FTC: Consumer Privacy Comments Concerning Nickelodeon--P954807
Donald S. Clark
Re: Consumer Privacy 1997 Comment, P954807
Dear Secretary Clark:
On behalf of Nickelodeon Online, I am pleased to provide our comments on the Commission's Public Workshop on Consumer Privacy. Nickelodeon Online recognizes the critical importance of protecting childrens online privacy, and we appreciate the work of the Commission in raising public and, indeed, industry awareness on this significant issue. The trust of kids and, in turn, their parents, is Nickelodeons hardest earned and most highly valued asset. As we have sought to preserve and build on that trust in our recent online ventures, we have gained both useful information and a heightened appreciation for public concerns through the Commissions Public Workshop process and the industry self- regulatory efforts it has helped spur. We appreciate this opportunity to advise the Commission on our efforts to ensure childrens privacy and to respond specifically to the issues raised through this Public Workshop process.
Nickelodeon Online is an entertainment service offering programming for children on two sites one on the World Wide Web and one on America Online (AOL). Our online content at these two sites is created for a core audience of 7 to 14 year old children. Our mission is to connect kids to kids and to their world, and we achieve this connection through interactive stories, games, chat rooms, knowledge-based trivia, kid-created areas and an online magazine. We are a leading provider of original online programming and have consistently won America Onlines Members Choice Award for the quality and appeal of our content. Our service ranks at the top of the kids sites on AOL, as measured by hours and visits by members.
Following the success of Nickelodeons initial Nick AOL childrens site, introduced in June of 1995, we have recently launched a new kids site that is available on the World Wide Web through any internet service provider nick.com (http://www.nick.com). Nick.com is only a month old, and both sites are constantly being improved and updated.
Perhaps the unique appeal of online sites such as ours is their interactive potential. A child (or adult) can not only express his/her preferences, but also pursue them immediately on such a site. While the trail of such preferences can enable us to improve our site for children, we recognize concerns that this information could also be misused. In particular, we understand concerns that individual personal information about kids could be used inappropriately.
In rolling out our new site and in updating both our childrens sites, we have been carefully reviewing and pledge to continue to review and fine-tune the effectiveness of our policies and procedures on childrens privacy, particularly regarding use of information or content created or provided by children. While seizing on the power of the medium to provide fully interactive sites that encourage creativity and personalize the experience of exploring our sites for each visitor, we are committed to providing kids sites that are as safe, and non-exploitative, as they are fun. Earning the confidence of parents that this is what their children will experience at our online sites is both the right thing to do as corporate citizens and as parents and the smart thing to do as keepers of a brand built on credibility with kids.
We have, therefore, placed strict limits on the use of information gathered from our online sites. Under no circumstances is personal information sold or in any other way provided outside our corporation.(1) Under no circumstances does Nickelodeon send unsolicited email (or other direct advertising) to visitors. Under no circumstances is clickstream data tied to any personally identifying information about children for direct marketing purposes. Under all circumstances where children are asked to provide identifying information that might be available to other site visitors (e.g. attached to content they create which will be posted on our site), parental consent is required before such information may be posted. Information that is supplied to advertisers and other interested parties, such as the press, is aggregate information in the form of number of users and demographics of users. This information is not tied to any individual user.
(Before responding in greater detail) in the attached submission to specific questions raised in the Commissions Request for Public Comment, I wish to highlight a couple of overarching principles.
First, the online world is new terrain. Our experience, and that of other creators of online childrens programming, is still quite limited and experimental. As stated above, our nick.com site is only a month old, and it is likely to evolve substantially. We are still refining our policies and procedures. Moreover, underlying technology, including
programs designed particularly to protect user privacy, is evolving rapidly. We dont pretend to have all the answers about the best way to protect children on sites designed for them, but we are working hard to provide safe, secure sites that kids enjoy and parents trust. We appreciate the guidance and input of the FTC Public Workshop process in exploring how best to do so.
