Popular kids' sites lack privacy info, study says

A study by the Center for Media Education finds that 88 percent of Web sites geared toward children collect personal information, but more than a quarter have no stated privacy policy.

2 min read
The Net's most popular children's sites ask visitors very personal questions, but often don't state how they will use the information, according to a new consumer study.

The report from the Center for Media Education (CME) comes as the Federal Trade Commission's workshop on the issue kicks off today. The agency will hear from experts about effective ways for commercial Web sites to get parental consent before gathering information from children younger than age 13--a practice mandated by the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) signed into law last year.

The center reviewed 80 sites, including branded sites such as Lego, the Cartoon Network, Nintendo, and lesser-known sites such Yucky.com.

Overall, 88 percent collect children's personal data, but more than a quarter do not have privacy policies, the CME study stated. Less than 26 percent ask for parental permission before collecting the information.

The CME along with the Consumer Federation of America (CFA), Junkbusters, and other consumer groups, want the FTC to force companies to get hand-written permission before harnessing sensitive details from children.

"The FTC must not give in to corporate lobbying for a weak and delayed application of the law," said Jason Catlett, founder of Junkbusters, a clearinghouse for privacy-protection measures. "Americans have precious few privacy rights, and this single online privacy law that Congress has granted should not be gutted by substandard rulemaking.

The groups suggested methods for obtaining parental consent such as by mail or fax--forms could be printable from the children's Web site or mailed to the parent. They warned against another system, proposed by an assortment of online companies, which would enable Web sites to collect children's data and then send an email to parents without previously getting their consent.

The CME also analyzed 75 randomly selected sites from the AltaVista-Looksmart Kids Directory. Of those, 95 percent collect personal information from children, although three-fourths don't have a privacy policy. Furthermore, less than 6 percent attempt to get parents' permission and less than 3 percent use mechanisms consistent with COPPA.

"These findings underscore the urgent need for clear and effective rules to protect children's privacy online," Kathryn Montgomery, president of the CME, said in a statement. "Parents must be involved when personal information is collected from their children."