google+ users have now – Circles, Hangouts (group videochat), photo-sharing, games, etc. – are available to people under 18 but now with added protections in place. For example, the San Jose Mercury News reports, “Google+ will ask [teens] to confirm a public post before it is shared, to ensure the teen truly wants to share the information with [people] outside their own Circles, the social network’s contacts framework. Only users within a teenager’s Circles can contact them, and if a stranger joins a minor’s Google+ hangout … the teen will be temporarily removed and informed of the person’s presence” so that rejoining the chat is a conscious decision.” There are many others, but I’d like to highlight the teen-specific defaults for info-sharing: birth date and contact information are “Only Me” by default; posts are seen by real-time location info is not attached to posts by default; and info like Gender, “Bragging Rights,” Places lived, Education, Relationship, etc. are “My Circles” by default. A teen’s posts are seen only by people in their circles (to which only they add contacts), and “Who can notify me,” “Who can comment on my public posts,” and “Who can tag me without approval” are also defaulted to their own circle of contacts – their social network.
That’s just a sampler – for a bulleted list of safeguards for teens, see my ConnectSafely co-director Larry Magid’s post about this at Forbes. These protections on top of the this-is-really-me default of the service as a whole make Google+ a very viable social-media option for young people, even from a pretty strict parent’s perspective. With one caveat: Just as with most protections and any services on the social Web, these are not about control. Users choose to go with the defaults – or not. There’s always a workaround even for the strictest safeguards any parent or site might impose, including software that disallows social networking sites altogether. Most young people handle their social media well, but – like all human beings in any part of of life – they can act on impulse and make mistakes (including circumventing the best safety tools and advice). So the best “safety tools” are a moral compass and – as my ConnectSafety co-director put it about 15 years ago – “the filter between one’s ears.”
Here’s a Google blog post about today’s launch and more coverage at VentureBeat and PC Magazine, and here’s our “Parents’ Guide to Google+” at ConnectSafely.org (more on that in my next post).