Advocacy Groups Fight for Children's Right to Not Be Exploited Online
Internet privacy is important for all of us, especially children. Yet, these youths may not always know how to distinguish if they're being taken advantage of online. When it comes to protecting online privacy, consumer advocacy groups are keeping a watchful eye out for companies that attempt to exploit the naivety of children. In fact, the Center for Digital Democracy along with 16 other groups recently appealed to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to put a stop to companies that are accused of skirting the rules of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), according to Reuters.
Big businesses such as McDonald's Corp. and Viacom's Nickelodeon may seem harmless enough when they advertise features on their websites to attract youngsters. However, the intent becomes a bit less clear when children who take part in their online offerings are urged to "share" their experiences with friends by providing email addresses of friends. According to the news source, the websites of five companies, including the aforementioned businesses as well as Turner Broadcasting System's CartoonNetwork.com, SubwayKids.com and two of General Mills' cereal-related websites (ReesesPuffs.com and TrixWorld.com), have been flagged for exploiting children to provide free marketing for the sites.
"The FTC should act promptly to stop this commercial exploitation of children," Georgetown law professor Angela Campbell, who provides legal counsel for the Center for Digital Democracy, told the Los Angeles Times.
Upon discovering this exploitive practice, the advocacy group has since filed five separate complaints - one for each company - in the hopes that the FTC will investigate the websites and put a stop to the refer-a-friend practice. The L.A. Times reports the issue is that the websites do not require consent from parents of children whose email addresses are being submitted via refer-a-friend forms, which is a requirement set in place by COPPA.
General Mills spokesman Tom Forsythe has responded to the allegations, claiming its two accused websites do not violate COPPA policy, according to The New York Times. When children enter their friends' email addresses, only one email is sent to the recipient and the original user's information is not stored. Nickelodeon representatives have denied the allegations, and spokesman David Bittler said the claims from the advocacy groups "are absolutely incorrect," Reuters reports.
While the jury is still out on whether these websites are violating the COPPA regulations, it is important for parents to keep an eye on their children's online activity and teach the youngsters about safe online behavior. Young internet users may not be able to spot red flags that could indicate they are visiting a fraudulent website or inadvertently providing free marketing to companies.