Second, at the same time, we appreciate and support the FTCs adherence to the limited role we believe appropriate for government in this newly emerging, rapidly evolving medium. We believe that the approach outlined in the Administrations recently released Framework for Global Electronic Commerce is the right one. In particular, the report urges industry, consumer, and child-advocacy groups working together to use a mix of technology, self-regulation, and education to provide solutions to the particular dangers arising in this area and to facilitate parental choice. Under this framework, the burden is appropriately on those of us in industry. In the end, the marketplace will have to provide ratings systems or other technology to allow children to be directed only to appropriate and safe sites. Either the online industry will win the confidence of American parents or we will lose the opportunity to enlighten and entertain their children. Nickelodeon recognizes and accepts this challenge.
We provide, in the attached, answers to those questions posed by the Commission for which we can offer useful information. If the Commission or its staff have any further questions, I would be delighted to respond with additional information. Again, we appreciate the opportunity to share our experience and to inform the Commission about how Nickelodeon Online is striving to protect childrens privacy.
WRITTEN COMMENTS OF NICKELODEON
As discussed in the above letter, the following answers provide information regarding Nickelodeons childrens sites its site on AOL called Nick AOL and its site on the World Wide Web, nick.com, found at http://www.nick.com.(2)
SESSION THREE: CHILDRENS ONLINE PRIVACY
Information Collection and Use
3.1 What kinds of personal information are collected by childrens commercial Web sites from children who visit those sites and how is such information subsequently used? Among other things, is clickstream data being collected and tied to personally identifying information about children; is information being collected from children to create lists for sending unsolicited email?
Nickelodeon does not compile personally identifying information about children for any purposes other than to improve its online sites. To the limited extent any personal information is gathered, Nickelodeon uses such information solely within our company, and it is not sold to or shared with any entity outside Nickelodeon. It resides in a database on our server, which is secured by firewalls. Only two people, the Vice President for Programming at Nickelodeon and the Director of Viacom Interactive Services Network Operations, have access to this information. Aggregate information, in the form of numbers and demographics, is shared with advertisers and others, both inside and outside the company.(3)
Nickelodeons childrens sites have not been collecting clickstream data tied to specific visitors. Nickelodeons online sites may utilize cookies(4) simply to improve the responsiveness of the site and facilitate a seamless visit by ensuring, for example, that expressed preferences regarding site settings are maintained from window to window. Any such cookies appear on the users hard drive and are not used for any purpose other than to enhance visits.
Nickelodeon does not collect any data from its childrens sites in order to send unsolicited e-mail or postal mail to children or adults. On Nick AOL, children are asked if they want to receive the Nickelodeon Newsletter. Users have a choice of two buttons on that page: subscribe or unsubscribe. If the child chooses to subscribe, his/her AOL screen name is captured to a database for that purpose. If the user chooses to unsubscribe, his/her name is deleted from the database.
Nickelodeons childrens sites may collect some limited information when a child initially registers on the site. When nick.com first launched, we collected the childs Nick- name, which was chosen by the child and used to customize the site for that child, while preserving the childs anonymity. For example, when the child signed on after his or her initial visit, a screen customized with his/her Nick name and other features would greet him. We do not currently collect this information, because the technology was not quite ready to offer a seamless experience, but we do intend to offer this experience again when technology allows. On AOL, when a user participates in a trivia game, sends email, or uses the chat rooms and message boards, the users screen name is automatically displayed by AOL.
On nick.com, we do not currently have any form of registration. We do plan to collect some information at registration in the future. Specifically, we will ask children what time of day it is so that our database can determine his/her time zone and supply television schedule information (Whats on Now). In the past, children were asked certain basic information about what kind of computer connections they wanted, such as high or low tech, sound or not, and browser on or off. Currently these questions have been discontinued, as we determined that many children did not know how to answer and were trying to access the high tech version on the assumption that high tech must be better than low tech. We are offering a standardized technical service at the moment.
Nickelodeon invites children to send in their own work for publication on our sites for other children to see. This includes artwork, photos, writings, jokes and trivia questions. We believe that this stimulates childrens creativity and helps make our sites truly for kids and by kids. However, we also recognize the potential for misuses of this sort of material were it to fall into unscrupulous hands. We take every precaution possible to guard against such misuse.
