Google has gotten privacy watchdog groups sounding the alarm bells after reports that it is gearing up to launch a Gmail and YouTube made especially for younger audiences surfaced on the Internet Monday.

The report was first made by The Information, which says that Google was developing a YouTube version for children 13-years-old and below that features additional parental control systems that to allow parents to choose and monitor what their children are watching on the video-sharing network. Google is also reportedly considering offering Gmail for underage users.

Google and other Internet companies have steered clear of kid-centric services primarily because of the existence of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which requires companies to seek parental consent before mining the child's data and has strict provisions on using this data for advertising. In theory, this is a laudable act. In practice, however, millions of children 13 years old and below already have Google and Facebook accounts, sometimes with their parents helping them create their accounts.

The Information cites one of its sources saying Google's desire to comply with the COPPA is what drives Google to create more kid-friendly services. Because parents already allow their kids to open their own Gmail accounts, Google wants to make the process easier while still operating within the bounds of the law.

Privacy advocates, however, are skeptical of Google's capacity to protect children's privacy and keep their data under wraps. Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, thinks this is another ploy to widen Google's advertising reach. The search giant earns majority of its revenue from advertising alone.

"We and other advocacy groups are concerned that kids' privacy online faces a major new threat," Chester says. "Selling kids to marketers is Google's latest way to boost profits. Google shouldn't target them with junk food and other ads that can be harmful to their health."

Chester says the Center for Digital Democracy has already expressed this concern with the Federal Trade Commission, which writes and enforces COPPA rules. He also says the group is already working with its own team of legal experts to create an action plan that will ensure that parents gain full control of their children's privacy, should Google's plans be implemented.

Back in 2011, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook will be allowing children under 13 years old on the social network, with the reason that "for education you need to start at a really, really young age."

Earlier this year, Facebook patented a new system that allows children not even in their teens to create a Facebook account by linking that account to an existing Facebook account by an adult. Facebook employees will first have to verify the adult's account before approving the kid's account, and the adult will then be able to track the child's Facebook activities. Facebook says the patent is not a "predictor of future work in this area," and the system is currently not in place.  

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