Kids’ Advocates Target Nick, Cartoon Websites

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WASHINGTON — Child advocacy groups are asking the Federal Trade Commission
to investigate the websites for Turner Broadcasting System’s Cartoon Network and
Viacom’s Nickelodeon, among others, for what they say are unfair and deceptive
acts in violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

In addition to pushing the FTC to better enforce current
law, they are urging it to wrap up its proposals to update
the COPPA rules. In an immediate response, Congressional
Privacy Caucus co-chairs Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton
(R-Tex.) said they have argued for legislation to toughen
COPPA.

In the complaints, the groups, which include the Center for Digital Democracy, the Consumer
Federation of America and Children Now, argue that the sites’ use of refer-a-friend viral
marketing techniques runs afoul of those protections, and wants the FTC to clarify that
placing tracking cookies and soliciting email addresses requires notice and parental approval.

The complaint against Nick.com, for example, says online games that ask players for email
addresses to share the game with friends are collecting personal information without the requisite
notice that addressess collected will be used for marketing messages.

They also claim the game’s “send-to-a-friend” form makes no mention of parental consent,
which they call a clear violation of COPPA requirements.

COPPA prohibits websites targeted to kids from collecting personal information from kids
under 13 without parental permission, and bars other sites from such collections if they “have
actual knowledge” that a user is under 13 and they do not have parental consent.

Sites also have to publish notices of what information they are collecting, using or disclosing.

The FTC has proposed changes in the notice policies on collection, use and sharing; how parental
consent is obtained; adding a data retention and deletion element; and more.

But Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, suggested the
agency has been too slow to make changes to COPPA to keep up with sophisticated online
marketing techniques. “How could companies like Time Warner and Viacom possibly
think that giving them the e-mail addresses of their friends is permissible either in terms
of privacy or marketing practices?”

In response, Cartoon Network said it “takes its compliance with the Children’s Online Privacy
Protection Act (COPPA) very seriously. We will review any allegations closely.”

Nickelodeon declined comment, but a company source familiar with Nick’s online practices,
who asked to speak on background, said Nick.com does not store or record email addresses
of users’ friends, and that, under COPPA, no parental notification is needed when only a name
and e-mail address are being requested.

TAKEAWAY

FTC complaints allege COPPA
violations; networks counter
that they protect kids’ privacy.

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