We require prior parental consent before we will place on our sites childrens photos, writings, jokes told in a childs voice, or childrens art (which we animate). This parental or guardian approval must be in writing. Where appropriate, a Nickelodeon staff member confirms this written permission by personally contacting, by telephone or by meeting, the parent or guardian. In the case of personal writings of children posted to our sites (in the form of diaries or journals), we change any names used within the text to fictitious names. Where photos of children are used, we ensure that they cannot be traced to a specific child. Photos are generally identified only with the childs first name and age. If the location in the photo is obvious, or if either the childs town/state or full name are disclosed, then the face is obscured (and never would there be a case where the childs town/state and full name would be disclosed). Again, where appropriate, confirmed parental consent is required. With respect to less sensitive and non-identifiable content such as jokes in text form and childrens birthdays (where not tied to a full name), we still instruct children to obtain parental permission before submitting material. We do not, in those instances, require written permission and/or personal contact with the parent/guardian.
Occasionally, we do run online sweepstakes and contests for kids in which we require information necessary to contact the winner, such as his/her email address and local address. We have also asked additional yes or no questions, such as do you like to paint or draw? or do you like to read? These questions were asked principally to gather aggregate information in order to tailor Nickelodeon's online sites to the interests of its visitors, and to make the sweepstakes more fun for participants. However, the sweepstakes text made clear that participants could enter regardless of whether or not they answered such questions. In no case was personal information requested in sweepstakes tied to individuals for marketing purposes or to send email or other advertisements.
3.2 To what extent is the collection, compilation, sale or use of personally identifying, as opposed to aggregate, children's personal information important for marketing online or for marketing research? What privacy concerns, if any, are raised by the collection or use of aggregate children's personal information in this context?
The only data that Nickelodeon actually compiles from its kids' sites are aggregate data. Nickelodeon uses these data internally to help make its sites more interesting to kids, and externally to inform advertisers and the press and others about the number of visitors to its sites, etc. No personal data or aggregate data are sold inside or outside Nickelodeon.
3.5 How many childrens commercial Web sites collect, compile, sell or use childrens personal information? Of these, how many give parents notice of their practices regarding the collection and subsequent use of personal information? With respect to these Web sites, describe (1) how and when such notice is given; (2) the content of such notice; and (3) the costs and benefits, for both parents and childrens commercial Web sites, of providing such notice.
As described in Nickelodeons answer to questions 3.1 and 3.2 above, Nickelodeon does not compile personal information from individual children for anything other than internal purposes, and then only for purposes of enhancing its online sites, or in order to administer sweepstakes and contests. Where personal information or content that might be linked to a specific child is requested (e.g., full name, address, phone number, age), Nickelodeon instructs children to obtain the permission of their parents before submitting such information. Where content provided by a child is of a sensitive nature (e.g., a childs identifiable face in a photograph, or if the location of a particular house is identifiable in a photograph) and is intended to appear on the site, Nickelodeon requires written parental consent personally verified by a Nickelodeon staff member before posting it.
3.6 Of the childrens commercial Web sites that collect, compile, sell or use childrens personal information, how many provide parents choice with respect to whether and how their childrens personal information is collected and subsequently used by those sites? With respect to such Web sites, describe: (1) what choices are provided to parents and how such choices are exercised; and (2) the costs and benefits, for both parents and childrens commercial Web sites, of providing such choices.
Please see Nickelodeons responses to questions 3.1 and 3.5, above.
3.8 Of the childrens commercial Web sites that collect, compile, sell or use childrens personal information, how many have procedures to maintain the security of personal information collected from children online, and what are those procedures?
As described above, Nickelodeon obtains a minimum amount of personal information from our childrens sites. The limited information we do obtain for internal and aggregate purposes is kept in a database secured by firewalls, and only two people in the company - the Vice President of Programming for Nickelodeon Online and the Director of Viacom Interactive Services Network Operations - have access to it.
