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Parents Want Control of E-Marketing to Their Kids

By Michele Molnar — December 10, 2012 2 min read
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No, no, no and no. That’s how parents are responding to the fact that companies want access to children’s online activities, recognizing that marketing to the kids is just a hop, skip, and click away.

Under federal law, companies must seek parental consent before they can collect information about the web-browsing behavior of children under 13, whether the children are doing homework searches, watching movies, or engaging in social media.

More than 2,000 adults were polled over a two-week period in November about whether that law’s provisions should stand, and how they viewed proposed changes in the rules. Among the findings released by the Center for Digital Democracy and Common Sense Media:

  • 90 percent of respondents agree that online companies seeking to collect personal information from young children must first obtain permission from parents;
  • 80 percent opposed allowing advertisers to collect and use information about a child’s activities online, even in cases where advertisers do not know the actual name and address of a child.

Parents and adults without children appear to be in alignment on this subject:

  • 91 percent of both parents and adults without children believe it is not OK for advertisers to collect information about a child’s location from that child’s mobile phone.
  • 94 percent of parents and 91 percent of nonparents agree that advertisers should receive the parent’s permission before putting tracking software on a child’s computer.
  • 96 percent of parents and 94 percent of adults expressed disapproval when asked if it is “OK for a website to ask children for personal information about their friends.”

It is through the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA, that the Federal Trade Commission regulates the collection of personal data for children under the age of 13.

Since that law went into effect in 2000, technology has advanced markedly, and so has how children use it. Now, it is possible for businesses to know geographically where a child is using his or her computer or mobile device. Children are interacting with one another via social networks, and children’s online behavior can be tracked via sophisticated technology.

The FTC will soon release updated rules to keep pace with new capabilities from advances in technology.

In a release about the survey findings, one of the leaders of the campaign to pass COPPA made this statement: “It is clear from these findings that the public supports strong action by the FTC to address the disturbing and widespread practices that threaten the privacy and safety of our nation’s children,” said Kathryn C. Montgomery, a professor of communication at American University in Washington. “Children should be able to reap the benefits of this new participatory media culture without being subjected to techniques that take advantage of their developmental vulnerabilities. We must ensure that the COPPA rules are updated effectively so that the generation of young people growing up online today will be treated fairly in the growing digital marketplace.”

Education Week’s Digital Education blog covers this issue, pointing to a New York Times article that explains why Silicon Valley companies disagree with the FTC’s proposed rules. The Times also recently wrote about an FTC report indicating that mobile app providers fall short on the required parental notifications.

A version of this news article first appeared in the K-12 Parents and the Public blog.