May 29, 2007

Google Says: "We're for Adults Only" -- and a Legal Trap for Us All

Greetings. As noted here, Google's Terms of Service (TOS) apparently indicates that non-adults may not use Google services.

This sort of language (restricting use to adults) is not uncommon on many Web sites, even non-porn ones. It's usually used in an attempt to provide self-protection for the sites in question. However, I view it increasingly as something of a legal trap both for the sites that say this and for their users.

Just a week ago, in MySpace, Google, and the Path to Tyranny, I noted the big legislative push toward forcing "social networking" sites to positively ID users (to prove they were of acceptable age), and how this could easily spread to other types of sites, destroying the ability to use the Internet anonymously without complicated technical workarounds that would be beyond most users.

If this push proceeds along its proponents' desired path, it can only be a matter of time before they make the next logical leap. This would be to legislate that any site that says that children shouldn't be allowed access -- even apparently Google according to that TOS -- must do the same sort of positive ID verification that will be mandated for social networking, porn sites, and the like.

It's only logical, and probably inevitable, if these ID regimes take hold on the Net. Once you start down the Internet ID path using age as the enabling factor, how can you assert that one type of site must verify ID to prove age, but another type of site shouldn't have to and can just operate on the honor system?

Worse, it will be easy for proponents to justify this at each stage of the game, using particularly egregious cases as examples.

This is the "path to tyranny" that I wrote of. The day could come when you not only have to be over 18, but you'd also need to show an ID to use Google -- or most other sites. Does Google really want this? Of course not. But this is the path that we are paving, ID stone by stone.

While I do understand Google's short-term concerns relating to their TOS, I assert that the long-term ramifications may be far more serious given the increasingly oppressive push to get the Internet "under control," by those who fear open communications most of all. The enemies of free speech are enemies to Google and its users alike, and that's only the beginning.


Posted by Lauren at May 29, 2007 12:45 PM | Permalink
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