In a circle

Google+ now teen-friendly

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Google has lowered the age barrier for those who want to join Google+, meaning millions of teens are now allowed to use the search engine’s answer to Facebook.

Previously, only those 18 and over were granted access to Google’s 90-million-member social network. After rolling out some new safety features, anyone who has reached the minimum age for a Google Account (generally those 13 and over, though this varies by country) can sign up for Google+ without having to fib about how old they are.

Some early-adopter teens tried to sign up for Google+—and got their entire Google accounts deleted for their trouble. That earned Google a wave of bad publicity and criticism.

“Hey, Google, thanks for making my daughter cry,” wrote Rich Warren on Google+, after Google disabled his daughter’s Google-run email account and Blogger blog.

As with everything online these days, privacy is kind of a big deal on Google+. That’s one of the reasons why it has had a selective sharing option from day one: the ability to share content with only individuals or a select group of people in a circle.

Perhaps mindful of the multitude of social-media gaffes that take place on a daily basis, Google+ has added a feature where teens will be encouraged to think twice before sharing anything outside of their circles.

Just as Google+ is helping teens be thoughtful about what they post and how they share it, it’s protecting them from unwanted inbound messages too. By default, teens will only receive notifications from people who are already in their circles, helping give them more control over who can contact them. (Frankly, this would be a good feature for adult Google+ profiles, too; it would certainly make the service feel less spammy.) Blocking another user is easy to do as well, if they’re unpleasant or plain annoying.

This idea extends to Google’s video-chat Hangouts. If a stranger tries to join a hangout a teen is taking part in, that teen will be temporarily silenced from the conversation. They’ll have the option to rejoin if they wish.

This could be quite annoying for teens who simply want to enjoy a casual video chat with their friends and are constantly interrupted by outsiders joining the hangout. However, it will protect them from inappropriate contact with adults.

Google+ has a ton of advice for teens, parents, and teachers on how to use the social network safely in its new Safety Center. It contains information on dealing with bullies for both teens and parents, along with digital reputation-management tips.

Google’s overall strategy for easing teens into Google+ is simple: create features teens want to use, protect them and their privacy through default settings and help prompts, and make it easy to report any abusive users.

As part of the push to bring teens to Google+, the network has highlighted a bunch of teen-friendly brands and celebrities they might want to connect with and add to their circles.

The reaction from Google+ users has been fairly positive.

“Awesome. You took your time, but you did it the right way,” Chirag Patel commented on Google exec Bradley Horowitz’s announcement post.

“This is terrific. Will this pave the way for Google+ being made available for K12 district using Google Apps? This would be an incredible resource for our staff and teachers,” wrote Paul Barrette.

The announcement wasn’t welcomed by everyone, though.

“I see. Now that you've changed your privacy policy, you want teenagers in. I'm sure advertisers will be happy; I'm not,” protested Paulo Gomes.

Perhaps the best advice for using Google+, no matter your age, is the same as in any walk of life. Use common sense, and you’ll do just fine.

Photo by tourist_on_earth