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Google Optimising its Apps for Under-13 Kids

Google may be developing a version of its Maps tool aimed specifically at children. Speaking last December in an interview with USA TODAY, Pavni Diwanji, Google’s vice president of engineering, said that the company was planning to develop child-oriented versions of its most popular products. Their first effort, YouTube Kids, launched for Android and iOS in February.
A recent job posting on Google’s site suggests that Maps could be the next candidate for a child-friendly makeover. The job involves ‘a mixed portfolio of work across Geo and Google’s efforts to make our products more useful to kids.’

The app might be similar to iPhone and iPad app Barefoot World Atlas, an interactive 3D globe that lets kids explore the planet with immersive animations, sound effects, and voice descriptions. It also offers real-time information from around the world, like local time and weather.
Diwanji said: ‘The big motivator inside the company is that everyone is having kids, so there’s a push to change our products to be fun and safe for children.’ A child’s-eye view of, say, Google search engine isn’t the same as an adult’s. That’s what Diwanji realised while watching the children of employees at the so-called Kids Studio in Google’s Mountain View, CA headquarters tinkering with product prototypes: user experiences for various Google products are begging for under-13 makeovers.

‘We expect this to be controversial, but the simple truth is kids already have the technology in schools and at home,’ she added. ‘So the better approach is to simply see to it that the tech is used in a better way.’ Google’s drive may well cause controversy. The company is always looking to enlarge its user base, but generally children under 13 are off limits. The Federal Trade Commission has so far levied fines against 20 companies for mining young user information without consent from parents.

YouTube Kids has received generally positive reviews, but there have been some kinks in the line. Several consumer advocacy groups have criticised the apps for featuring some content with adult themes. One video showed a segment of Muppets Bert and Ernie dubbed with dialogue from Martin Scorsese’s Casino. The video is just one example from a heap of content Google has tried to block from the app without complete success. And in April, the FTC received a complaint from advocacy groups that the app includes disguised ads that deceive its young users. But YouTube said in a statement that the app is a free, ad-supported experience that should be accessible for everyone.  

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Aaron Waterhouse

Aaron is a recent English graduate from Durham University who is now working as a content writer intern. An enthusiastic traveller, he hopes to become a journalist and report from around the world. Follow him @AaronAtSMF.

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Google Optimising its Apps for Under-13 Kids Reviewed by Aaron Waterhouse on Thursday, August 13, 2015 Rating: 5
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