Kids and Online Tools: The Legal Side

There are so many free online tools out there that are fabulous to use in the classroom. These tools can potentially allow your students to create, collaborate, communicate and express themselves in a multitude of ways.

To find recommendations of tried and tested online tools to use in the classroom with step-by-step instructions, visit my other website Tech Tools for Teachers. 

While the legal stuff can seem boring, it’s important to be aware that children cannot sign up for many online tools, even many of those that seem designed for education.

Websites based in the US are required to comply with Federal Trade Commission ( FTC ) Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).  This act restricts the collecting information from children under the age of thirteen.

If you look in the terms and conditions of many tools, you will find that children under 13 are not allowed to create an account.

Some tools, such as PhotoPeach, state that “Persons under 13 years of age are required to have a parent or guardian review and complete the registration process.”

According to this article, there is currently a proposal in place to broaden the limitations in the COPPA act.

Australia has similar rules to COPPA and if you are working in a Victorian DEECD school, the same rules about signing up for 13+ websites apply. Find out more about DEECD’s social media policies here.

Ways I have gotten around these limitations with under 13s

  • Create a teacher account and work with the children.
  • Have students sign up at home with their parents when the tools allows this (eg. PhotoPeach).
  • Use tools that don’t require a sign up (eg. Tagxedo).
  • Use tools that allow teachers to create student accounts (eg. Storybird).

What this means for you

  • Be mindful that if an online tool requires users to sign up then there is probably a 13+ rule in place.
  • Check out the “terms and conditions” on the website to be sure. These can usually be found right down the bottom or up the top of a website.

I am certainly no expert on this topic. Please leave a comment if you have any further knowledge or advice.

What other tools have you used that don’t require sign up or allow the creation of student accounts?

11 Replies to “Kids and Online Tools: The Legal Side”

  1. Hi Kathleen,
    What a great discussion starter, I have been trying to educate the students at my school by showing them the T & C page on popular websites as part of our ‘Digital Footprint’ exploration.
    It was interesting their expression when we looked at ‘Prezi’ and it says ’18’ and over!
    I guess it is our role as educators to bring to the attention that students have to look at these pages to double check they are allowed to sign up….
    Great discussion to listen to viewpoints of different members of staff as well…
    Looking forward to hearing other viewpoints!
    Thanks for your great posts so far this year!!
    Cheers Raff

    1. Mrs Kathleen Morris says: Reply

      Hi Raff,

      Thanks for your comment. It seems to be news to a number of teachers I talk to that you can’t just have students sign up for anything they want at school.

      That’s interesting you mention Prezi. When I was doing a bit of research for the Tech Tools for Teachers I wrote on Prezi a few weeks ago, I found out that Prezi is adults only (18+), however, children over 13 can use Prezi with school or parent permission. That makes things even more confusing!

      I’d love to see more online tools have (free) options for generating student accounts, they way Storybird does.

      Thanks again for some interesting thoughts.


  2. Hi Kathleen
    Yep I’ve been avoiding the legal issues by simply having a class account that I manage. We’ve been lucky that as a google school any google products students are already able to use through their school accoutns.

    But thanks for bringing that up. Next week I’m serving on a committee for the New Zealand Teachers Council on social media ethics and I’m sure this issue will come up.


    1. Mrs Kathleen Morris says: Reply

      Hi Stephanie,

      Thanks for your comment. I hope you’re enjoying the year!

      That’s fantastic that you’re a Google School! Lucky you.

      I have class accounts for many things but I’ve hit a few hurdles. With some sites, like Prezi for example, you can’t have kids making a Prezi at the same time all logged in to your account. I guess you could have multiple class accounts but that’s messy.

      Teachers who use tech certainly have to be creative, don’t they!


  3. Lindy Buckley says: Reply

    Kathleen, these are questions I have been trying to find the answer to for ages, without a great deal of success so am hoping that your questions will generate some useful suggestions.
    We too are a google school and as such have access to google products.
    That doesn’t help you very much. Sorry!

    1. Mrs Kathleen Morris says: Reply

      Hi Lindy,

      There seems to be a lot of grey area around all this so I’d love to hear others’ thoughts. Thanks for your RT!

      Lucky you, another Google School. 🙂


  4. Here is a great screencast on how to set up gmail accounts for a class that can be controlled by the teacher. That might help.

    1. Mrs Kathleen Morris says: Reply

      Hi Rita,

      Thanks for the comment! The student gmail account system can be useful but I still wonder if this breeches the 13+ rules? After all, the children are still under 13?
      If anyone knows for sure, I’d love to hear from them!


  5. Hi Kathleen
    What an interesting topic. I know a lot of my students have facebook accounts, for example, even though they are certainly not old enough, and that is of course a social site that is open to all kinds of abuse.

    I like the idea of setting up a class account to be monitored by the teacher. That is the way I am going to be teaching blogging.


    1. Mrs Kathleen Morris says: Reply

      Thanks for commenting, Lisa. Many of my students also have Facebook accounts. Worryingly, a number of my grade twos (7/8 years old) had Facebook accounts last year!

      Good luck with blogging,

  6. Hi Kathleen,

    Thanks for sharing your ideas and perspective. I am doing a presentation on this very issue for a group of primary school teachers from independent schools.

    We are trying to develop a method of navigating policy whilst modeling responsible online behaviour to our students.

    I’ve drafted some clauses for parental permission for students to access online tools if they are under 13 (with the discretion of the teacher) and for student work to be published online. These are being proposed to be included in our Acceptable Usage policy.

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