Sunday, May 02, 2004

Article: Hey kid - you wanna buy a ...

The Christian Science Monitor has published an article on issues related to the privacy of children's information, particularly information that is compliled for marketing purposes. The United States already has legislation that deals with the privacy of kids' information online (the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act), but there is -- at present -- no regulation of offline collection and marketing. This will change if a legislative initiative by Senators Wyden and Stevens is passed by congress (see

Hey kid - you wanna buy a ... |
"With Gary Ruskin at its helm, Commercial Alert has gained recent attention on Capitol Hill for its "Parents' Bill of Rights."

The document includes nine provisions to help parents combat commercial influences, one of which calls for banning advertising aimed at children under 12 and two of which have already been introduced in the US Senate.

The first bill under consideration requires fast-food chains to disclose basic nutritional information, and the other, introduced last month by Sens. Ron Wyden (D of Oregon) and Ted Stevens (R of Alaska), would ban list brokers without parental permission from collecting data about children 16 and under - everything from ethnicity and family income to hobbies - and selling it to advertisers and marketers.

This practice extends even to the diaper set, which is especially alarming to parents. But no matter what the child's age, parents consider these lists an invasion of privacy.

"Parents are flabbergasted and angry when they learn that their child's information could be sold on the Internet," says Chris Fitzgerald, press secretary for Senator Wyden.

"These list brokers work by stealth," says Mr. Ruskin. "No one even knows this is happening. Children are naturally more trusting than adults, and that trust is often easy to exploit."

Repeated calls to two of the best-known list brokers, American Student List and Student Marketing Group, were not returned. But Doug Wood, general counsel to both the Association of National Advertisers and the Advertising Research Foundation, spoke up in list brokers' favor. Banning them, he says, would be discriminatory and a violation of the First Amendment.

He doesn't even favor an "opt out" feature similar to the Do Not Call Registry for telemarketers."There would be a huge rush of parents who sign up out of ignorance," Mr. Wood explains. "Some of the things they sell to kids are valuable. The fact that we are a nation of sellers is not necessarily a bad thing."

But Wood, who has three children, does concede that list brokers might want to tweak their approach: "They could do themselves a favor by being more open," he says.

The Children's Listbroker Privacy Act will be heard sometime before October, says Courtney Schikora, press secretary for Senator Stevens. That may not be soon enough for some activists, but most are encouraged that politicians are listening.

See also coverage in Wired.

No comments: