Privacy Lacking for Children Online

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Although required to follow the federal Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, many Web sites aimed at children younger than 13 are not compliant, according to a study released last week by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania.


Annenberg researchers examined 162 Web sites selected in conjunction with the Federal Trade Commission as being geared toward children younger than 13.


COPPA, which went into effect on April 21, 2000, requires Web sites that collect information from children younger than 13 to obtain parental consent and to post privacy policies.


The study focused on the privacy policy portion of COPPA as opposed to parental consent, which is regulated by the FTC.


"I've always known privacy policies to be tortuous and complex, and I was surprised to find out that despite COPPA -- which gives a road map for doing the right thing with respect to privacy policies -- that even in the children's arena that is the case," said Joseph Turow, author of the study and professor at Penn's Annenberg School for Communication. "One should not have to wade through vagueness or complexity to find out whether a site considers itself a children's site that ought to be compliant with COPPA."


Of the sites surveyed, 17 collected personal information without having a privacy policy link on the home page, and 14 of the 17 did not have privacy policies at all.


However, 90 of the 107 sites that collected personal information did have a link from the home page to their privacy policies.


Those 90 sites also were examined for the content of their privacy policies.


In accordance with COPPA, Web sites that collect personal information from children must state what information they collect and how it is used.


Researchers found that 91 percent of the privacy policies for the 90 sites collecting personal information revealed the types of personal information that was collected at the site, and 96 percent stated how the information would or might be used.


Also, 62 percent of the 90 privacy policies mentioned parents' right to review the personal information collected about their children, while 64 percent mentioned parents' right to delete personal information and 51 percent said parents could opt out of future data collection.


Among the Web sites examined in the study were americangirl.com, applejacks.com, barbie.com, batmanbeyond.com, cartoonnetwork.com, foxkids.com, gameboy.com, goldenbooks.com, nickjr.com, nintendo.com, pokemon.com, starwars.com, wonka.com and x-men.com.


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