Big companies want to have successful web sites that draw people in and convert them from web surfers to paying customers. And any marketing professional knows that if you can form brand loyalty early in a customer’s life, you have a shot at putting money in the bank for a long time.
But for crying out loud, folks, QUIT COLLECTING PERSONAL INFORMATION FROM CHILDREN. So goes the complaint against several popular websites as reported in the New York Times. A coalition of privacy groups has filed a complaint with the FTC about the practices of six popular sites, charging the sites with attempting to collect email addresses of the friends of people who visit the site.
From the Times:
At least one company, however, said the accusation mischaracterized its practices, adding that the law allows an exception for one-time use of a friend’s e-mail address. As of late Tuesday, the companies said they had not received copies of the complaints. Obtaining information about adults’ social networks to e-mail marketing messages to their friends is a common industry practice called “tell a friend” or “refer a friend.” But now an increasing number of children’s sites are using the technique by inviting children to make customized videos promoting certain products, for example, and then sending them to friends.
The sites cited by the advocacy groups include McDonald’s HappyMeal.com; Nick.com, the Nickelodeon site owned by Viacom; General Mills’ ReesesPuffs.com; SubwayKids.com; another General Mills site, TrixWorld.com; and Turner’s CartoonNetwork.com.
“It really shows that companies are doing an end run around a law put in place to protect children’s privacy,” said Laura Moy, a lawyer for the Center for Digital Democracy, a nonprofit group in Washington that led the complaints. “Under the law, they can’t just collect e-mail addresses from kids and send them marketing material directly. So they are embedding messages saying, ‘Play this game and share it with your friends,’ in order to target the friends.”