Popular Web Sites Collecting Data on Children
A coalition of privacy, pro-democracy, and children's protection groups has announced that they plan to file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) today, according to an article in the NY Times. According to the complaint, popular children's Web sites including McDonald's, Subway, and Nickelodeon have created online "games" that allow children to play "brand related" games or to create customized videos promoting one of the companies products. The child can then "share this with a friend," which is where the advocacy groups say the Web sites violate Federal law.
According to the 1998 Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, a Web site can only collect personal information from children under the age of 13 if they have made a reasonable effort to collect verifiable parental consent. The idea behind the law is parents of children under the age of 13 should be made aware of companies collecting data about the children, and have the opportunity to stop that collection.
There is an exception to the law which at least one of the companies claims protects their practice, the one-time use exception:
online contact information collected from a child that is used only to respond directly on a one-time basis to a specific request from the child and is not used to recontact the child and is not maintained in retrievable form by the operator;
If the Web site operators can prove that they do not retain the collected email addresses, which is highly unlikely, they may not be in violation of COPPA.
From the article:
The sites cited by the advocacy groups include McDonald’s HappyMeal.com; Nick.com, the Nickelodeon site owned by Viacom; General Mills’ ReesesPuffs.com; SubwayKids.com; another General Mills site, TrixWorld.com; and Turner’s CartoonNetwork.com.