Thursday, July 21, 2011

No Soup For You! Read Your Terms Of Service On Social Media Sites

Back in the days of heady telecom deregulation I had a landline (a "landline" is slang for having a telephone that is hard-wired into your house) - I had AT&T for both my long distance carrier and the provider for my sweet Motorola v551 (it had a COLOR screen and you didn't have to pull out the antenna before you started talking!).

I was either traveling or my desk was just unorganized (I don't remember which) and anyway, I forgot to pay my home phone bill. In those days you got a "nag letter" about the fact that you missed payment and they usually gave you a grace period to get your money to them (a "grace period" is when the company you owe money to waits for 10 days to receive your payment - by check - in an envelope - with a stamp on it... a "stamp" is... oh, forget it).

When I got the nag letter, I decided to just call them, apologize and give them a credit card and that would be that. Only, when I went to call them on my cell phone, I found out that they had cut off my service. So, then I tried the house phone, dialed the local (toll) number - and found out that my long distance didn't work (I could call locally).

OK... so I went to a neighbor's and used their landline to call the mothership. I got a non-outsourced person on the phone (back in those days, they hired Americans in America to answer the phone for their customers in things called "call centers") - explained what happened, gave them my credit card number, etc.

While I had them on the phone I mentioned that I needed to talk to their tech support department because my cell phone seemed to be on the blink... "No, I show all the towers in your area working fine. The problem, Mr. Cusick is that when your long distance bill was not paid, we suspended your mobile account as well."

What the ?

Long story short - it turns out in the Terms of Service for AT&T long distance was that in the event of non-payment, they had the right to suspend or terminate any other AT&T service you may be using as well (still applies today).

Apparently, the same thing is happening with Google and their Google+ service. It seems that if one runs afoul of the terms of service for Google+ - they have the right to not only terminate your G+ account, but your Gmail account - and any other Google account as well (Docs, YouTube, Beluga, etc).

Case in point - there was recently a case where the 10 year old son of a programmer got an invite to G+. He (along with the rest of us) signed up with glee - entering his birthday as part of the process.


Denied! He was denied access to G+ because of his age (which I sort of understand)... but it turns out he was then also completely locked out of his 2 year old Gmail account as well (yeah, I know, who lets an 8 year old have a Gmail account? But that's for another time...). This made him very upset. This made his dad very upset.

Now, to be fair to Google, the boy did violate their terms of service, but one would hope think that a person should be given some kind of grace period to retrieve "their" emails and contacts - right? Nope.

I understand the need for safeguards and for the "appearance" of being a responsible company "looking out for" young people (read: covering our Google-butts) and all. However, we are living in a digital age. The digital social media sites are the equivalent to hamburger joints in the 50's. It's where kids go to hang out, talk to each other, see whose online, and put stuff like "I'm bored - someone text me" in their status updates.

Rather than encouraging our younger generation to become familiar with technology and get in touch with their "inner geek" and learn proper online etiquette (and offline etiquette for that matter) - the mainstream companies are blocking access to the next wave of digital consumers. Kids will (and do) gather. Be it on Skype, IM, group texting, ooVoo - or any one of a hundred other outlets - they will find a way to communicate with others (and the world).

It's the parent's job to parent. It's not Google's.

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