Colleges laud Google+ age restriction change, safety features

An ed-tech expert says Google is erring on the side of caution.

Campus technology officials said they are more likely to create an official Google+ presence after the nascent social network announced Jan. 26 that the former Google+ age requirement of 18 has been lowered to 13.

Google’s age restriction had prevented at least one university from expanding its social media reach into Google+, because some of its students come to campus while they’re still 17, and until Jan. 26, were not eligible for a Google+ account.

Along with the lowering of its age requirement–which could help Google+ compete with Facebook–Google detailed a series of safety measures that would be included for its youngest social network members.

In Google+ Hangouts, for example, a teenager video chatting with people in their “circle” will be temporarily removed from the Hangout screen when someone from outside their circle joins the session. Only approved Google+ account holders in a teenager’s circle can start an instant message chat.

Read more about Google+ in higher education…

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“Over time, the nuance and richness of selective sharing even promotes authenticity and accountability,” Bradley Horowitz, Google’s vice president of product management, wrote in a blog post. “Sadly, today’s most popular online tools are rigid and brittle by comparison, so teens end up over-sharing with all of their so-called friends. … With Google+, we want to help teens build meaningful connections online. We also want to provide features that foster safety alongside self-expression.”

Hundreds of colleges and universities have created official pages on Google+ since the technology giant announced in early November that schools, businesses, and organizations can create their own profiles on the site, which was introduced last summer to much fanfare in higher education.

Patrick Dierschke, an IT official at Angelo State University (ASU) in Texas, said campus technologists have considered adding Google+ accounts for the university’s 7,200 full-time students, but decided against it after learning that no one less than 18 years old could have a Google+ profile. That all changed when Google lowered its age requirement.

“This will obviously really help us move forward with that we’d like to do [with Google+] as a campus communication tool,” Dierschke said. “This seems like a step in the right direction. We’ve been waiting for a chance to use this to its full potential.”

ASU has 23 students who aren’t yet 18, according to the university. It’s a sliver of the campus’s student population, Dierschke conceded, but until every student could have a Google+ page, ASU wouldn’t adopt the social network like it has Google’s other educational offerings, such as Gmail.

“We’ve been interested in [Google+] since it was in beta … but we saw the age requirement and saw that we just couldn’t go through with it,” Dierschke said, adding that he thought Google+’s age restriction would be 13, like it is for Gmail.

ASU has given official Google-powered campus eMail accounts to students as soon as they are accepted to the school. Dierschke said the campus wanted to include Google+ accounts for those brand new students, but couldn’t because many high school seniors and recent graduates are not quite 18.

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