A new policy change allows teenagers 13 and older join Google Plus, and also implements new features to protect minors.

In the hubbub of all of this Facebook IPO hype, Google+ is quietly broadening its user base to include teenagers. With Google’s latest update to its privacy policy, anyone 13 or older can sign up for a Google+ profile.

Before now, Google didn’t allow anyone under the age of 18 to sign up for its social networking site. Facebook on the other hand has been open to anyone 13 or older for years now. Prior to opening up registration to a younger demographic, Google+ announced all of its newly implemented safety features to protect the underage. That, says Google, is the reason for the delay in allowing younger users to sign up for the service. The company wanted to make sure its users would be safe.

What exactly did Google+ implement? When an underage user posts something to the public, instead of a limited circle, a second prompt comes up, checking that the user understands that the information he or she is going to share will be visible to the entire Internet. Also, if a user out of network joins an underage user’s Hangout (group video chat through Google+), the minor is temporarily removed from the chat and asked if he or she would like to stay. And as with all Google+ accounts, users can limit who their profiles are visible to and who can comment on their profiles.

The new privacy measures are supposed to directly highlight Facebook’s own shortcomings for younger users. That is to say, younger users don’t have any sort of increased protection on Facebook. Google+ wants to jump on that difference between their site and Facebook, and make that a selling point for using Google+ as your primary social network.

It’s almost surprising that Google+ has taken this long to gear its social network to a younger crowd. Forty-five percent of all Internet users are under 25 years old. While the fastest growing demographic for most social networks is the elderly and seniors, the next fastest growing user base is children and teenagers.

Of course, teenagers might be more Internet savvy than any other demographic, so why all the added precaution? Undoubtedly, it’s to hook parents. Google+ has seemed to acknowledge that it lost the generation that grew up on MySpace and Facebook, but with these new security measures, they’re banking on parents starting out the next generation on Google+, not a less secure social network.

Google is still rolling in cash, but the company has been making a concentrated effort recently to diversify its revenue streams. Slowly, the company has been getting rid of side projects that haven’t been pulling their economic weight, probably to refocus employee energy on their main projects, like YouTube, Chrome, Android, and you guessed it, Google+.

Not all of Google’s new focus towards Google+ has been appreciated though. Recently, Google started mixing Google search results with Google+. That means, if you try to search for someone’s name on Google, the top search results will be their Google+ page and their Google+ activity, even if before Google+, their personal website was the top Google search result.

Many users were annoyed at the search focus shift from actual results to social networking results. Some claimed it was an invasion of privacy, although closing your profile from being viewed through a search is an easy feature to turn on and off. The search results incorporation even drew the attention of government agencies looking to make sure users’ rights weren’t being violated. The investigation resolved without incident, and the feature has remained incorporated into Google search results.

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