3.11 What industry principles, recommendations or guidelines have emerged since the June 1996 Workshop? Please discuss whether they are permissive or mandatory, whether they include sanctions for non-compliance, and the extent to which they have been implemented within the industry.
Nickelodeon Online continues to look to emerging industry guidelines as we formalize and fine-tune our own internal guidelines and policies. We currently comply with, or exceed, the new CARU guidelines for advertising. Our Nick AOL site currently complies with, or exceeds, the AOL Kids Only policies. We are also in the process of reviewing the DMA guidelines as they relate to our sites. Based in part on our ongoing reviews of these types of guidelines, we have just posted on our site a Nickelodeon policy on privacy, links to other sites, and information provided to parents about our site. A copy of that policy is attached.
3.12 What steps have childrens commercial Web site operators taken since June 1996 to address childrens online privacy issues?
3.16 How widespread is the practice of sending children unsolicited commercial email?
Nickelodeon does not send unsolicited email to children or adults.
It is Nickelodeon Onlines policy to use its best efforts to respect the privacy of its on-line visitors. Nickelodeon Online uses cookie technology only to obtain non-personal information from its online visitors to provide them with the best possible online experience. Nickelodeons cookie lives on your hard drive and keeps track of our predefined browser settings: tool bar off and music on . This allows us to optimize your online experience. We also track the total number of visitors to our site in an aggregate (this means youre one of the bunch, your information isnt singled out) form to allow us to update and improve our site, and tell other people something about the numbers of people who come to nick.com. Personally identifiable information is not extracted in this process.
Nickelodeon Online only collects personally identifiable data, such as names, addresses, email addresses, and the like, when voluntarily submitted by a visitor. We make a special effort to advise kids to get parental permission before providing information or submitting stuff to put online, and we urge parents to supervise their kids online use. (See our special note to parents, below, for more details.) Personally identifiable information may be collected in response to contest entry forms, subscribing to an email newsletter, etc. This information will be used solely by Nickelodeon Online for internal purposes only, and is not sold or otherwise transferred to any third party. We ask visitors providing email addresses to let us know if they would like further information or updates from Nickelodeon Online; only those who request it will receive email communications from us. We also offer an unsubscribe option if at any time they wish to cease receiving emails from Nickelodeon Online. Any changes in these privacy policies by Nickelodeon Online will be promptly communicated on this page.
LINKS TO OTHER SITES
We do our best to make sure that every link we have on this site works and sends you to a safe place on the World Wide Web. But because Web sites can change so quickly, we cant guarantee the content of every link from the places we link to (get it?). Its always a good idea to check with your parents or teacher before heading off to any new sites.
A SPECIAL NOTE TO PARENTS
Nickelodeon Online cares about personal privacy, and is especially mindful of the need for children to consult with parents before furnishing personal information or ordering anything online. We incorporate special notices urging kids to get parental permission before providing any information, and we have made it our policy not to publish sensitive content from kids (photographs, audio jokes recorded using kids voices, diary pages, etc.) without first receiving a signed permission form from their parents via regular mail, and then making telephone contact with parents to verify permission. We urge parents to monitor, supervise and explore with their children online. Nickelodeon Online adheres to the Childrens Advertising Review Unit (CARU) Guidelines on Internet advertising, and recommends that parents become sophisticated in the use and availability of software and other tools which can help you assure that your kids experience the entertainment and information provided by an online experience in a manner that reflects your own preferences and guidelines.
(1) We do provide winners' lists if required by state law in connection with contests, sweepstakes and games.
(2) Nickelodeon also maintains an AOL and World Wide Web site called Nick-at-Nites TV Land, but that site and the programs it promotes are aimed at adults. Nickelodeon is a division of Viacom, Inc.
(3) We do provide winners' lists if required by state law in connection with contests, sweepstakes and games.
(4) "Cookies" store information that facilitates the interaction between user and Web site. Specifically, cookies technology allows the Web site server to place information about a user's visit to the site on the user's machine in a text file that only that Web site server can read. As used by Nickelodeon, cookies are used only to facilitate the Web site visit. Data contained in cookies are not collected, compiled or gathered.