McDonalds, General Mills Violating Children's Online Privacy?


Consumer advocacy groups are urging the Federal Trade Commission to investigate five companies– McDonald's, General Mills, Turner Broadcasting, Viacom, and Doctor's Associates'—for allegedly violating children's privacy laws in their online marketing campaigns. 

According to the report filed by 16 media and youth advocacy groups, children-facing websites from these companies illegally solicit personal information such as email addresses and photos from children under 13. Under the 1998 Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) it is illegal to solicit personal information from under-13's without "sufficient notice of the information collection" or "verifiable parental consent for the collection, use or disclosure of personal information from children."

One example the advocates provided was McDonald's website, which lets children upload photos to create and share their own music video. The groups allege McDonald's hasn't adopted enough measures to protect its database of children's information from possible breaches.

Many of these sites also use "refer-a-friend marketing" or viral marketing, in which a company asks a child to enter friends' email addresses. 

"It's one thing to ask this of a 27-year-old, but for an 8-year-old? These companies have no self-respect. They need a class in media ethics 101," seethed Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, which is leading the campaign. "Online privacy is a major concern around the world, and children need special safeguards because they usually can't make the best decision over who to give these details to."

The advocacy groups are also calling for an update to COPPA regulations to include data collection and behavioral targeting directed at children. In August the FTC recommended extending COPPA to third parties like ad networks and plugins. It also needed an update to definitions of personally identifiable information to include things like cookies and IP addresses, the FTC proposed. 

Parents, It's Up To You
But until these laws get updated, parents can and should take control of their children's online privacy with various blocks and filters. We've reviewed many excellent tools. See our software roundup "Keep Your Child Safe Online" for more. 

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