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Children’s Privacy Threatened by Play Websites and Social Networking

Attention: News and Business Editors

November 4, 2008

Children’s Privacy Threatened by Play Websites and Social Networking

(OTTAWA)— The Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) today released a report, “All in the Data Family: Children’s Privacy Online”, calling for amendments to the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) that would prohibit collection, use, and disclosure of the personal information of children under 13 in Canada.

PIAC counsel John Lawford noted that many apparently kid-friendly websites and social networking sites routinely use personal information of even young children for behavioural marketing and market research: “There quite simply are no special rules for use of kids’ personal information in Canada. Right now, Internet play websites like Neopets, Webkinz and social networking sites like Facebook use kids’ personal information for profit but are not making it clear that this is their business model.” The report concludes that such personal information collection, use and disclosure for children under 13 violates privacy in all cases and should be explicitly made illegal under Canada’s privacy laws.

The report also calls for prohibition of disclosure of personal information of children aged 13 to 15 to any other entity, including marketers. The report goes on to recommend that disclosure of personal information collected by websites only be allowed for information collected from children aged 16-18, and then only with the opt-in consent of the teenager and the explicit consent of the teen’s parent or guardian.

The report also recommends that personal information collected from children no longer be retained by websites once the child reaches age 18, unless the newly adult child explicitly consents to the website carrying this information forward. “This recommendation is a `get out of marketing jail free card’ for when kids become adults – so that any profile the website or other marketers have created about them won’t typecast them in adulthood,” said Lawford. “Kids will have control when they start their adult life without the marketing baggage they collected just to play online or socialize with friends.”

The report also calls for increased enforcement of these new children’s privacy rules via fines and other new powers for the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada as well as specific rules governing the social networking sites, such as requiring these sites to opt children into the highest possible privacy settings on the website by default and to restrict access to children’s profiles from the general internet and by adults from within the social networking site.

PIAC’s report is based upon research with focus groups of children in Toronto aged 11-17 who use the Internet for play and for social networking.

Full text of the report:

thumb_pdfAll in the Data Family: Children’s Privacy Online
Download File: children_final_small_fixed.pdf [size: 0.81 mb]

For more information, please contact:

John Lawford
Counsel
Public Interest Advocacy Centre
ONE Nicholas Street, Suite 1204
Ottawa, ON K1N 7B7
(613) 562-4002×25 (Tel)
(613) 562- 0007 (Fax)

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