Advertising Law

Regulators Moving to Strengthen Privacy Rules for Children on the Web


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Screen shot of HappyMeal.com.

Alarmed by the sheer volume of personal information being collected by companies looking to target advertising and products to children, federal regulators are moving to overhaul privacy rules.

Collecting the data is legal, though parents and regulators alike have concerns about how personal information about children is being stored and used. New rules that would require more parental permissions are expected within weeks.

In one example, the New York Times, which assessed popular children’s sites to determine if they are using tracking software, noted that a McDonald’s site, HappyMeal.com invites children to upload photos to make collages or videos. Until privacy complaints were made, the results were stored in a publicly available database where users could see children in their bedrooms and in pajamas.

On increasingly common mobile devices, the concern is that collected information could be used to identify and locate children.

Mary K. Engle, an associate director of advertising practices at the Federal Trade Commission, tells the Times that because so many children now have computers and mobile devices, it’s much harder for parents to monitor their online activity.

“The concern is that a lot of this may be going on without anybody’s knowledge,” she is quoted saying.

Mike Zaneis, the general counsel for the industry association Interactive Advertising Bureau, tells the newspaper that wholesale changes in the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 aren’t needed and that the current law is working very well. Adding restrictions, marketers warn, would limit offerings to children.

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